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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2

ODF vs. OOXML:  War of the Words (an eBook)

This is the second chapter in a real-time eBook writing project I launched and explained last week.  The following is one of a number of stage-setting chapters to follow.  Comments, corrections and suggestions gratefully accepted.  All Microsoft product names used below are registered trademarks of Microsoft.

Chapter 2 – Products, Innovation and Market Share

Microsoft is the envy of many vendors for the hugely dominant position it enjoys in two key product areas:  PC desktop operating systems – the software that enables and controls the core functions of personal computers - and "office productivity software" – the software applications most often utilized by PC users, whether at work or at home, to create documents, slides and spreadsheets and meet other common needs.  Microsoft's 90% plus market share in such fundamental products is almost unprecedented in the technical marketplace, and this monopoly position enables it to charge top dollar for such software.  It also makes it easy for Microsoft to sell other products and services to the same customers.

Microsoft acquired this enviable position in each case through a combination of luck, single-minded determination, obsessive attention to detail, and a willingness to play the game fast and hard – sometimes hard enough to attract the attention of both Federal and state antitrust regulators.  Early on, Bill Gates and his team  acquired a reputation for bare-knuckle tactics that they sometimes seemed to wear with brash pride.  Eventually, these tactics (as well as tales of Gate's internal management style) progressed from industry rumors to the stuff of best sellers, like Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire

With the  emergence of the Web, of course, the opportunity for widely sharing stories, both real (of which there were many) and apocryphal, exploded.  Soon Web sites such as Say No to Monopolies: Boycott Microsoft enthusiastically collected and posted tales of alleged technological terror and dirty deeds.  More staid collections were posted at sites such as the Wikipedia.  The increasing tide of litigation involving Microsoft, launched not only by state and federal regulators but by private parties as well, generated embarrassing documents.  Such original sources were not only difficult to deny, but almost impossible to repress in the age of the Web - and of peer to peer file sharing as well.

Moreover, while Bill Gates and his co-founders rarely displayed the creative and innovative flair of contemporaries like Apple's Steve Jobs, neither were they troubled by the type of "not invented here" bias that sometimes led other vendors to pursue unique roads that sometimes led to dead ends.

Instead, Gates and his partners paid careful attention to what was available and successful in the marketplace, and had no compunction about copying the basic designs of products already in the market.  In any event, while Microsoft's developers could be creative at the code level, its success was built far more on innovation in business strategy rather than innovation at the level of product design.  In the early days of Microsoft, this path was eminently available, because software could not then be patented.  Even after that rule was conclusively overturned in the courts in 1998 (ruling on a patent initially granted in 1993), copying the concepts, but not the actual copyright-protected code or screen displays of existing software remained fair game for a time.  Only gradually did a sufficient number of software patents accumulate to begin to inhibit the ability of one vendor to create products that substantially replicated the functionalities of competing products.

And what Microsoft couldn't copy, it was more than happy to license or  buy.  In some cases, competitors felt that Microsoft went much farther, and Microsoft soon acquired a reputation for overly aggressive, and worse, tactics of many types.  Nor did the vendor discourage that reputation entirely as it developed an increasingly brash, steamrolling corporate persona that suggested the inevitability of its success in any niche that it chose to enter.  Sometimes, these tactics landed Microsoft in court.  In one of the more notorious examples, a company called STAC claimed that Microsoft first gained access to its disc compression technology under an agreement between the two companies, and then appropriated that technology into its own products.  Microsoft outlasted STAC in court, and STAC eventually went out of business.  Microsoft steamed forward, stronger than ever.

The strategy of buying rather than building served the company well at the most critical juncture in the company's history, when Microsoft famously agreed in 1980 to provide an operating system to IBM for the new line of "personal computers" that IBM wanted to introduce into the market.  In an effort to catch up with early market entrants like Commodore, Tandy, Altair, and especially Apple, IBM decide to diverge from its historical development practices.  Instead of designing and building the IBM PC from the ground up, it decided to use as many third party components as possible – including both the CPU (or central processing unit, the silicon chip that provides the engine that drives the computer) as well as the operating system (OS).  For the CPU, it bypassed an advanced, available and suitable chip of its own, and turned instead to Intel, ordering less powerful chips in that vendor's new 16 bit 8086 chip line.  And for the operating system, IBM turned to a largely unknown software company called Microsoft after negotiations with a larger company named Digital Research broke down.  In a decision that not only secured the future success of Microsoft but also established the technology landscape for decades to come, IBM famously agreed to license, rather than buy, that OS from Microsoft.

