Myths About Microsoft

Myths About Microsoft

Microsoft has a monopoly?
There are two kinds of “monopolies”, which I’ll call coercive and competitive. Coercive involves actual violence or the real threat of it. For example, organized crime has been handed its greatest gift – a coercive monopoly on distributing certain pharmaceuticals – this monopoly is enforced by the police, at the expense of the taxpayers, who are also the people buying the product. Try to compete with this monopoly and you die, either being shot by BATF thugs or by organized crime thugs. Nice setup, eh?

The Post Office is a coercive monopoly in most countries; you can be put in jail by force if you try to start your own first-class mail delivery service, in many countries.

A competitive monopoly is one that comes about as a result of market forces. Competitive monopolies generally don’t last as long as coercive ones because, despite the high cost of entry, there are always people willing to try to compete, and some percentage of these succeed. Just a generation ago, IBM was the perceived monopoly and Microsoft came out of nowhere.

A coercive monopoly prevents alternatives. A competitive monopoly cannot prevent competitors from starting up and, often, gaining market share. Consider these alternatives:
Item Alternative
Operating System OS/2, Linux, OpenBSD/FreeBSD/NetBSD, BeOS, …
Browser Lynx, Netscape, Opera
Office Suites Star Office, Applix, Corel Office, …
Encyclopaedias on CD Britannica, others too numerous to list
Home Entertainment Too numerous to list
Small Business Software Too numerous to list

There is competition — it’s up to the people to use it!
The government needs to break Microsoft up?
Nonsense. The market will do so, in good time. When people don’t want Microsoft to stay huge, they will stop buying its products. There are good alternatives on all fronts; see previous question.

Microsoft Promulgates Myths About Itself

Microsoft gains market share by innovation?
The sad truth is that Microsoft gains some of its market share by shady back-room deals and by threatening and intimidating its own customers.
Windows 95 is innovative
The alleged innovations in Windows’95 were “borrowed” from other operating systems.
Microsoft invented DOS
There were many Disk Operating Systems before Microsoft. IBM had DOS for its then-small System/360 mainframes as far back as 1964. The DOS that we know and hate today was not even written by Microsoft.
Microsoft Invented Directories
Many people have remarked upon how much the directory structure of UNIX looks like that of MS-DOS, and wonder if UNIX copied it. In fact, the UNIX directory structure was invented in 1970 by Ken Thompson and another researcher at AT&T Bell Laboratories. Bill Gates wanted to dominate the world so, in the 1980s, Microsoft was working on its own version of UNIX. They licensed it from AT&T and renamed it Xenix (since AT&T then wouldn’t let anybody use the name UNIX). Now the folk at the MS Campus in Redmond are pretty collegial, so it wasn’t long before the folks in the Xenix project and the folks working on DOS were drinking together. The DOS folks needed a way to get beyond the 15 “user areas” that MS-DOS had inherited from CP/M-86 (see DOS history above). The Xenix folk were bragging about how great UNIX-style directories were. So they DOS folk looked, and became believers, and borrowed the ideas and the syntax, but not the implementation. UNIX’s chdir/cd, mkdir (shortened to md), and directory tree notions were grafted onto DOS’s drive letters, and the slash (/) converted to a backwards slash (\) in a move that has driven “bilingual” people crazy ever since (it wasn’t for that purpose; MS had already used “/” as an option delimiter where UNIX used the “-“, and felt they couldn’t change that for fear of breaking backwards compatibity).

Once Microsoft got the idea that they could write Windows NT and stop paying royalties to AT&T, the Xenix project was cancelled. However, it was taken over by a smaller company that had begun as its largest dealer. The Santa Cruz Operation, later shorted to SCO, continued to sell UNIX software and systems until around 2001, when it was acquired by Caldera.
Microsoft Invented Windows?

Window systems as we know them were invented by Xerox, at their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Nearby SRI researcher Doug Englebart invented the mouse as we know it.

When Apple Computer was foundering after the first onslaught of the IBM PC (which even with its crippled processor was faster than the “Apple ][” or Apple 2) and MS-DOS, their leaders visited Xerox PARC and saw window systems. They hired some of the talent away, and put out the Apple Lisa (which I first saw demonstrated in Toronto around 1983). Lisa was a flop, but she paved the way for (or even mutated into) the Apple Macintosh.

Bill Gates, who even then wanted to dominate the world, saw the Xerox Alto and decided he had to have one, too. He got his best geeks to fake up a prototype, showed it at Comdex, and the press boys all wowed it. Then they actually wrote it and, after 3.1 tries, got something that barely worked 🙂 The rest is history.

