I'm sure he was doing something more interesting at the time - playing football, probably - but it would have been useful to have him there to try a few games. These days ECTS is so big, and there are so many people to talk to, there just isn't time to try the latest blaster.
Indeed, I didn't get to talk to half the people I hoped to talk to, so it's hardly surprising that I didn't manage to waggle a joystick.
One of the people I did talk to was Ed Fries - it rhymes with fleece - who is head of games for Microsoft. (Well, his very jolly business card says he's general manager of the Entertainment Business Unit, which comes to the same thing.)
It turns out that Ed is a bit of a gamer. Like me he had an Atari 800 in the early days, and remembered playing Mule and Defender, and early text adventures like the Scott Adam's games and Infocom's Zork. He even remembered that Microsoft published at least one game - an Apple II program called, I think, Decathlon - before it adopted sublogic's hugely successful Flight Simulator for the IBM PC launched in 1981.
But to understand why I was really interested in Ed Fries you have to know a bit more history.
In the 1980s, the PC world was dominated by Wordperfect's word processor and Lotus Development's spreadsheet, 1-2-3. Microsoft's two best products - Word and Excel - were more popular on the Apple Macintosh, which has always been a minority machine. Wordperfect and Lotus were happy to sell vast numbers of DOS programs, but they weren't too interested in supporting Windows. Insofar as they saw the future in graphical user interfaces, they - like Microsoft - thought OS/2 Presentation Manager was the thing.
But OS/2 flopped, and Microsoft backed Windows 3 instead, and when that took off, Word and Excel soon came to dominate the PC market. Wordperfect and Lotus ran into problems as DOS sales declined, and eventually they were taken over by Novell and IBM respectively.
Now look at the PC games market. It's still dominated by DOS, and, as before, Microsoft is trying to get software houses to support Windows.
It is now launching its own range of titles for Windows 95. Could the leading companies still writing DOS games suddenly find themselves obsolete?
But I didn't even have to raise this idea with Ed Fries to see the error of my ways. Windows is useful for running applications because you often need to switch between different ones. It's also important to "own" dominant programs because whatever becomes the standard can take most of the market.
Neither is the case with games. When playing Doom, you don't switch to your word processor to make notes. And very few games become dominant for more than a few weeks. There are probably only a handful of titles - Doom, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Sim City, Premier Manager, Wing Commander, and so on - where you can rely on much of the audience "upgrading" when a new version comes out.
The result is that the entertainment software market is very fragmented: lots of companies have a small share. According to Fries, who wants to be number one, he could reach his goal by taking just 15% of today's games market.
Still, it's clear that Microsoft needs to push Windows 95 games, since this is the only area where DOS programs still dominate. The Software Publishers Association's figures for North American sales of entertainment products in this year's first quarter value sales of DOS programs at $125.3 million, and sales of Windows programs at only $49.4 million. The figure for Windows 95 on its own is even worse: $12.3 million is only a tenth of the amount DOS brings in.
Fries points out that the situation is changing rapidly as more copies of Windows 95 are shipped. But what he really needs are some big hits from the latest clutch of Windows 95 games, and these include titles from Activision, Mindscape, Ocean, Psygnosis, Sega and Sierra, as well as Microsoft itself.
Windows 95 games should be better for users. After all, it's possible to make them run automatically when a CD-ROM is placed in the PC's drive, and it should save the tiresome messing around with config files and creating boot disks. Fries reckons this will expand the market, though being cynical, I suspect there will be at least a few Windows 95 hassles to make up for it. I also suspect it will be easier to move casual games to Windows than the hardcore players and programmers who need all the performance they can get. Again, however, Fries reckons that the DirectX scheme means that Windows 95 games can, in certain circumstances, run faster than DOS ones.
But the real problem with DOS-compatibility is that it's holding back the whole PC market. I think Microsoft would love to dump DOS and all its compatibility problems, and move everyone to the technically-advanced but heavyweight and expensive Windows NT (New Technology). Windows 95 is just a step along that road. But it's one that masses of people, including Son, haven't yet taken.
Jack Schofield is The Guardian's computer editor.
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