What IBM did not know was that Microsoft didn't have an OS to sell, and wouldn't develop one in time to meet the requirements of the contract.  After signing the agreement with Big Blue, Gates scrambled to license the original operating system from a nearby hardware company, called Seattle Computer Products, for relicensing to a "secret customer."  SCP had first named that OS "QDOS," for "quick and dirty operating system," because it had been developed for internal product testing purposes with only a few man months of effort.  Reportedly, Microsoft paid only $25,000 to license QDOS, and then a further $50,000 to buy the OS outright (later, it paid $1 million to settle a suit brought by SCP in connection with the transaction).

Ironically, while IBM succeeded in giving the "PC" name to desktop computers, PCs never became as successful a business line as it had hoped, in part due to these early design decisions.  Eventually, IBM sold the business in 2005 to Lenovo, a Chinese company.  Nor did SCP, the developer of the OS Microsoft bought, flourish: it's own 8086 related hardware products did not sell well, and eventually it went out of business.  But IBM's willingness to license rather than buy the OS it used in the IBM PC allowed Microsoft to license the same operating system (which it now called MS-DOS) to other vendors as well.  And since IBM had opted to buy Intel chips rather than use chips of its own design, other vendors could buy them as well. 

The result was a rapidly growing market for what came to be called "IBM PC clone" computers, which was unfortunate for IBM, but wonderful for the success of the PC market in general, because it supplied a "de facto" standard platform upon which independent software vendors (ISVs) could economically create software to sell to an ever-expanding market of compatible computers, all built by different vendors.  The growing availability of useful application software helped make clone PCs more attractive than the proprietary design computers still being sold by Commodore, Tandy, Altair and Apple.  Moreover, competition between the new, largely fungible products of the clone vendors naturally drove down the prices for all of their computers (and to prices that IBM sadly could not profitably match).  This fierce price competition drove clone sales up, and encouraged more people to found new desktop software application development companies to sell software to run on the victorious "WinTel" platform, since there were more and more customers to buy their wares.  The final result, of course, was enormous profits for Microsoft and Intel, and lower and lower profits for everyone else.

Microsoft's decision to buy rather than build the initial MS-DOS operating system has typified its strategy ever since, underlining the value of innovation in business and marketing strategy over technical innovation.  In the years that followed the success of MS-DOS in overwhelming the desktop, Gates in particular played Rome to Steve Jobs' Greece.  Just as the Romans admired, copied, and then expanded upon the innovations of their neighbors to the east in the ancient world, Gates never thought twice about adopting the creations of early market entrants and product visionaries like Jobs.  And just as Rome eventually conquered the Greeks and seized its colonies, Microsoft swiftly came to dominate the marketplace for the desktop OS software that the first home computer manufacturers had created. 

Nor did Gates stop there.  When Apple launched a revolutionary new computer called the Macintosh in January of 1984 with the first commercial implementation of a "graphical user interface," or GUI, it appeared that Apple might begin to regain market share.  Unlike MS-DOS, which required users to navigate solely using cursor keys and to sometimes learn and type obscure commands, Apple's Macintosh was far easier and intuitive to use, making it particularly popular with schools.  What made it so much easier to interact with a Macintosh than a PC clone was not only the GUI, but another technology that Apple was the first to commercialize: the mouse. 

Microsoft reacted by launching a GUI development effort of its own, copying essential elements of the Apple GUI in the process.  It launched the first version of what it called Windows in November of 1985.  Not surprisingly, Apple took Microsoft to court, alleging copyright infringement – but Microsoft pointed to a pre-existing cross license between the companies, claiming it gave it the right to knock off the Macintosh GUI.  Although that license had been intended for a different purpose, a judge agreed that it could be read broadly enough to cover the rights Microsoft needed to copy Apple's innovative GUI as well, and Apple's fortunes began to recede once again.

Still later, Gates famously underestimated the importance of the Internet, allowing a brash, venture-backed startup called Mosaic Communications Corporation (its name was soon changed to the more familiar Netscape Communications) to both create and soon own the market for software that made it easy to access and "browse" Tim Berners-Lee's new creation:  the World Wide Web.  Owning the access point to the Internet and the Web, Netscape (and eventually Microsoft) realized, could permit users to easily access and alter files from any operating system linked together via a network, a capability that might undermine the source of Microsoft's dominance.  Once that realization belatedly struck home, Gates reacted swiftly, making an aggressive entry into the browser market.  Soon he succeeded in supplanting Netscape - by largely copying Netscape's Navigator browser, and then by giving what Microsoft called Internet Explorer away for free.  Even more effectively, Microsoft bundled its new browser software with the Windows operating system, so that every new PC that shipped with its Windows operating system (which is to say, virtually every computer not sold by Apple) also included a free copy of Explorer.

