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Why I dislike Microsoft

“Windows 2000,” I muttered as one of my computers fired up so my girlfriend could use it. “Must mean something about the number of bugs that’ll be discovered tomorrow.”
She told me she liked Windows and asked me why I hated Microsoft so much.

It’s been a while since I thought about that. She speculated that I was annoyed that Bill Gates is smarter than me. (Which he probably is, but aside from a couple more books in print, it hasn’t gotten him anything I don’t have that I want.) There’s more to it than that.

I’m still annoyed about the foundation Microsoft built its evil empire upon. In the ’70s, Microsoft was a languages company, and they specialized in the language Basic. Microsoft Basic wasn’t the best Basic on the market, but it was the standard. And when IBM decided it wanted to enter the personal computer market, IBM wanted Microsoft Basic because nobody would take them seriously if they didn’t. So they started talking to Microsoft.

IBM also wanted the CP/M operating system. CP/M wasn’t the best operating system either, but it was the standard. IBM was getting ready to negotiate with Gary Kildall, owner of Digital Research and primary author of the OS, and ran into snags. Gates’ account was that Kildall went flying and kept the IBM suits waiting and then refused to work with them. More likely, the free-spirited and rebellious Kildall didn’t want to sign all the NDAs IBM wanted him to sign.

Microsoft was, at the time, a CP/M subcontractor. Microsoft sold a plug-in board for Apple II computers that made them CP/M-compatible. So IBM approached Microsoft about re-selling CP/M. Microsoft couldn’t do it. And that bothered Gates.

But another Microsoft employee had a friend named Tim Patterson. Tim Patterson was an employee of Seattle Computer Products, a company that sold an 8086-based personal computer similar to the computer IBM was developing. CP/M was designed for computers based on the earlier 8080 and 8085 CPUs. Patterson, tired of waiting for a version of CP/M for the 8086, cloned it.

So Seattle Computer Products had something IBM wanted, and Microsoft was the only one who knew it. So Microsoft worked out a secret deal. For $50,000, they got Patterson and his operating system, which they then licensed to IBM. Patterson’s operating system became PC DOS 1.0.

Back in the mid-1990s, PC Magazine columnist John C. Dvorak wrote something curious about this operating system. He said he knew of an easter egg present in CP/M in the late 1970s that caused Kildall’s name and a copyright notice to be printed. Very early versions (presumably before the 1.0 release) of DOS had this same easter egg. This of course screams copyright violation.

Copyright violation or none, Kildall was enraged the first time he saw DOS 1.0 because it was little more than a second-rate copy of his life’s work. And while Digital Research easily could have taken on Microsoft (it was the bigger company at the time), the company didn’t stand a prayer in court against the mighty IBM. So the three companies made some secret deals. The big winner was Microsoft, who got to keep its (possibly illegal) operating system.

Digital Research eventually released CP/M-86, but since IBM sold CP/M-86 for $240 and DOS for $60, it’s easy to see which one gained marketshare, especially since the two systems weren’t completely compatible. Digital Research even added multiuser and multitasking abilities to it, but they were ignored. In 1988, DR-DOS was released. It was nearly 100% compatible with MS-DOS, faster, less expensive, and had more features. Microsoft strong-armed computer manufacturers into not using it and even put cryptic error messages in Windows to discourage the end users who had purchased DR-DOS as an upgrade from using it. During 1992, DR-DOS lost nearly 90% of its marketshare, declining from $15.5 million in sales in the first quarter to just $1.4 million in the fourth quarter.

Digital Research atrophied away and was eventually bought out by Novell in 1991. Novell, although the larger company, fared no better in the DOS battle. They released Novell DOS 7, based on DR-DOS, in 1993, but it was mostly ignored. Novell pulled it from the market within months. Novell eventually sold the remnants of Digital Research to Caldera Inc., who created a spinoff company with the primary purpose of suing Microsoft for predatory behavior that locked a potential competitor out of the marketplace.

Caldera and Microsoft settled out of court in January 2000. The exact terms were never disclosed.

Interestingly, even though it was its partnership with IBM that protected Microsoft from the wrath of Gary Kildall in 1981, Microsoft didn’t hesitate to backstab IBM when it got the chance. By 1982, clones of IBM’s PC were beginning to appear on the market. Microsoft sold the companies MS-DOS, and even developed a custom version of Basic for them that worked around a ROM compatibility issue. While there was nothing illegal about turning around and selling DOS to its partner’s competitors, it’s certainly nobody’s idea of a thank-you.

Microsoft’s predatory behavior in the 1980s and early ’90s wasn’t limited to DOS. History is littered with other operating systems that tried to take on DOS and Windows and lost: GeoWorks. BeOS. OS/2. GeoWorks was an early GUI programmed in assembly language by a bunch of former videogame programmers. It was lightning fast and multitasked, even on 10 MHz XTs and 286s. It was the most successful of the bunch in getting OEM deals, but you’ve probably never heard of it. OS/2 was a superfast and stable 32-bit operating system that ran DOS and Windows software as well as its own, a lot like Windows NT. By Gates’ own admission it was better than anything Microsoft had in the 1990s. But it never really took off, partly because of IBM’s terrible marketing, but partly because Microsoft’s strong-arm tactics kept even IBM’s PC division from shipping PCs with it much of the time. BeOS was a completely new operating system, written from scratch, that was highly regarded for its speed. It never got off the ground because Microsoft completely locked it out of new computer bundles.

Microsoft used its leverage in operating systems to help it gain ground in applications as well. In the 1980s, the market-leading spreadsheet was Lotus 1-2-3. There was an alleged saying inside Microsoft’s DOS development group: DOS ain’t done ’til Lotus won’t run. Each new DOS revision, from version 3 onward, broke third-party applications. Lotus 1-2-3, although once highly regarded, is a noncontender in today’s marketplace.

Once Windows came into being, things only got worse. Microsoft’s treatment of Netscape was deplorable. For all intents and purposes, Microsoft had a monopoly on operating systems by 1996, and Netscape had a monopoly on Web browsers. Netscape was a commercial product, sold in retail stores for about $40, but most of its distribution came through ISPs, who bought it at a reduced rate and provided it to their subscribers. Students could use it for free. Since the Web was becoming a killer app, Netscape had a booming business. Microsoft saw this as a threat to its Windows franchise, since Netscape ran well not only on Windows, but also on the Mac, OS/2 and on a number of flavors of Unix. So Microsoft started bunding Internet Explorer with Windows and offering it as a free download for those who already had Windows, or had an operating system other than Windows, such as Mac OS. In other industries, this is called tying or dumping, and it’s illegal. Netscape, once the darling of Wall Street, was bought for pennies on the dollar by AOL, and AOL-Time Warner is still trying to figure out what to do with it. Once Microsoft attained a monopoly on Web browsers, innovation in that space stopped. Internet Explorer has gotten a little bit faster and more standards compliant since IE4, but Microsoft hasn’t put any innovation in the browser for five years. Want popup blocking or tabs? You won’t find either in IE. All of the innovation in that space has come in browsers with a tiny piece of the market.

One could argue that consumers now get Web browsers for free, where they didn’t before. Except every new computer came with a Web browser, and most ISPs provided a browser when you signed up. So there were lots of ways to get a Web browser for free in the mid-’90s.

And when it came to the excesses of the dotcom era, Netscape was among the worst. But whether Netscape could have kept up its perks given its business model is irrelevant when a predator comes in and overnight renders unsalable the product that accounts for 90% of your revenue.

Allegations popped up again after Windows 95’s release that Win95 sabotoged competitors’ office software, such as WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. Within a couple of years, Microsoft Office was a virtual monopoly, with Lotus SmartSuite existing almost exclusively as a budget throw-in with new PCs and WordPerfect Office being slightly more common on new PCs and an also-ran in the marketplace. It’s been five years since any compelling new feature has appeared in Microsoft Office. The most glaring example of this is spam filtering. Innovative e-mail clients today have some form of automatic spam filtering, either present or in development. Outlook doesn’t. “Microsoft Innovation” today means cartoon characters telling you how to indent paragraphs.

