Before Slack and Teams: The Windows Service (1998)

Slack and Microsoft Teams have both gained prominence (along with Zoom) during this COVID-19 pandemic year of Working From Home. But back in the 20th Century, a small group within Microsoft built a prototype of an ideal collaboration “operating system.”

In 1998, I was working on the “RedShark” project to create a new user interface, along with Joe Belfiore, Steve Capps, and a team of ~15 other Microsoft employees. We imagined this could become a “software as a service” called “Neptune” that would supersede Windows. [Obviously, that did not happen…]

Key ideas: 1) Never Lose Data (all data lives on servers), 2) the computer is simply a secure cache for code and data, 3) projects are the key organizing principle, 4) works great “offline”.

On 8/3/1998, there was an internal Strategy Conference, and I put together the presentation below, describing our vision for a human-centered computing experience that rose above and integrated Windows and the Internet.

Our key insight was that most of the work people do is in the context of a project: a couple planning a Hawaiian vacation, a group of parents and teachers planning a PTSA event, or a complex financial transaction involving multiple corporations, law firms, bankers and consultants.

Microsoft Teams and Slack are both on the path toward our 1998 vision of The Windows Service, but both have complications and limitations. Our key insight was that the project should be the organizing principle, not teams.

Why were Joe, Steve, and I unable to convince Microsoft to pursue this vision 22 years ago? My best guess: Bill Gates thought it sounded too much like the mainframe, which Microsoft had killed with Windows and the Personal Computer. We were simply too far ahead of our time.

Author: benslivka

19 start-ups, software, hardware, biotech, space launch, neurodiversity, learning, free markets, food, wine, cycling, walking, Seattle, Microsoft, Northwestern University, Garfield HS, DreamBox Learning, IBM, Amazon.

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