What if Microsoft Never Existed, Part 3: Amiga, HP, Dell and IBM

by James R. Stoup Feb 27, 2006

Microsoft’s absence would also have effected the major manufacturers of personal computers. Here is a look at how four major distributors might have fared.

Amiga still dies
The failure of the Amiga platform was caused, in large part, by the incompetence of its management, and not directly due to Microsoft activities. Certainly competing with MS didn’t help Amiga any, but its demise was spelled out long before MS really came to power in the 90’s.

As a computer, the Amiga was amazingly ahead of its time. It had very powerful graphic capabilities that made it ideal for video content creation. Additionally it had composite video outputs that would allow it to be directly connected to a TV, making it a powerful game console. And coupled with this surprisingly versatile hardware was the AmigaOS, a GUI based operating system that also included a decent command line interface. Overall the Amiga was more powerful (initially) than any other home computer available. And its interface rivaled Apple’s for ease of use. It looked like Amiga would be successful.

Unfortunately, Amiga had more to fear from Nintendo than it did Microsoft. Since the Amiga was marketed as a game console the American public saw it as a toy first and a computer second. As a result of such disastrous marketing, sales fell off sharply in the USA (though it was much more popular in Europe).

So, while it might have given the Amiga a little more breathing room and prolonged its life by a year or two more, Microsoft’s absence wouldn’t have helped Amiga enough for it to survive until today. Most likely it would have followed the same course regardless of Microsoft’s influence.

Michael Dell finishes college, never starts company
If Microsoft hadn’t risen to power so quickly, then it is quite likely that the computer revolution wouldn’t have taken place as fast. And if the computer industry’s birth had been delayed by just a few years, then Michael Dell would have finished college. And if Mr. Dell had graduated, it is possible that he would have joined a company, instead of starting one. If Michael Dell hadn’t dropped out of college, then the Dell computer company never would have become the world leader in personal computers. And without Dell to pioneer the low-cost, low-margin business model, then computer prices would likely have remained high for several years.

HP rules the market
If Michael Dell had never formed his own company, then HP would ultimately be the one to battle IBM for the number one spot. HP would conceivably still have acquired Apollo Computer, Convex Computer, and Compaq, which would have secured its position as the number one personal computer maker in the world. With its strong printer business, no competition on the low-end from Dell, and only IBM to compete with on the high-end, HP would become the dominant supplier with close to 40% of the market. Expanding later to include IT services in addition to selling hardware, HP eventually becomes the market driver in the PC sector and defines the future of the PC business well into the 21st century.

Big Blue
Sharing the market with HP would ensure that IBM would own a healthy chunk of the PC business, 25-30% at least. Choosing to focus more on the high-end market of business, science industry, and servers IBM would likely have made no acquisitions, but it would also never have sold its PC business to another company. Big Blue would continue to challenge HP but would still have remained solidly behind them in market share. Eventually IBM spins off a separate business unit to handle the development and distribution of its popular OS/2 operating system. Companies like Sony, Acer and Lenovo fight over the remaining 30% of the market. The AIM alliance (Apple/IBM/Motorola) is never formed resulting in IBM becomes the dominant force in embedded technology.

Part 1: What if Microsoft never existed?
Part 2: A Destiny Destroyed
Part 3: Amiga, Apple, HP, Dell and IBM, Hardware Without the “Microsoft Tax”
Part 4: Apple, Amiga, BeOS, Linux and Unix, how the Other Operating Systems Fared
Part 5: Intel, AMD, Motorola and IBM, Rise of the Machines
Part 6: Where Could We Be?


  • This makes little sense. What OS would HP use?

    Reynish had this to say on Feb 27, 2006 Posts: 3
  • Amiga. Whatever. What about Atari? Atari had a HUGE chance to move people to home computers in the 80s. The Atari 800, and the later ST line.

    I wonder what kind of “research” is being done here on Applematters. Or if they know the meaning of the word “research”.

    ericdano had this to say on Feb 27, 2006 Posts: 7
  • Is it “Numpty Comment” day today and nobody told me?