And the pricing hasn’t really come down either. When office suites first appeared in 1994, they cost around $500. A complete, non-upgrade retail copy of Microsoft Office XP still costs about $500.

Pricing hasn’t come down on Windows either. In the early 90s, the DOS/Windows bundle cost PC manufacturers about $75. Today, Windows XP Home costs PC manufacturers about $100. The justification is that Windows XP Home is more stable and has more features than Windows 3.1. Of course, the Pentium 4 is faster and less buggy than the original Pentium of 1994, but it costs a lot less. Neither chip can touch Windows’ 85% profit margin.

And when Microsoft wasn’t busy sabotaging competitors’ apps, it was raiding its personnel. Microsoft’s only really big rival in the languages business in the ’80s and early ’90s was Borland, a company founded by the flambouyant Phillippe Kahn. Gates had a nasty habit of raiding Borland’s staff and picking off their stars. It didn’t go both ways. If a Microsoft employee defected, the employee could expect a lawsuit.

Well, Kahn decided to play the game once. He warmed up to a Microsoft staffer whose talents he believed weren’t being fully utilized. The employee didn’t want to jump ship because Microsoft would sue him. Kahn said fine, let Microsoft sue, and Borland would pay whatever was necessary. So he defected. As expected, Gates was enraged and Microsoft sued.

Soon afterward, Kahn and his new hire were in an airport when a Hare Krishna solicited a donation. Kahn handed him $100 on the spot and told him there was a whole lot more in it for him if he’d deliver a message to Bill Gates: “Phillippe just gave us $100 for hot food because he suspects after this lawsuit, your employees are going to need it.”

He delivered the message. Gates wasn’t amused.

It was a bold, brash move. And I think it was pretty darn funny too. But smart? Not really. Borland’s glory days were pretty much over 10 years ago. For every star Borland could lure away, Microsoft could lure away three. Borland’s still in business today, which makes it fairly unique among companies that have taken on Microsoft head-on, but only after several reorganizations and major asset selloffs.

The only notable company that’s taken on Microsoft in the marketplace directly and won has been Intuit, the makers of Quicken. Microsoft even gave away its Quicken competitor, Microsoft Money, for a time, a la Internet Explorer, in an effort to gain market share. When that failed, Microsoft bought Intuit outright. The FTC stepped in and axed the deal.

The thanks Microsoft has given the world for making it the world’s largest software company has been to sell buggy software and do everything it could to force companies and individuals to buy upgrades every couple of years, even when existing software is adequate for the task. While hardware manufacturers scrape for tiny margins, Microsoft enjoys 85% profit margins on its product. But Microsoft mostly sits on its cash, or uses it to buy companies or products since it has a terrible track record of coming up with ideas on its own. The company has never paid dividends, so it’s not even all that much of a friend to its own investors.

For me, the question isn’t why I dislike Microsoft. The question for me is why Microsoft has any friends left.

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51 thoughts on “Why I dislike Microsoft”

  1. Wow, I knew or had read many of those things, but don’t think that I’ve seen as much of the details all together in one spot. Should be useful for when my wife’s friends ask why someone with Microsoft experience and certifications is so pro Linux.

    In fairness, I have heard tales like the quote from Gates that he asked people to write aps for Windows but they wouldn’t, so he went to the Microsoft applications group and they didn’t have that choice. However, I seem to recall that Microsoft did a lot to generate confusion about whether Windows or O/S 2 was the platform of the future, and I think that some of the major applications companies felt misled.

    Anyway, quite a damning litany of Microsoft’s wrongs.

  2. You hit the nail on the head about CPM & Phillippe Kahn. The book “Fire In The Valley” tells Kildall side of the whole IBM fiasco. It’s a good read and tells a lot of those little “behind the scenes” stories.

  3. Yes, Master Gates may be smarter than many of us – but I think that the bottom line on that is he surrounded himself with aggressive marketing people who had technological understanding. Not much technological understanding, maybe, but enough to sway those who knew less.

    Your remarks on Lotus… Wow. I didn’t think it was as intentional as it was ‘we just don’t care’. Intent is the difference between murder and manslaughter – but Lotus remains dead, and I do miss Symphony. Maybe they should redo it for Linux? That would be interesting.

    I do find it strange that you left out Jobs – maybe because the Jobs-Gates interaction has been discussed ad nauseam (there’s even “Pirates of Silicon Valley” for people who can’t read), but that factored in heavily as well… Not so much adversely affecting the PC platform at that point, but… today… well… look around.

    Microsoft doesn’t have friends. Microsoft has people who think they are friends. Inside the hallowed walls of Redmond, they are probably called “Revenue Streams” and “potential .Net nodes”. I like the latter myself.

    Great rant!

  4. Dave –
    As to Lotus, their death knell with me came when I couldn’t even copy a demo disk, MS didn’t even enter that picture – QuattroPro got my vote then and still serves my needs. And I hold Novell more responsible than MS for what happened to WP, which I also still use to good effect. But no, I don’t like MS tactics and refuse to load/use any XP versions and avoid MS applications as much as possible. My only reason for staying with 2000 (which I find okay) is that AutoCAD won’t run on anything else and I’m not able/willing to go without that.

    Thanks for your many and varied observations and tech notes, the recent material on laptops was very relevent and timely.

  5. Excellent overview! …and from one who was in the trenches during some of it: my outfit’s first network was DR-DOS twixt me and my assistant and the tech bench I ran.

    Well covered, bud.

  6. Dave,
    You didn’t the mention philanthropy. He’s given away millions.
    Oh, I’m sorry he takes that off his taxes.

  7. Joseph, you’re right in that Gates has given away millions, but the odd thing is that usually it’s in countries where Microsoft will make money off the publicity. Not to mention the tax benefits. Gary Kildall gave away much of his (much smaller) fortune, and he gave to causes that wouldn’t benefit him or his companies. Kildall was giving money to help children with AIDS before a lot of people knew who AIDS was.

    And Paul, I agree Novell and Lotus made mistakes, but regardless of the might-have-beens, before Win95 there was honest competition for Word and Excel in WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. Within two years there wasn’t.

    Taran, I left out Jobs partly because Apple is still alive and partly because everyone knows that story. I remember Gates’ quote: “Steve, just because you broke into Xerox PARC and stole the television doesn’t mean I can’t break in and take the stereo.”

    And you’re right that Gates is a savvy and ruthless businessman and his marketing people spin things the right way more often than not–the counter-switch gaffe from earlier this year was a rare mistake. And there are a great many good technology people at Microsoft, but when you can do things cheap and make more money than you would if you did things right… Well, after 21 years of that, you get something that looks like what we have now.

    Thanks for the comments, all.

  8. Well, I’m no fan of Microsoft. If I can manage it (constraints of work) I won’t be “stepping up” to XP – Win2K is the highest I’ve worked on so far, and I’d certainly prefer to see Linux and it’s applications progress to the stage where they’re good enough and easy enough and bullet-proof enough to work for the majority.

    I also remember MS stealing software. Anyone remember the fiasco when DOS 6.whatever brought out a backup utility they licensed from someone? Well, they didn’t actually licence it – they were negotiating, and while they were doing so they released that version of the OS with stolen software in it. Later they had to release an update that had their very own (incompatible) backup utility, and pay damages and royalties. However, it gave them time to develop their own version, and then there was no longer a market for the software the other company had, and MS had paid a bit, but had no permanent forever-after commitment to pay royalties, as they would had if they hadn’t made their “mistake”.