For Further Reading

For Seattle DOS and MS-DOS, hit the library and read Microsystems (later called Micro/Systems Journal) for 1980-1984. Not the Microsoft Journal, but the original Microsystems Journal put out by Sol Libes, and later cannibalized by Ziff-Davis.

For Bill Gates, check out the books Hard Drive and Over Drive.

For life on the Redmond Campus, check the book MicroSerfs, by Douglas Copland, the same dude that coined the term Generation X.
Back-room deals

As a single example, consider this Reuters story which appeared in The Financial Post on January 12, 1998:

Microsoft Wins TCI Contract Seattle — Microsoft Corp scored a major victory Saturday in its aggressive push to lead the convergence of television and the Internet, winning a contract to supply the core sofware for at least fie million advanced set-top boxes for cable giante Tele-Communications Inc.
The deal, hammerered out in negotiations that lasted until 2:30 a.m., came just a day after Microsfoft’s bitter rival, Sun Microsystems Inc. announced [that] TCI would use its [J]ava programming language in the boxes,

In other words, once Bill Gates was stung by Sun, he went into the back room with TCI and a mandate to get even.
Threatening your own

Microsoft is not above threatening to destroy entire companies (even its own large customers) to get its own way. Here’s another quote from another Reuters article, also in The Financial Post on January 12, 1998:

Software giant faces federal contempt charge
Washington — Microsoft Corp faces federal charges of contempt tomorrow for allegedly violating a judge’s order requiring the software giant to sell computer makers its Windows 95 software without building in a Web browser.
The Justice Department has aasked U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson to fine [the company] US$1 million a day for violating his Dec. 11 preliminatry injunction…
The government stepped in last fall, after Microsoft threatened to cut off Compaq Computer’s access to Windows 95. Compaq needs Windows to stay in business.

In other words, Bill was then so determined to destroy Netscape over its dominance in the Browser field that he was willing to destroy Compaq if they wouldn’t help him do it.
Windows 95: Steal from the best

The general ideas of windowed computer are all appropriated from Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre) and environs, where windows, the mouse, selection, drag-and-drop, the File/Edit/View menu, and so on were all invented while Bill Gates was still just another college dropout. See Michael Hiltzik’s book Dealers of Lightning for documentation on this.

Here are just a few of the major “innovations” in Windows ’95, and where M$ “borrowed” them from:
Innovation Actual Origin
Icons directly on desktop Xerox Alto (1981); Macintosh (1982?)
Recycle Bin Macintosh Trash Can (1984?)
Start Menu Macintosh Apple Menu (1982?)
Settings->Control Panels Macintosh Control Panels
Long File Names Macintosh 1982?; UNIX 1979.
Task Bar HP Vue
Right Button Menus Sun SunView, Sun/ATT OPEN LOOK, …
DCOM Xerox Alto; RPC (Sun&HP had RPC mechanisms by the early 1980’s)
Internetworking Xerox Alto; UNIX (4.2BSD, 1982, included TCP/IP)
Network file sharing Many, many distributed filesystem schemes

No wonder the Macintosh fans all said “Windows 95 == Mac 88”.
Seattle Computer’s SC-DOS becomes MS-DOS

IBM was designing and building its first Personal Computers in the early 1980’s, and needed an operating system. The main contender seemed to be CP/M-86, a second-generation version of Control Program for Microcomputers, a Digital Research product based on several earlier systems including Digital Equipment (DEC)’s RT-11 and another (Xerox??) operating system called simply CP, or Control Program. So CP/M was a reimplementation of those for the 8080/Z80 microprocessors that preceded the IBM PC. CP/M-86 was a reimplementation of CP/M for the faster, 16-bit 8086 that was coming into vogue, and its 8-bit cousin the 8088 that IBM eventually chose.

But then another reimplementation came out of the woodwork. Seattle Computer’s SC-DOS was also called QDOS, for Quick and Dirty OS; written as it was in a pretty short time (rumor has it as little as one weekend, which I find hard to believe). SC-DOS was a clone of CP/M 86, and was sold for personal computers based on the 8086. Seattle didn’t have any “application software” to run with it. But Bill Gates was able to “bundle” this O/S with his Basic interpreter (Basic was big back then, since it was small enough to run on machines with 64KB). IBM bought into the deal, Gates bought the rights to the O/S from Seattle for a song, Seattle went under, and Gates went on to become the world’s richest man. That’s history, folks!

There are two footnotes to the above footnote. First, Gary Kildall, visionary and founder of Digital Research, the home of CP/M and CP/M-86, died in relative anonymity in 1994, a bit like Mozart, forgotten in his own time but, perhaps, to be remembered along with Mr. Gates by future historians. Second, Tim Paterson, who wrote SC-DOS at Seattle, went on to work for Microsoft and is relatively wealthy from Microsoft stock options.

Published in: on May 21, 2006 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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