Oh, poor Microsoft.

The megacompany missed out on a major opportunity quite a few years ago, and the co-founder of this monolith recently admitted it was a big mistake.

In fact, he called it his biggest mistake ever.

The error Bill Gates cited? The thing he called a major blunder? At an investor event, Gates suggested that not capitalizing on the mobile revolution with a competitor to Apple iOS (the operating system that runs the iPhone) was a colossal fumble. He says there was only room for one competing OS, and it became Google Android.

Here's what he said during the interview: "In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is."

Ho-hum, boring.

For the masses and people who don't follow tech that closely, an operating system is too inside baseball, a collection of subroutines they don't want to think about or talk about. Just make it work, I don't want to know how or why is a common view They prefer if a computer just works and they don't really care how it goes about doing that.

And, as far as Microsoft mistakes go, it's not really even in the top five. Does anyone remember Windows Vista? How about not focusing on Internet Explorer?

The company missed out on some massive revenue by missing the mobile bandwagon, for sure. In terms of a cultural impact, it's a big one (few of us are using a Windows smartphone today, although you'd be surprised how many are still around) but it doesn't quite rank up there with another mistake Gates admitted way back in 2017.

The tech luminary who is now a philanthropist once admitted that a requirement to login to a Windows computer by pressing the keys Control-Alt-Delete at the same time was pretty dumb. He blamed the mistake on an IBM engineer who insisted on using those keys. It became part of tech culture even back when Windows first became popular. 

What's the problem? Why does it matter?

For starters, Gates admitted he could have easily picked one key to press on a computer to login, such as Control only. Originally, the sequence was meant for internal use, a bit obscure to make sure users avoided pressing the keys by mistake. And, it was used to reboot early computers. Somehow that evolved over time to become the login command on an idle computer instead of only the way to reboot, up until Windows 8.

One reason it existed back then was a simple keyboard limitation. It's impossible to press those keys by accident with one hand. It makes sense as a way to reboot so that users don't do that by mistake. Technically, Gates didn't invent the key command, but he did make it go mainstream as part of the Windows login process.

That's why it sticks out. Pressing those keys didn't make sense, but it was a sign of the DOS and Windows computer culture back when Gates was at the helm. Usability and design were not at the forefront. The Blue Screen of Death was cryptic and confusing. (Today, it has a nice "cheer up" style message.) Even adding a printer means installing drivers and software that took up extra time. It's the entire concept of hard to understand key commands, poorly designed apps, and bloated manuals that made computing so restrictive back in the day. Control-Alt-Delete was just a symbol of that.

Today, it's lost almost all meaning. Control-Alt-What? It brings up the lock screen on modern computers and doesn't really do anything on a Mac.

As far as mistakes against humanity in the tech world by one company and not a person, it doesn't exactly rank as high as you might think.

That honor goes to an app called Microsoft Bob. Don't even get me started on that one.

Published on: Jun 26, 2019
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