    HOWEVER, I don’t think we can castigate them for the Kildall easter-egg in an experimental version of MS-DOS. That could easily happen as part of a reverse-engineering process – break down the linked object, graft a new front end on the OS, and debug the front end while working up a functionally similar kernel. Perhaps not moral or ethical, but perfectly legal. You produce something that does the same things a different way, and it’s perfectly legal – no breach of copyright or patents.

  9. HOWEVER, I don’t think we can castigate them for the Kildall easter-egg in an experimental version of MS-DOS. That could easily happen as part of a reverse-engineering process –

    But you’d think that if Microsoft was going to stea…er, reverse-engineer the code, the very first thing they’d do is “file off the serial numbers”. The logical conclusion is that (in the immortal words of Tom Servo) they just didn’t care.

  10. There are quite a few inaccuracies in this long litany, but I will deal with only one. When I purchased my first PC, it came with MS DOS 2.1. I wanted to upgrade, or purchase MS DOS 3.2, the latest version, but couldn’t. The fact is, MS didn’t sell OSs to the public and I couldn’t purchase an upgrade as the manufacturer of my 2nd hand PC was no longer in business.

    The choice was to either purchase DR DOS, which is what I did, or pirate a copy of MS DOS. My third machine came bundled with MS DOS 3.3, but having been spoilt by better, I ran DR DOS and JP Software’s 4DOS command processor.

    Of course most people just pirated their OS, just as they pirated most of their applications. Quite how MS is to blame for this state of affairs, I remain unsure, but blaming a company that refused to sell to OSs to Joe Public for the demise of rival OSs doesn’t make sense.

    MS DOS 5 doesn’t count BTW as it was only sold to the public as an upgrade and you couldn’t upgrade DR DOS to MS DOS 5 (in Australia anyway). In any event, it would have been more of a downgrade than an upgrade, so I can’t remember being at all upset.

  11. As you do a disservice by saying, unqualified, that there are a lot of inaccuracies, I don’t know whether I’d be better off responding or just deleting your comment. But it would be unfair to not let you elaborate. So I’ll respond.

    How MS killed DR-DOS was by locking them out of OEM deals (which is where the real money lies–I stocked shelves back in the days when DOS upgrades sold at retail, and they were anything but hot sellers) and putting error messages in Windows 3.1. If its loss of 90% of its marketshare in the same year that Windows 3.1 was released isn’t a smoking gun, then I don’t know what is.

  12. It only took about a day for the DR-DOS patch for Windows 3.1 to come out, but the rumors were enough to back plenty of people off from even trying to keep their systems going with it and Windows.

  13. Here is an account of DOS and OS/2 history from an IBM employee. He says Microsoft paid $20,000 for what became DOS, not $50,000.

    It’s a very OS/2-centric piece but it gives some insight into the turmoil between Microsoft and IBM over OS/2. Doesn’t include the now-infamous “You can buy your copies of Win95 at retail” threat to IBM’s PC division from Gates though.

  14. In no particular order:

    Netscape’s main source of income was its server products, *not* its browser. Almost everybody used the free downloads whether they were students, or not.

    Adjusted for inflation, software has declined in price. No, not as much as hardware, but software is mostly intellectual property, and not so amenable to the economies of scale that brought hardware prices down. The days of writing an OS in a fortnight are long past! Even without adjustment for inflation, I paid more for Borland Sprint, a standalone word processor, than I did for Office 97! Adjusted for inflation, I paid about the same for DR DOS as Win2k. Adding the essential Windows GUI and PC Tools for Windows, I paid a lot more!

    The demise of Lotus 1-2-3 was engineered by Lotus, not MS. First by copy-protection that limited the number of times the app could be installed, then by not bringing a worthwhile Windows version to market quickly enough. Lotus’ litigiousness didn’t help.

    Word Perfect 5 for Windows was the most appallingly badly written application I have ever used and was the signal to many WP users to jump ship. Version 6 was somewhat better, but still far buggier than MS Word 6. Quite an achievement that!

    Personally, I never saw the alleged error messages in Windows caused by DR DOS. Yes, there were rumours. It’s even probable that MS started the rumours. BUT I very much doubt that MS can be held responsible for the *spreading* of the rumours that DR DOS wouldn’t work with Windows. It did work, very well indeed. Almost to a man, the computer pundits failed to point this out. I cannot believe that MS managed to engineer the latter.

    Note that until Win95 arrived, I used DR DOS/4DOS, then DR DOS with Win 3.x. When NT4 arrived, I dropped W95 and have been using Win2k ever since. My next regular OS will be a *nix, more than likely OS-X.

    OS/2 was killed by a ridiculous installer that refused to work with most machines, IBM charging a ridiculous price for the SDK and the subsequent shortage of apps.

    Yes, MS is stupid/evil [delete whichever is inapplicable], but its rivals were mostly complicit in their own downfall, by being even more stupid/evil [delete whichever is inapplicable]. Pointedly ignoring the latter is not necessary.

  15. Point by point:

    Netscape’s main source of revenue *became* the server products. Prior to the release of IE3, its main source of income was the browser. I don’t dispute that many people, maybe even most people, downloaded the browser and never paid for it, but ISPs were paying Netscape to distribute the browser, and it was sold in stores, and I know for a fact that people bought them. Netscape made far more money off Navigator than it ever made off its server products.

    Yes, software has declined in price significantly since the 1980s, but the declines since the mid-1990s have been slight. Margins remain ridiculously high; volume is much higher than it was in the mid-1990s. I think the current state of technology companies pretty much speaks for itself.

    The copy protection may have been the demise of 1-2-3 in your own mind, but it remained a force in the marketplace until the advent of Win95. Likewise, WP5win may have been its demise for you, but WP6.1win was wildly popular. Technicians hated 1-2-3 and WP6.1 because getting them to run under Win95 was a major bear. (I know because I worked in desktop support in those days.) But end users loved them. (I know because they told me.) Allegations of MS sabotaging those two apps appeared within weeks of Win95’s release. In the popular press, not just in the computer rags. By then, WP and 1-2-3 were in second place in their fields, but today there is no second place to speak of.

    If the DR DOS wrongdoings were truly as flimsy as you think, I doubt Microsoft would have settled out of court with Caldera. But MS paid Caldera *at least* $180 million to settle. There was speculation the actual amount was more than that. And those shenanigans were extraordinarily well documented at the time. There are plenty of references to it on the Web and Usenet as well.

    As for OS/2, maybe it didn’t install on most of *your* PCs, but I ran it on IBM (of course), Compaq, AST, Dell, Packard Bell, and generic PCs flawlessly. I know it had problems on certain 486s from Gateway 2000. But in my experience installing OS/2 on literally hundreds of PCs, it installed and ran just fine on the overwhelming majority of them. I know you’re not the only one who had problems with it, but jumping from “It didn’t work on my PC” to “It didn’t work on most PCs” isn’t very convincing. (Nor does history reflect it; I still have the PC rags of the day, and they complained about some things about OS/2, but rarely, if ever, about its compatibility.)

    Yes, MS’s rivals made some mistakes, but ignoring MS’s hand in their demise as you seem to be determined to do is also unnecessary. And the public’s eagerness to ignore MS’s wrongdoings today is, frankly, sickening.

  16. As a relative newcomer to the PC ‘expert’ community – by that I mean I’m counted in amongst the fairly large number of people who can do something more with their PC than just wordprocess (I’m a graduate software engineer & part-time small sysadmin) – I am acutely aware that my knowledge is hardly huge and my ‘expertise’ is not that of an actual expert.

    Nonetheless I find the number of contradictory arguments over historical occurrences that appear over the Web staggering. Unfortunately, browser histories being what they are, I can’t give any concrete references – but suffice it to say that virtually every single person with some knowledge seems to have their own version of events – sometimes tying up with others, sometimes not. The arguments above may or may not be true; I genuinely cannot tell without far more of my own research, and I have better things to do, like do my job to earn some money to live on.

    Still, the fact that references are quoted has got to be a plus point :).