    “This makes little sense. What OS would HP use?”

    Er… any one of dozens that existed before Windows became all-conquering? For the sake of argument, let’s say OS/2. Or a flavour of UNIX. Or something else… the whole point of the article is “If MS didn’t exist”. Sheesh.

    “Amiga. Whatever. What about Atari? <snip>
    I wonder what kind of “research” is being done here on Applematters. Or if they know the meaning of the word “research”.”

    OK… “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions”. What you mean is: “how the hell can you think something different to me?” The writer decided to mention Amiga as, in his opinion, that was an interesting topic to write about. Want to write about Atari? Get your own column.


    hitchhiker had this to say on Feb 27, 2006 Posts: 48
  • HP? HP always treated the PC industry with contempt. They turned down the Apple I, and then when they developed a GUI to compete with Windows let it flounder.

    Reading this week’s article, it is more likely that IBM would have achieved their goal to be the personal computer manufacturer.

    The PC market would have more likely followed the mainframe market, with only a handful of vendors capturing 99% of the market. Those vendors would have included IBM and Apple but HP would have missed the boat.

    The home market would similarly been segmented - dominated by Atari, Commodore and some others.

    The most significant difference the lack of Microsoft would make, would be without one specific OS, software developers would have to develop for multiple platforms.

    It was the 90’s that saw the rise of the compatibility myth - probably started by Microsoft - that said for ease of use, everyone had to use the same OS and software.

    Imagine if developers had’ve been challenged to write cross platform? A word processor that had versions for IBMs, Macs, Amigas, Ataris etc.

    They would have solved the cost problem of multi-platform development. Instead they took the easy path that MS offered.

    And somewhere along the line, open standards for file formats would have been developed, because sooner or later businesses were always going to want to make it easy to exchange documents.

    Hitchhiker, I laughed myself silly at your “get your own column comment”, but I think Atari did deserve a mention because for several years, they and Commodore were two of the more dominant players in the home market. And I really think that would have continued without MS.

    The research did seem a little light on this week - although this week’s analysis could be spread over several if you were to be fair to all the players in the 80s.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 27, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Exactly Chris. You cannot just mention Amiga and leave out Atari.

    ericdano had this to say on Feb 27, 2006 Posts: 7
  • “Hitchhiker, I laughed myself silly at your “get your own column comment”...”

    It was meant to be rude with a tongue firmly placed in one’s cheek!

    But as I said, James decided to spotlight Amiga not Atari. Doesn’t mean the column was badly researched - just that he reached a different conclusion to others.

    I have fond memories of the Commordore 64, the VIC 20, the Dragon, the ZX81/ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron and others… doesn’t mean I think any of them would have survived when the IBM PC arrived.

    hitchhiker had this to say on Feb 27, 2006 Posts: 48
  • Don’t forget when IBM started work on OS/2 they co-developed it with Microsoft. So without MS around, who knows if it would have happened at all or what it would have been like.

    Joe B. had this to say on Feb 27, 2006 Posts: 4
  • Microsoft’s two ‘masterstrokes” were:

    - In the 80s licensing the OS to multiple vendors, meaning anyone could build and sell PCs

    - In the 90s convincing everyone that Microsoft compatibility was essential.

    I don’t think they’ve had a masterstroke yet in this decade… maybe it’s too early to tell.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 28, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • I think without Microsoft, OS licensing wouldn’t have come about and computer manufacturers - much like Apple are the only one left today - would still be doing both the hardware and the software. Because of that, I think competing with the OS wouldn’t have been important, thus reducing innovation and a drive to create the ‘best OS’ and so we could all still be on OS 9 machines.
    Not to mention the fact that the wide adoption of computers could have been set back hugely (already pointed out by James previously) as well as the Internet.

    I’m beginning to find myself happy about microsoft… even, scared how it would have been without them :S

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Feb 28, 2006 Posts: 299
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