Many times I have seen in letters to computer magazines to, "leave Microsoft alone to innovate." Microsoft has never innovated. I have been in the computer business as a programmer since Microsoft released their first DOS. Even at that time DOS was not a new or innovative product. It was a blatant copy of CPM and there were other operating systems (for instance the P-system) that were far superior even at that time.
Since then Microsoft has grown into one of the largest corporations in the world. Also since that time I cannot recall them coming out with a single innovative product or technique. All of their "innovations" have been copied or purchased outright from others (the real innovators). If they cannot buy the product, instead they hire away the programmers by offering them extraodinary salaries and contracts. Word processors, spreadsheets, publishing programs, server software, operating system software, browsers, schedulers, etc. All of these were innovated and developed by others. Windows itself was a copy of the Mac OS (which was a copy of a prototype by Xerox). And, if anyone remembers, was a total failure until version 3. Xerox was the innovator, Apple had the foresight and gumption to develop and market it but Microsoft is viewed as an innovator.
So, if this is the case and Microsoft is not an innovator, how did they make it to this position? Initially, three letters, I.B.M. Prior to IBM's release of the PC, home computers were considered hobbiest items. Only a few electronics hobbiests had them or used them. When IBM released the PC suddenly they were respectable and could be purchased by businesses and Microsoft rode the wave by providing their operating system.
But that wasn't all that helped them. Bill Gates is a remarkable business man. He managed to have it written into his contract with IBM that he could market his DOS to others. Thus opening the PC market. Dozens of other manufacturers got into the business and had to use MS DOS to be compatible with the IBM PC. This is Bill Gates talent. He knows how to make a contract that will be to his own best interest and knows how to market his products.
He did the same with Apple. He had a contract to produce software for the Mac but somehow had it worded in such a way that left him free to write his own OS using features from the Mac. Thus Windows was born. It's clear to anyone that saw it develop that Windows was a (poor) copy of the Mac OS. Clearly Apple should have won any lawsuit against Microsoft for copying it but lawyers see things differently. They managed to convince a judge that there was no infringement of any copyrighted works and won the case.
Don't get me wrong. I am not totally against Microsoft. They have greatly helped the development and spread of computing by providing a standard and helping to stabilize a fragmented market. But they are too big now and too powerful. International standards (for instance for HTML) are developed which Microsoft ignores. Instead they develop their own standards and expect others to follow (which, unfortunately, they do!) but this puts all other software manufacturers at a disadvantage while increasing Microsoft's strength.
So what can be done about this situation? One option would be to force a break up of Microsoft into Operating Systems and Applications companies. The OS company would be forced to publish standards which any company could adhere to putting the MS applications company on an equal footing with other applications companies.
Another option would be for companies creating websites, for instance, to adhere to the international standards instead of tayloring their websites to Internet Explorer. This would force MS to follow the international standards instead of creating their own and would allow other browsers to compete fairly with IE.
I'm all for free software but by allowing MS to release free software (Internet Explorer for instance) with their OS it puts competing products out of business thus strengthening MS still further.
Created on ... December 19, 2004
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