    For my two cents, I tend to agree with both points of view. From a professional point of view, properly done open-source e.g. Linux is the way to go – I have to admit that despite some research, I still don’t quite understand how open-source can continue to make money. If we all provided our code for free, surely we put ourselves out of business? However I digress, sorry.

    Linux and its variants are still far too complex for ‘normal’ users to grasp (can anyone find one?). I have enough trouble explaining Windows’s easy-to-use wizards, let alone command line options. This may be a fundamental flaw in both OSes UIs – users certainly don’t seem to find them easy to use. It’s easy to say that once configured an OS should be left alone, it shouldn’t need messing with, but users want to change things and stopping them only creates resentment.

    My point, that I’m gradually meandering towards, is that perhaps we as a community need to split the discussion of Windows vs Linux vs MacOS etc… into three separate threads – the marketing, the UI, and the technical. Surely no-one can argue that MS has leveraged itself very nicely into a dominant position using marketing, and by a neat series of tricks ensured that most people don’t even know about alternatives. This btw is a good thing from a perspective of their business, just a very bad thing from the perspective of freedom, progress & choice.

    On a technical point, I’m not sure many are qualified to examine the pros & cons of each; each area of an OS seems to have its own experts. A shame you can’t mix and match bits of each OS. On a point slightly off-topic, you’ll note that sci-fi programs always seem to go for the mainframe with wireless semi-terminals approach. The terminals can cope without said mainframe, mind, and perhaps we ought to be looking at expansion of Palms etc.. It would certainly cut down on RSI & thrombosis :).

    Finally, the UI – as I said above, I think far more research needs to be done – I have learnt to use both Windows & Linux, but that’s a far cry from someone grasping it immediately without tuition. How many sysadmins would say no to an OS that they can install and the users don’t spend every five minutes saying ‘how do I do this?’ ?

    As a minor comment on a previous specific post, as opposed to this general topic, ‘the public’s eagerness to ignore MS’s wrongdoings today is, frankly, sickening’. I couldn’t agree more Dave, what I’d like to point out as a member of the public (a non-USA member of the public I might add) is that there’s hardly a massive rush to point out alternatives.

    This is, IMO, because so many people who work as sysadmins or developers seem to treat users as a inconvenience rather than a invaluable asset or indeed as their source of revenue & employment. I have to admit I’ve fallen in this trap before now. We need to help users in the real world – posting useful tips on the Web is great for us as a community and reaches many non-technical users as well – but what they really want is someone/something approachable they can ask for help.

    Office Assistant, irritating as it is, is the right idea, just badly done. As an example, my parents wanted to list their pupils scores by rank in Excel – they couldn’t find the formula until asking me to help them use the help. Once they’d been shown, they’ve had no problems since. The phrase used was ‘why have people been keeping this from me?’ – answer, we haven’t, we just haven’t done a very good job of publicising it. This applies to a heck of a lot of software. User guides are so often badly written, make too many assumptions or too few and generally need to be independently reviewed.

    A long post, and it may be that the entire community, and specifically the previous/future posters here, thinks what I’ve just said is complete rubbish – if so, why? After all, we only learn from constructive feedback, good bad or indifferent. Oh & btw if this was off-topic to the argument in mind when this set of comments got started I apologise :). It seemed mildly fitting at the time.

  17. Anything that has “evil empire” in it, is the start of a George Bush speech, a news clip from Sadam, or a web article that can’t be taken seriously.

  18. Companies like Lotus and Novell have themselves to blame if they were steamrolled by Microsoft. When Windows 2.11 came out, nobody bought it and it was only on anyone’s systems because Excel 3.0 needed it.

    The success of Windows was far from assured. All these noble O/S alternates like Gem, BeOS etc were OK in theory but a waste of time in practice. Windows gained ground because it ran CorelDRAW and Excel and they were good programs that people wanted. Why did NeXt fail? Because there was no market for it. Why will Lindows fail? Because there’s no market for it. Nobody says weak products with no revenue source and no market have to succeed. The industry has to get away from this notion that your business model simply has to consist of claiming to be ruined by Microsoft.

    These days every idiot with a failed IT venture simply has to throw his hands in the air and claim to have been shtupped by Microsoft and analysts, investors and the media all say “Gee, that’s too bad, Microsoft are bastards”. Scott McNealy is turning this into a religion.

    When Lotus and Wordperfect released Windows versions of their products they simply made clones of their DOS products. So for the first few iterations of those products there was no point buying them. Then Lotus put out a new spreadsheet called Improv which had a brilliant pivoting system but which nobody bought because they didn’t understand what it was. If they had put that technology into 1-2-3 it would probably still be a highly relevant spreadsheet today. It’s completely bizarre they would try to ship two spreadsheets.

    Lotus also had a great product called Notes but they were totally incapable of explaining to anybody what it was, how it worked or why you would want it. They spent years trying to make people understand. They had the jump on Microsoft for email and server-based knowledge systems and they squandered it completely.

    Novell bought Wordperfect and Digital DOS right at the moment DOS and DOS-based wordprocessing were completely irrelevant. In 1993 did Ray Noorda really think anybody was buying DOSes? They later sold the whole thing to Corel for a big loss.

    And don’t talk to me about Borland. Borland had a superior database to dBASE called Paradox but they couldn’t get an inroads to dBASE’s market. So they bought Ashton-Tate and threw away the technology. Result? They paid squillions for a mailing list that didn’t enhance their business. Ruination followed.

    I won’t even get started on all the Unix vendors who stuffed up Unix so badly it took years to get them all back on the same page.

    So these guys weren’t hammered by Microsoft, it’s just that their reign came to an end either by market forces or their own bad strategy. Microsoft has constantly re-invented itself whereas everyone else sticks to what’s in their little box and when they find the market has moved there’s suddently no sales left.

    Sun will be the next company to wither away in this fashion. And they will cry like schoolgirls about it being Microsoft’s fault because of they way they treated Java. Boo-hoo. Java’s a waste of time; like we need another cross-platform c variant. Microsoft were at one time the biggest distributor of Java on the planet – if users had to download a Java from Sun just to get some pissant Java app running on a website they would never have bothered. Who’s done the most to get Java into the hands of the masses? Not Sun. Not IBM. Not Linux. Microsoft. Sun has never tried to get its Java onto users’ PCs. They let Microsoft do the leg-work. What a bunch of idiots.

    It’s all very well to look back at Microsoft running around being aggresive but the fact is if DOS was not a common platform 20 years ago the computer industry as we now know it would not exist. At that time guys like IBM wanted to lock everyone in to proprietary systems. If they had succeeded the average PC today would still be $50,000, take up an entire room and we’d be using the most efficient, brilliantly engineered character-based 16-bit command-line operating system in history and the updates would arrive in a big box full of reels of tape.

    Before Windows 3.1 came along, WordPerfect 5.1, Lotus 1-2-3 and dBASE III were dominant but those products had reached the end of the line. Stifled innovation under Microsoft? WordPerfect, Lotus and Ashton-Tate were not innovating their products; they had stalled. The introduction of Windows 3.1 heralded a new era of fabulous new applications. Developers were freed from writing interfaces, device drivers and mouse routines and could get to the meat of their applications.

    I’m not a Microsoft apologist but MS is run by exactly the same types of people in every other company and if they had the ability to do what MS does, they would. Microsoft’s dominance is as much to do with the stupidity of everyone else in the industry. Today, all the companies that spend all day complaining about Microsoft are the same ones with weak products that nobody wants.

    Okay, Microsoft can be bastards sometimes, but so would the butcher shop on the corner if it had 100,000 employees and billions in revenue. It’s just the way things need to be done. Stop whining about it.

