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Some of the vintage hardware used by Steven Sinofsky to help refresh his memory of the early PC era while researching his new book (with help from his cat, Zozo, on the keyboard). The machine on the left is a rare IBM PC XT/3270. (Photo courtesy Steven Sinofsky)

Next time you’re grumbling about figuring out the settings to join a video call, consider what Steven Sinofsky has been doing to research his upcoming book.

A?board partner at Silicon Valley venture capital powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz, Sinofsky was previously a longtime Microsoft Office and Windows leader who also worked as a technical assistant to Bill Gates early in his tenure at the Redmond software giant. He is writing a memoir, “Hardcore Software: Inside the Rise and Fall of the PC Revolution,” and as part of his process, he decided to relive the innovations of the era by setting up and running old PCs, with original software.

In short, it was a vivid reminder of how far technology has come.

Steven Sinofsky’s forthcoming book tells inside stories and leadership lessons from his tenure at Microsoft, from the late 1980s through 2012.

For example, Sinofsky told GeekWire via email, “I was using Multiplan 1.0 and Word 1.0 and I literally could not figure them out. I started messaging the people who worked on them and they could visualize the code but the actual commands to quit or enter a formula or something required us all to go find documentation.”

Other than that, he added, “I spent a lot of time on video and network drivers!”

Sinofsky benefited from the fact that he saved one copy of every Microsoft product he worked on, giving him a large repository of software and hardware to rely on for his research, with a little help from eBay.

But the hardware and software were just the start of his tech forensics.

“I collected all the major magazine articles on Microsoft and a bunch of vintage computer magazines and read them in a timeline order,” Sinofsky told FastCompany. “I even built a spreadsheet of all the major events in the industry, for the team, and for me. It was all very CSI, I suppose.”

Sinofsky was a longtime Microsoft technical and business leader who was tapped to revive the Windows business following the tumultuous Vista development process. He’s known for his sharp business and technical insights, rapid-fire emails, and epic CES recaps. Anyone who knows or has worked with him probably won’t be surprised by the rigorous authenticity of his research process.

The book covers the period of Sinofsky’s tenure at the company, starting in 1989 through his departure in 2012. It delves into the projects, teams and people he worked with, from the first C++ compiler to Office 95 through 2007, then Windows 7 and 8, and Microsoft’s early Surface hardware devices.

He shares personal lessons learned and conveys larger management principles through the stories in the book. FastCompany published an early excerpt from the book about the infamous ILOVEYOU email virus on its 20th anniversary.

The book’s release has been delayed due to the pandemic, but if this goes on much longer, Sinofsky could always consider publishing via dot-matrix printer.

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