The Disastrous Meeting Which Completed Microsoft Office

Whilst every business has a unique set of needs that an experienced IT support team can meet and exceed, there are certain tools, pieces of equipment and applications that almost always need to be set up.

Every company needs its computer equipment, operating systems, networking and office application suites set up, and since 1988, the nigh-ubiquitous option is Microsoft Office, now the primary component of the Microsoft 365 subscription service.

Whilst there are a lot of components to Office, the main suite includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint, with Publisher, Outlook (initially known as Microsoft Mail) and Access arriving in the years after its first release.

The latter part was one of the last major components that ultimately completed the Office package, being a powerful yet somewhat intuitive database that allowed businesses to store vital information in a way that would not necessarily require specialist expertise to recall.

However, what is sometimes less known is that Access, the final piece of the Office puzzle, only existed as the result of a truly disastrous and destructive meeting that cleared the path ahead of it.

The Perpetual Alpha of Omega

Microsoft was always keen to add a database to their software offering, but, up until the late 1980s, the closest they would reach to this was “R:Base”, a relational database made by Wayne Erickson and sold by his own company, MicroRim, starting in 1981.

This was always meant to be a stopgap, with Bill Gates and his company keen to release their own database product so their software suite could be complete for business computers.

It was designed to include a system known as Embedded Basic, an early attempt at a macro programming language that would later be built into Office as Visual Basic for Applications.

The problem was that whilst it did work, it did not work terribly efficiently, being infamously slow on the then-ubiquitous Intel 386 processors available at the time.

Fixing this led to delays, which compounded when further issues were found and complicated fixes ended up being needed, which caused the development to spiral to over a year and a half whilst the development team became increasingly frustrated with the project and each other.

This is where, according to a later retelling by Tod Nielsen, Bill Gates had scheduled a meeting with the Omega team to explore the problems the project was going through.

After a lengthy discussion of issues, the notoriously short-tempered Mr Gates, in what was allegedly a foul-mouthed rant, demanded the Recruiting team at Microsoft join the meeting so he could find out which colleges the developers had been discovered in and never recruit from there again.

The meeting was over, and not long after so was Project Omega.

It was replaced by two separate projects that split the database and the Embedded Basic into Project Cirrus and Project Thunder.

Project Cirrus would later become Microsoft Access, named after an early computer terminal emulator that had been abandoned by the company.

Ultimately, the delay proved to be a positive, as Access became the first database program for Windows designed for the mass market, and as Windows became the dominant computer operating system for businesses, demolished its competition that failed to adapt in time.

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