  19. Hmm, a lot of stuff there, Geoff. I agree with some of it, but not all. To whit:

    NeXT failed not only due to a niche marketspace, but because it was outrageously priced, even for the basic models. And will Lindows fail? Well, you argue that application support makes an OS viable. But isn’t Lindows – in theory – a Windows drop-in replacement? True, it may need to have a lower price point to give it momentum, but I’d argue that there’s a market for a cheaper Windows-“compatible” OS. Only time will tell, of course. They’ll always be chasing MS features, though.

    As to everyone blaming MS for their woes, I can agree there. MS may have acted predatorially on many occasions, but they also wouldn’t have gained marketshare if IE wasn’t an adequate browser. Sure, releasing it for free is an added incentive. But if Netscape had a leg-up – and after all, this was all they *did* for a living – they should have released a better browser for which folks would be willing to pay a small fee instead of worrying about their fresh-squeezed orange juice and at-desk massages. It’s not rocket science; MS leapfrogged Netscape. Ask Jamie Zawinski.

    As for Java, it’s not a waste of time. Most folks use it as an applet environment, and full-blown Java apps are much less common. But those that use enterprise-oriented Java have built some nice systems on it, despite what I consider to be inherent problems with the platform. It’s not going away, despite Sun’s attempts at slitting their throats. They have as much of a deathgrip on Java as MS does on Windows.

    As to MS being the impetus for cheap PCs, OK, maybe in this timeline. But Moore’s law creeps along, and MS wasn’t in the hardware business anyway. IBM still would have built the PC, and another vendor would have filled the OS hole (CP/M perhaps? Oh, wait, technically, CP/M *did* fill the hole; just Gates’ version). To say that MS should get credit for the PC becoming small and cheap is like saying the hamburger is McDonald’s invention. MS played a large part, but not one that wouldn’t have been played anyway. Lest you forget, there was this little upstart called Apple that made smaller-than-garage sized home computers for less than $50K around, oh, about the time that Bill Gates bought DOS.

    So, do I think too many companies play the MS victim? Yes, McNealy, Ellison, and especially Barksdale should look in the mirror. Do I think that MS has a lot of braintrust? Yes, most of it hired from elsewhere in recent times, but still there. But do I think that only with MS could the PC have become commonplace? No, not at all. Gates was an opportunistic salesman, and history is full of those.

  20. I also agree with most of what you’ve said. As with most things there are arguments on both sides and they are all correct. What is most irritating lately is Penguin-Fanciers who think they are noble and good and that Microsoft is uniformly evil. This sort of thinking is exactly why the world is the way it is (need I elaborate?). I don’t hate Linux, it’s just that in my environment it’s not a alternative (…yet?). That’s my choice.

    However, I’d make a few points in rebuttal:

    Lindows – OS/2 tried to market itself as a Windows replacement also. Big mistake. Why buy OS/2 to run Windows and DOS apps?

    Java – Hmmm, well we can disagree there. I think it’ll be a trivial pursuit question in ten years.

  21. Geoff, indeed the zealots on both sides of the fence give off more heat than light. And yes, people use what fits their needs. A penguinista is incorrect when damning MS for being the big show in town, but on the flipside, just because MS is dominant does mean it always has the best solutions. There’s an awful lot of grey in these discussions. I, too, find the fringes annoying.

    I should probably let Dave address the OS/2 analogy, since he actually *ran* the OS. ๐Ÿ™‚ My recollection is that OS/2 *was* a Windows iteration before MS shirked IBM. The reasons for buying OS/2 in the day were far different from the current era in which MS controls the desktop and can pretty much price as they please. Not to mention force users to upgrade lest support for their product evaporates.

    Java: I’m not a big fan by any means (despite any similarities to my daily programming dialect, C++). Sure, it may not be mainstrean in ten years (what *is*?), but it has momentum and groundswell. Serious solutions are being built upon it. And it’s had a better streak of longevity than any p-code language I’ve seen. One thing’s for sure: we *won’t* be talking about .NET in ten years. MS’s marketing machine will have sent us through five new “(r)evolutions” by then.

    I used to be a pretty hardcore MS defender, primarily because their component technology was (and still is, though the gap has closed, IMO) ahead of what the OMG crowd has put out. Hell, the OSS folks give .NET and the CLR a nod (see Ximian’s Mono project). But unfortunately, some questionable business practices, DRM, Product “Activation”, and bloat have taken the sheen off. So I’ve kept an open mind, and found Linux to be a superior solution in several cases, primarily in server space.

  22. I started to write a lot about the history of OS/2 and then realized that wasn’t the question.

    But yes, people did buy OS/2 to run DOS and Windows apps. DOS apps ran faster under OS/2; Windows apps ran with better stability. But people don’t buy OSs at retail in huge quantities. Even Microsoft can never meet its own projections when it releases upgrades at retail.

    Why buy Lindows or Xandros (Xandros actually has far better Windows compatibility than Lindows) to run Windows apps today when people wouldn’t buy OS/2 yesterday? Price, for one. Had OS/2 been price-competitive, it would have fared better. But when you paid $200 for OS/2, you were paying $100 to IBM for OS/2 and $100 to MS for the Windows compatibility. Most people opted to just stick with what came preinstalled on their computer.

    People won’t buy Xandros or Lindows at retail either. But they are buying $199 Wal-Mart PCs with it loaded. It’s a lot easier to find a computer preloaded with Lindows today than it was to find a computer preloaded with OS/2 in 1993.

    Also, the market’s changed slightly. People can tolerate less than full compatibility if MS Office and a few games run–assuming that (1) there’s decent native software available, which is more true of Linux today than it ever was of OS/2, and (2) they saved enough money. With OS/2 you didn’t save any money. But for $20 more than the cost of a retail copy of XP “For computers without Windows,” you can have a PC with Lindows preinstalled.

    And you’ll notice Lindows doesn’t talk much about Windows compatibility anymore. Xandros does a little, but I don’t know how many people have even heard of it.

  23. I’ve used Xandros, actually.

    Simply put, it’s commercial Linux done “right” for the corporate switcher.

    I’ve run my hinky legal copy of Office 97 SBA that gave me hell to get running on Windows. Installed and ran on Xandros with much less trouble.

    While they don’t promise 100% compatability, what apps they do say works, actually does work.

    USB drives? Just stick ’em in. They Just Work.
    (flash drives, anyway)

    Nvidia card? Installs the NVidia drivers without a single edit of a config file.

    While LindowsOS is slick, I’s as much a Linux distro as a TiVo box is. While it may use Linux sofware, it is *not* the traditional Linux distro.

  24. I don’t like Lindows. To be fair, I’ve never used it, but the reason I say I don’t like it is mainly because of the mixed licensing involved – which is a legal quagmire for users.

    I also don’t like the fact that it rhymes with Windows. I do like the legalese factor of Microsoft vs. Lindows on the name (and now Lindows vs. Microsoft), but…

    I don’t see Lindows as anything better than any other Linux distro. Of course, I’m using the new Mandrake and having no problems while everyone else seems to have problems.

    I don’t like the fact that the hardware/software bundle doesn’t seem to come with options on some systems. I personally believe that hardware and software should be sold separately, so that the consumer is forced to make a choice. Otherwise, they gripe, complain, whine, and stick with the software/operating system they are unhappy with. Maybe if they ***realized*** that they were *paying* for these things, they would give a beaver home.

    I do know people who have bought Wal-Mart specials and threw their own distro on it. I don’t know if this breaks Lindows warranty. I don’t care. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Thing is… like I said, Lindows is not your run of the mill Linux distro. My comparison is with the TiVo – runs on open source and Linux but does not present the consistent interface.

    I have played with it on a “non-original” copy that someone gave to me.

    It does what it claims to do. No more, no less.

    Nice and easy, (very slick), but not a “workstation Linux”. More a “Internet kiosk” Linux.
    Plus all the hinky licensing.

  26. In 1994 Netscape began offering its browser free for personal and acedemic use.

    In 1997 Internet Explorer 3 was fully integrated into Windows, that is, non removable.

