Day: September 27, 2016

Microsoft DevCast – tape 1706

Well, today’s my birthday, and here’s something a little out of the ordinary.

These days, if you work in the tech space, you’re used to umpteen webcasts of product launches, tech conferences, what have you. Heck, I’ve done them myself.

But what about in the olden days? Back when the internet was barely more functional than Prestel, the World Wide Web was a fad that would never replace gopher and ftp, and Windows for Workgroups was the cutting edge of networked operating systems.

I’m not sure about the exact date of this but looking for similar videos on the internet it looks like this was December 1993.

Let’s delve into the awesome technology on offer, and learn that times may change, but tech people rarely do. The presentation, especially in the introduction, is probably stiffer than it would be these days, as we’re all more used to having to present, but some things never change – like having to read out a powerpoint slide of the intended goals of the presentation at the start.

Devcast Goals

I’m going to be most interested to see if my favourite tech video phrase was in use back then – “I’m going to go ahead and <do something>” – it’s usedĀ all the time in tech video today. Was it around in 1993?

The first part looks at quite a complex application built on top of Excel. You can tell the era of software by the screen resolution, and especially by the design – it’s all relentlessly skeuomorphic – check out that clipboard.

Skeuomorphic Clipboard

Plus, the square Exit button with the icon on it is a dead giveaway that it’s a 90s VBA app.

Another clue as to how old this is is the occasional mention of Cobol – they were trying to appeal to a lot of businesses still running their systems on mainframes and Cobol.

Here’s the list of tools used to build applications. Note that it’s still OLE 2 – the transition to COM was yet to come.

List of tools

Visual Basic for Applications is brand new here.


Either this developer doesn’t know the digits of Pi, or he doesn’t know how to round numbers…

Not Quite Pi

Yay! about 40 minutes into this (41:49 in the video timecode) while demonstrating creating a pivot table in Excel, the developer says “I’m going to go ahead and select a SQL Server database”. That phrase has been in common parlance at Microsoft (and presumably elsewhere) since at least 1993.

On an additional note – Pivot Tables were around in 1993. For some reason I thought they were a lot newer than that. But I confess to being very bad at using Excel. I generally only use it to get data out of it.

He’s saying it all the time now. And the demo is not working very well, as he can’t log in to SQL Server.

Also, when he gets it working with a local database, he keeps getting a pop-up which he keeps just dismissing, which looks like an error.

Selection is too large

It’s just warning that Excel can’t preserve Undo data for a given operation (machines had so little memory in those days) but it’s not really the kind of thing you want whole demoing.

Just as an aside, I was curious about “I’m going to go ahead and do something” as a stock phrase for doing demos. How old might it be?

Well, there’s a very famous demo, made in 1968 by Douglas Englebart, where he demonstrates some brand new innovations like on-screen menus, control by a mouse, and networked computers. It’s become known asĀ The Mother of all Demos, and it’s rather remarkable.

Not only does he demonstrate these amazing innovations, some of which would take a decade or more to reach the mainstream, but there he is on screen, his face superimposed on the computer screen, wearing his headset. He invented the YouTube let’s play almost 40 years early.

But what interests me is buried in the demo, where he’s actually talking to a colleague showing part of the system, and it’s the colleague who uses that phrase for the first time, quite late in the demo.

He actually uses the phrase three times in his part of the demo. So I suspect it was a common stock phrase even at that time. Amazing.

Back to the DevCast, and I have to say, I’m getting distracted from Eric Wells’ excellent demo of WOSA by his frankly magnificent monobrow.

Eric Wells

Next demo is by Randy Kath, who is, I think, more nervous than anyone else there. But his demo goes OK.

Randy Kath

Remember in the 1990s when all powerpoint slides looked like this?

1990s Powerpoint

Apparently, For Each was a new construct in VBA.

For Each

Kavi Singh is building a communications module, and “I’m going to go ahead and…” are almost the first words he uses. He has the fun of sending a fax.

Kavi Singh

The final demo in this section, and the first name I recognise – because it’s a very big name indeed. Here’s a 26 year old Satya Nadella, then a Technical Marketing Manager, now the CEO of Microsoft.

Satya Nadella

He gets the fun of showing how to talk to an AS400 mainframe.

After this demo, they ask for questions. “Please feel free to get to a phone wherever you are and give us a call.” No online questions, and no assumption of mobile phones in 1993.

Call in questions now

So it’s either time for questions, or we’re getting a Microsoft Westlife tribute band.

Microsoft Westlife

After a brief pause and an advert for the Microsoft World Open, a competition for the best business solutions, we’re back to the demos. Here’s Steve Bridgeland, who’s looking far too cheerful to be demonstrating a product like Microsoft Project, a tool that still makes me shudder from the times I’ve tried to use it.

Steve Bridgeland

Next, the launch of a product I definitely did use rather a lot at the time, Visual C++ 1.5. remember that this was quite a long time before Visual Studio joined up all the development environments together. Scott Randell is the developer showing us round the new version. He’s going to build a business object before our very eyes.

Scott Randell

Denis Gilbert is very proud to announce the release of Visual C++ 1.5. This version seems to be aimed at 16 bit development, so it wouldn’t be the version I would have used, as our PC application at that time was 32 bit only – I’m happy to say I missed all the pain of developing for 16 bit windows.

Denis Gilbert

There’s quite a long presentation at the end on MSDN – remember what it looked like in 1993 – when CD ROM was a rarity.

Old Style MSDN

The final demo is of the brand new Access 2.0 features, by John Betz.

John Betz

The whole thing ends with an endearingly awkward set of high fives by the presenters.

High Fives

If you’ve got 4 hours to spare on some developer history, here’s the whole thing.