    It seems to me that you are bitter and full of hot air. It also seems that you wouldn’t be able to document your bitterness. Where are the financials stating the sources of Netscape’s revenue prior to IE 3? Where are the documents that release versions (not betas) of Windows hurt DR DOS? Where are the documents that that show the sabotage of Windows 95 against WordPerfet or Lotus 1-2-3?

    “For every star Borland could lure away, Microsoft could lure away three.” So you bash Microsoft for using the same tactic against Borland that Borland was using against Microsoft? That’s bad logic.

    Windows has an 85% gross profit margin. You state that, and I’ll not dispute it, since I’ve seen the financials. What you fail to understand is that such margins are common in the software industry.

    Symantec – (
    Gross Margin – 89%

    Oracle – (
    Gross Margin – 78.7%

    Microsoft – (
    Gross Margin – 84.1%

    Novell – (
    Gross Margin – 66.4%

    Corel – (
    Gross Margin – 91.3%

    So, let’s put this stupid gross profit margin attack to rest. It’s the nature of software to have higher margins than in many other industries.

    This is rather adversarial (as was your rant), so I’d hardly blame you for disregarding it. Still, before you turn against Microsoft (which you’ve already done, so I guess I’m too late), it’s wise to understand better the situation – that is, Microsoft’s competitors did many evil things (giving away free products, luring away employees, etc.) and Microsoft isn’t as evil as you think.

  27. “But when you paid $200 for OS/2, you were paying $100 to IBM for OS/2 and $100 to MS for the Windows compatibility.”

    What? IBM had license to the Windows source code as a result of the joint development of DOS. IBM didn’t have to pay for the license, it was part of the DOS package.

  28. No, IBM had a license to use it. That’s not the same as co-owning it. That’s the reason why eventually you saw “OS/2 for Windows” and the “red box” Warp package that used an existing copy of Windows. That allowed them to sell OS/2 to upgraders more cheaply since they didn’t have to pay Microsoft royalties for code those end users already owned.

    As for Mr. “You lack sources but not emotion,” Netscape gave a lot of code away before 1997. I’m pretty sure I mentioned that. But browser sales were its main source of revenue until IE was “integrated” into Windows.

    I can locate financials and other documentation. The DR-DOS stuff will be all over Usenet. But first, I note it’s a whole lot easier to shoot down an argument than it is to write the initial one. And it’s even easier to do it anonymously. So I guess I could say that you lack guts but not emotion.


    Keep in mind that Microsoft settled this case out of court. When you have as much money as Microsoft and antitrust authorities on two continents are breathing down your neck and a suit like this comes up, you don’t settle out of court if you can win. If you’re innocent, you welcome the opportunity for vindication.

    But I do agree, a piece with citations would be useful. I’ll have to spend some time working on that.

    As far as my “turn against Microsoft,” I don’t think I ever turned on Microsoft. I read about the DR DOS shenanigans in 1990 on the bulletin boards I called and in Compute magazine. That didn’t affect me any–I had an Amiga and preferred it because it had pre-emptive multitasking and, at the time, lots of cool software–but sabotage as a business practice was never something I liked. So I was anti-Microsoft before anti-Microsoft was cool.

    Today, I’m a sysadmin by trade. I administer Linux and Windows NT/2000 systems. NT’s dominance allows me to make a better living than I would make otherwise. I wrote a book about Windows. I’ve made some money off Microsoft. But none of that makes the things Microsoft has done right. And yes, Microsoft’s competitors have done some of the same things. But monopolists can’t play by the same rules as the people trying to compete against the monopolist. That’s been the law in the United States since 1890.

  30. DR DOS. The DR DOS situation is rather interesting, since the brunt of the issue dealt with beta versions of Windows. Similar disclaimers appear regarding Microsoft OSes when testing Microsoft applications. Perhaps you are correctly in your analysis of Caldera, or perhaps Microsoft had enough legal troubles and the cost/benefit analysis showed it was cheaper to settle (and, mind you, the terms of the settlement were never disclosed) then to litigate further.

    OS/2. My recolloection of the OS/2 licensing situation is quite different from yours. Perhaps you can show non anecdotal evidence of your claims?

    Netscape. Your opinions on their revenue stream still do not provide evidence. You made the claim, I’d like to see proof of it. I am very opinionated, but I am easily swayed by evidence. Others’ opinions, though, do little for me.

    Monopolies. True, monopolies must live by a different set of rules. The recent settlement with the Justice Department set the rules that the monopoly must live by. At what point in time are you claiming that Microsoft has a monopoly? When Netscape had its monopoly, Microsoft wasn’t browser dominant. When Borland had its monopoly, Microsoft wasn’t dev tool dominant. When IBM had its monopoly, Microsoft wasn’t OS dominant (nor did they barely exist).

    At what point did the rules change? Next question, after it was ruled that they were a monopoly, have they exhibitted behaivor which is forbidden to a monopoly? If the answer to that is yes, then I’d suspect that the DOJ wouldn’t have settleed, nor would several of the states, nor what the Judge have OK’ed the settlement.

    Anonymous. Check your server logs if you want to find out more about me. I’m Bob Smith. Does that now make me non – anonymous? If we were having this conversation face to face, I’d make the same comments, so I’m not sure what guts have to do with it.

    You are right, though, in your statements about articles. It is much easier to critique than it is to create. Still, if the critique is valid, ad hominems won’t change that. If I were to write an article that went of ranting about this or that, I’d provide evidence. If I had no intention of providing evidence, I wouldn’t even be sure that I was right. Perhaps, just perhaps, if I did research I’d discover that some of my opinions (which I thought were facts) were not true. Without evidence this is nothing more than an opinion, which quite possibly is 100% inaccurrate.

  31. Well, Bob, if I’m not correct then I’m guilty of libel.

    Tell you what. You prove IBM had whatever rights you think they had. I’ll keep finding sources. I’ve already dug up more on the DR DOS shenanigans and a whole lot more on WordPerfect. I’ve got your Netscape financials and they prove I was correct. (For a preview: Browser revenues accounted for more than 50% of the company’s revenue in 1995 and 1996. It was 20% of its revenue in 1997. Total revenue increased in 1997 but browser revenues in raw dollars declined 42%. I found them in an article on I’ve got the gory details on the Windows 95 negotiations with IBM.

    I’ll post it all when I finish finding stuff. It’ll probably be a couple of days. I keep finding more and more.

  32. Wow, you’ve done a great job of supporting your argument. A couple of days must be a very relative term.

  33. Here are a couple of very long documents for you to chew on:

    This web site is a hobby. I have a job. My job’s been demanding my full attention lately. My most sincere apologies to you for having a life.

    I’ll post a followup when I have time and feel like it. Now if you’ll excuse me, my doorbell’s ringing.

  34. Sigh.

    The only people that rabidly defend Microsoft (my opinion only)

    (a) work for Microsoft;

    (b) work for a “solution provider” that exclusively deal in Microsoft technology;

    (c) secretly emulate Messrs Gates and Ballmer and their business methods; or

    (d) have issues with the legal definition of “monopoly power”.

    Which points to the fact that their understanding of capitalism is flawed, but that’s another story.

    I used to use and like Microsoft software all the time. A couple of things changed that: the shoddy coding and high price of the products the company sells (lose enough critical data and you’d get skeptical too) and the predatory business methods of the company. As I am not in the US and don’t have a large company to subsidize the cost of the MS licenses for Office, cost matters to me. On a personal level, ethical behaviour (relative, too, I know) also matters.

    The fact that most of the MS people I have met and spoken with are not particularly open-minded people may also have something to do with it. My opinion, based on my experience: your experience *may* be different.

    Dave *is* working on another Microsoft article. If you were a regular reader of TSU, you’d know that

    (a) he’s not been well, and
    (b) he can’t type for long periods of time.

    Being skeptical is good, except when you don’t have the courage of your convictions to sign a valid name or email address to your comments.

    Dave is one of the more fair-minded journalists that I’ve come across. The fact that he’s taking the time to get the research done *properly* is to his credit.

    Strange, that. Pro-Microsoft vitriol at anything that is less than uncritical MS praise seems to be reserved for the most well-researched articles and data. The siege mentality of Microsoft and its supporters would be amusing if they weren’t the largest software company in the Windows operating environment space. It’s like the 800 pound gorilla complaining that a two-pound spider monkey is breathing on his water.

  35. There are also:

    e) Technical people who have been using Microsoft products their whole lives, have upgraded with them every step of the way having only minor problems and/or have not had any experiences with any others systems so they would have something to compare with Microsoft.


  36. (f) People who are willing to skip a day off of work to attend a Microsoft Training Event – that their company pays for – that they could have avoided by using that F1 key…

    and as far as supporting Dave…

    Hell. Dave made more points than the Bulls in the first quarter….

    Dave, will you sign my Nikes? ๐Ÿ˜€

  37. I’m neither a sysadmin nor a journalist, and my knowledge of the MS- versus- everyone- else story is minimal. I do know that MS penalised me because my Windows 98 was reinstalled from a different source (local computer repairer), and that downloading their media player resulted in the automatic changing of my mp3 files to a windows format. This infuriated me. I also was unable to use various bits of their software after their so-called security updates told them I had stuff from another box on my system. You may say that means I was in breach of their licences, but until this happened I was not aware of their rapacious practices. I’m now better informed. Try looking up “Namibia..Linux..schools”, or “Open Source Villanueva Peru” on google, and have a browse…

    Sure, from the viewpoint of a home desktop user, Windows works- but guess what: I’m writing this in an Opera browser, from a Linux OS. As soon as I can install a driver for my scanner, Windows will be wiped off my hard drive. I wonder why?

    This may be off topic and not conform to netiquette, I wouldn’t know. I do know that people all over the world are starting to react to the Microsoft attitude by voting with their feet…or perhaps their mouse?

  38. I’m neither a sysadmin nor a journalist, and my knowledge of the MS- versus- everyone- else story is minimal. I do know that MS penalised me because my Windows 98 was reinstalled from a different source (local computer repairer), and that downloading their media player resulted in the automatic changing of my mp3 files to a windows format. This infuriated me. I also was unable to use various bits of their software after their so-called security updates told them I had stuff from another box on my system. You may say that means I was in breach of their licences, but until this happened I was not aware of their rapacious practices. I’m now better informed. Try looking up “Namibia..Linux..schools”, or “Open Source Villanueva Peru” on google, and have a browse…

    Sure, from the viewpoint of a home desktop user, Windows works- but guess what: I’m writing this in an Opera browser, from a Linux OS. As soon as I can install a driver for my scanner, Windows will be wiped off my hard drive. I wonder why?

    This may be off topic and not conform to netiquette, I wouldn’t know. I do know that people all over the world are starting to react to the Microsoft attitude by voting with their feet…or perhaps their mouse?

  39. I, unfortunately, have recently re-committed to Microsoft Windows due to my commercial software development.

    I still use GNU/Linux for most everything else, though, and I use non-Microsoft products on my Windows machine (Mozilla, C++ Builder, CodeWarrior, etc.).

  40. I guess I spoke too soon. Now that I’ve changed jobs, I’m using mostly GNU/Linux tools again for development – such as mod_highlight (which is still in a pre-alpha state due to time constraints).

    Once I get this bloody hosting problem off my back I can continue developing once again. ๐Ÿ˜€

  41. The documents pertaining to Caldera v Microsoft are now shredded. Isn’t that interesting? I guess we’ll never know…

  42. I have a few comments on the history presented here. It seems to be mostly accurate, but there are a few discrepancies. I think everyone should keep in mind the old addage “Attribute not to malace that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”.

    In fact, it’s quite difficult to maintain backwards compatibility in software, and requires a great deal of effort to do so. It’s much more plausible that compatibility issues are the results of mistakes rather than intentaional malace.

    For instance, the comments about MS turning on IBM by selling DOS to their competitors isn’t really very fair. IBM didn’t want exclusive rights to DOS. They didn’t forsee a large third party market for it, and thought they were screwing Microsoft by paying less for it by licensing it from them.

    As for DR-DOS, the error messages mentioend in DR-DOS only appeared in a beta version of Windows 3.1, and were not active in the retail copies. There has been much made about these error messages, but the fact of the matter is that very few people knew about them, thus they couldn’t really effect the mass population opinion of DR-DOS.

    You can read more about it here:

    Also, there were several legitimate bugs in DR-DOS that affected compatibility with Windows, which even Novell admits. They issued a patch to correct them, but the early bugs did a lot to tarnish the DR-DOS reputation. From the above referenced article:

    “So whenever I’ve heard accusations that Microsoft practices so-called “cruel coding” to keep Windows from running on DR DOS, I look at the facts: Windows 3.1 Enhanced mode does run on DR DOS. Standard mode does not run, but that’s because of a DR DOS bug acknowledged by Novell (see Undocumented DOS, Second Edition).”

    Also note this statement:

    “(It wouldn’t be the first time company N’s bug has been misinterpreted as company M’s “deliberate incompatibility.”)”

    Everyone wants to paint Microsoft as the killer of DR-DOS, and that’s true to an extent, but not for the reasons most people think. Microsoft wanted to kill DR-DOS, that’s true. But MS wanted to kill DOS itself even more. In 1986, MS and IBM joined forces to create OS/2 to kill of DOS. DOS remained hard to kill, though, despite several attempts by both IBM and Microsoft. DR-DOS was an unfortunate casualty of these attempts to minimize DOS (by both OS/2 and Windows) so that it could be shit-canned.

    Microsoft resucitated it’s “Windows” product to act as a “bridge” between DOS and OS/2, which is one of the reasons the Windows API bears such a strong resemblance to OS/2’s. This had some marginal success, but it wasn’t until Windows 3.0 in 1990 that Windows applications actually started coming out in any real quantity. Sadly, nobody was taking advantage of the “bridge” to port to OS/2, for a number of reasons.

    In 1991, IBM and Microsoft started to feud. Windows sales were increasing, without the expected benefit to OS/2. IBM and Microsoft disagreed on the future of OS/2 (much as they’d disagreed throughout it’s history) and they went their seperate ways. Microsoft converted their “OS/2 NT” project to “Windows NT” and positioned it as the logical successor to DOS and Windows.

    Few people bought NT though, not for lack of trying by Microsoft either. Again, for a variety of reasons, MS was stuck selling Windows still, largely because that’s the only product most people wanted to buy. So, once again, MS conceived of nother “Bridge” project to bridge Windows with NT, which became Windows 95.

    Windows 95 was supposed to be rather short lived, being on the road map only until 1997. But NT’s development took an unexpected (at the time) twist and it took an extra 5 years for the consumer version of NT to reach the marketplace (mostly because MS discovered “the enterprise” and feature creep in Windows 2000 drove the schedules so far back it was insane).

    So, we now have Windows XP, which is what Microsoft wanted back in 1993 when they released NT 3.1. That is, to kill off DOS. And, it’s working. The latest statistics from google have NT based Windows outnumbering DOS based windows by almost 10%. In another 2 or 3 years, DOS based Windows will be a memory on all but the oldest of computers.

    Lotus, WordPerfect, and other competitors really helped to seal their own fate. Both Lotus and WordPerfect took a “wait and see” approach to both Windows, and Windows 95. Neither wanted to invest resources into a port to either platform until it had prove itself. Unfortunately, this gave Microsoft all the room they needed to cement themselves into the public mindshare as the defacto standard for office applications on Windows.

    Once Lotus and WordPerfect discovered their mistake, they rushed their Windows products to market so fast that they were very poorly designed, and even more poorly implemented. They were buggy pieces of crap that tarnished their reputation, and all because they didn’t have the balls to invest in Windows early.

    In fact, MS has continually beaten their comptetitors by using a single tactic implemented in one of two ways, which has worked for most things. Be the first to market with a product that is “good enough”. And, if you’re going to invest in a product line, go all the way and bet the farm.

    Microsoft bet the farm on Windows 95. They invested 100’s of millions in applications designed to run on it and showcase it effectively, and be first to market. You may chuckle all you like over MS’s “innovation”. The fact of the matter is, they don’t mind risking the entire company. Most of MS’s competitors prefer to play it safe, and thus losing their opportunities.

    There are no two better examples than Visio and Intuit. Both were pioneers in their market that continued to take risks, and Microsoft had a very hard time competing with either of them. Microsoft eventually bought Visio, and wanted to buy Intuit, but faced too much opposition and withdrew.

    Some will undoubtably claim that MS had an unfair advantage, being able to start Windows 95 products before other companies, but that’s not really an excuse. Beta versions of Windows 95 were available for more than two years publicly, as well as the SDK’s. One thing Microsoft did well was to make developer information available, and cheaply.

    OS/2, BeOS, and others suffered from major problems that had nothing to do with Microsoft as well. Did Microsoft help with their demise? Sure. But that really only accelerated the eventuality.

    OS/2, while technically a better solution than 16 bit Windows required far more resources at time when resources were not yet very cheap. IBM also had a habit of treating OS/2 like a mainframe OS, and making it more difficult to use than it needed to be (for instance, there was no reason why you had to install multi-media features seperately, with a text mode installation program (though it did have a GUI front-end)). My personal belief is that IBM deliberately did this to encourage more work for their consultancy services. OS/2 also suffered from many of the same problems that NT did. If Microsoft couldn’t sell NT, OS/2 had little chance of doing it.

    What OS/2 lacked was OEM’s. Many will claim that OEM’s were prohibitied, or at a financial disadvantage if they shipped OS/2, but this ignores the simple fact that if those contracts did not exist, IBM would still have difficulty selling OS/2 to OEM’s because they were themselves an OEM with a long checkered past of screwing other OEM’s (think Micro Channel, lawsuits over BIOS code, etc..). Few OEM’s would want to get in bed with their greatest competitor, and be at their mercy. At least with Microsoft, an OEM could be reasonbly confident that whatever was happening to them was happening to their competitors as well.

    BeOS simply lacked applications. They didn’t have the resources of IBM or Microsoft to develop or buy their own application product lines to boost the acceptance of the platform. Further, BeOS spent much of their time (and investment capital) concentrating on the PPC market in an attempt to become the successor to MacOS. When Apple stabbed them in the back and bought NeXT, Be had to scramble to port their OS to x86, and this was really just a last ditch effort. It lacked device drivers as well, only running on a small subset of the hardware available. Finally, Be ran out of money, with an half finished OS and a failed broken IPO, they had to close up shop.

    Undoubtably, someone will mention the Hitachi incident, in which Hitachi wanted to ship BeOS (which Be was giving away for free) but were restricted by Microsoft contracts. While this was indeed a big problem for Be, it was really just the straw that broke the camels back. Hitachi was Be’s last harrah.

    Finally, to comment on the “shoddy code” comments. I place the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of the consumers. Why? Because we *BOUGHT* it. Microsoft proved, time and again, that they’d sell us anything we wanted, even if they wanted otherwise (see my comments above about Dos refusing to die). We were the first people in line to buy the rushed to market products because we wanted features, damn the bugs! If we as consumers had held fast and demanded quality over glitz, Microsoft *WOULD* have delivered it. But since we encouraged MS to ship shoddy software with our pocketbooks, that’s what MS gave us.

    If they hadn’t, someone else would have. The first to market is the one to make the case, so long as it’s “good enough”.

    All in all, it’s a good article, but I think it unfairly attributes way too much to Microsoft’s prowess as a monopolist rather than to the incompetance of their competitors.

  43. And I hate to say it, but Windows Server 2003 is a damn fine product. I’ve been testing it for a while – initial impressions were not so good, but then I realized the problems were my fault – not setup right.

    So now I’ve got a Win2k3 box sitting next to our Linux web server. Both of them have the same uptime – since our last power outage. Neither has had any errors. Both have a pretty decent load on them. And I’ve had to patch the Linux box more than the Windows box.

    Hmm… has Microsoft finally listened?

  44. Which O/S costs more?

    Microsoft listen, then keep building up the walls. As someone mentioned, they have a seige mentality towards Linux and Open Source, and attempt to discredit it at every turn.

    Why as we speak, our South Australian government has signed off on some dramatic procurement plans which make Open Source products the preferred choice! S.A. is not a big state and needs to save money.

    They are now under huge pressure from Microsoft with threats about anti-competitive practices and blocking U.S. made/designed goods.

    It’s funny how they cry from the rooftops when the boot is on the other foot…

  45. As far as licensing costs are concerned, corporate versions of Linux such as RedHat Enterprise and Mandrake ProSuite are *not* free. Although the licensing fees are usually less costly than similar fees from Microsoft for Windows XP Professional, they are still substantial.

    Add to this the training costs associated with using / StarOffice, KDE, etc., and you’ll see that there are more than enough reasons to consider your options rather than take the open-source plunge.

    I love GNU/Linux (so much that I actually call it GNU/Linux most of the time). I dislike Windows. I’m just trying to make sure more of the variables are presented.

    Monopoly or not, if Microsoft didn’t listen to their customers then they wouldn’t continue to make money.

  46. “Monopoly or not, if Microsoft didn’t listen to their customers then they wouldn’t continue to make money.”

    In the beginning, Microsoft listened (to some degree) to their customers. But as market domination grew, they became less and less attentive – with a captive audience, there’s not much incentive to listen to its needs or complaints. That’s the problem with a monopoly: the money continues to flow in without much effort. When your customers have no place else to turn, it’s not likely that you’re going to lose them.

    We’ve been howling about security issues and product instability for ages. Only recently, thanks to the threat of some actual competition in the arena, has Microsoft scrambled together some better stability and “trustworthy computing” – coupled, alas, with the usual FUD tactics as their defense against the competition.

    Even if Microsoft manages to finally build some trustworthy products (and behave in a trustworthy manner), they will never again have my respect nor my business. My move to Linux hasn’t all been smooth sailing or free, but the freedom from the Redmond chains is priceless. Despite the quirks and headaches, it makes me happy to run Linux every day. It’s been years since I’ve been happy running Windows – and Windows has plenty of quirks, and has given me many headaches.

  47. “Monopoly or not, if Microsoft didn’t listen to their customers then they wouldn’t continue to make money.”

    In the beginning, Microsoft listened (to some degree) to their customers. But as market domination grew, they became less and less attentive – with a captive audience, there’s not much incentive to listen to its needs or complaints. That’s the problem with a monopoly: the money continues to flow in without much effort. When your customers have no place else to turn, it’s not likely that you’re going to lose them.

    We’ve been howling about security issues and product instability for ages. Only recently, thanks to the threat of some actual competition in the arena, has Microsoft scrambled together some better stability and “trustworthy computing” – coupled, alas, with the usual FUD tactics as their defense against the competition.

    Even if Microsoft manages to finally build some trustworthy products (and behave in a trustworthy manner), they will never again have my respect nor my business. My move to Linux hasn’t all been smooth sailing or free, but the freedom from the Redmond chains is priceless. Despite the quirks and headaches, it makes me happy to run Linux every day. It’s been years since I’ve been happy running Windows – and Windows has plenty of quirks, and has given me many headaches.

  48. I’m sorry for being such a pest about the computer thing. I miss talking to you. You are a rare individual. I’ve been listening to a lot of goth-type music lately and it reminds me of you.

    Your Friend,

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