Gates had learned another valuable lesson from Microsoft's success in the PC clone marketplace that he would never forget:  the importance of attracting and holding the attention of a wide range of ISVs willing to develop products compatible with the WinTel platform, and thereby make that platform more attractive to potential new customers at little or no cost to Microsoft.  As time went on, Microsoft played a sort of cat and mouse game with the growing number of ISVs in the desktop marketplace.  On the one hand, Microsoft provided technical information and marketing support to ISVs to provide incentives for them to "port" their products to those of Microsoft, and to upgrade those products as Microsoft upgraded its own to keep the two compatible.  But from time to time, Microsoft would also launch new products in competition with those of ISVs, or worse, simply add the functionalities of those products to Windows itself at no additional cost.

When it did, the result was both good and bad for the end user, who got more and more software functionalities and services for the same price.  Meanwhile, processor speeds, storage and other capabilities continued to increase as well, making a desktop computer more and more desirable.  But at the same time, each time that Microsoft eliminated a competitor, choices and innovation diminished, because the incentive for Microsoft to improve those functionalities abated, and potential new competitors had little hope for success in selling for a fee what Microsoft was already making available for free.  In the case of Explorer, for example, Microsoft allowed its rapidly developed browser to languish for almost seven years without a major upgrade, after vanquishing Netscape Navigator – roughly half the entire lifetime of the Web at the time.  Only when a resurrected version of Navigator, called Mozilla, began to gain market share did Microsoft issue a new release of Explorer.

After the desktop version of Windows and the Office productivity suite, Microsoft's next most popular and profitable product line is the version of Windows created for use on servers, the computers that most business PCs are linked to in networks.  These computers are more powerful than PCs, and (among other tasks) host application software – the software that business people use to perform discrete tasks, such as creating documents and working with databases.  These larger computers "serve" needed application software to the PC's that individuals use at work, which become their "clients" in the client-server architecture that has become pervasive in most business environments today.

Microsoft's entry into the server space was both inevitable and timely.  Inevitable, because having conquered the desktop, it needed to attack another platform in order to grow its OS sales faster than the desktop market was growing.  And timely, because of changes in the marketplace itself.

Those changes involved the evolution of the IT environment away from proprietary, closed systems where a single vendor would sell the entire "stack" of hardware and software to a customer, and then own that locked in customer for many years.  In the proprietary world, desktop users sat at "dumb" terminals comprising a monitor and keyboard, but no resident application software, linked to huge "mainframe computers.  Later, terminals more commonly connected to the minicomputers that for years were the foundation for the transitory success of companies like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General and Wang Laboratories - all now gone.  These minicomputers in turn gave way to what we now call servers, and these servers, like many of the minicomputers they replaced, ran variations of a program called UNIX, originally developed by Bell Laboratories.  But each vendor used a somewhat different version of UNIX, making it still difficult for customers to switch from one vendor to another.

Microsoft came late in the game to the server marketplace, but its timing was right, in that the next evolutionary transition was beginning to take place in hosted terminal architecture.  And while many major companies, such as IBM, HP and Sun were well established in this marketplace, Microsoft had good field position as well for the game that was to follow. This was because most Microsoft's PC customers already used servers, and these customers could gain technical advantages by buying both server and desktop products from the same vendor so that they would more easily work together.  Customers could expect favorable bundled pricing as well, and that pricing could be very attractive indeed as Microsoft first entered the market for server operating system software.  

Still, fourteen years after introducing its first version of Windows usable on servers, Microsoft has today not a 90% market share, but a rising [42%] position, sharing the server niche with declining sales of UNIX systems, which continue to be offered in various proprietary flavors by vendors such as IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard, and also with an "open source" operating system called Linux, which is dominant in applications such as Web hosting, and enjoys a roughly equal market share with Microsoft overall.  The Linux operating system is available in multiple distributions (or "distros," for short) for free from a variety of commercial companies, such as Red Hat and Novell, and from numerous non-profit, volunteer projects as well, with names such as Ubuntu and Debian.  Together, Linux and other open source software (about which much more later) has raised a formidable challenge across the board in all existing and emerging computing environments in which the Microsoft competes – servers, desktops, and mobile devices, such as personal data assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones.

Still, despite Microsoft's huge early successes, enormous market capitalization, and huge cash reserves (typically over $30 billion), Microsoft has launched far more failed and semi-successful products than dominant ones.  Over the years it tried and failed to achieve success in areas such as portable touch screen LCD monitors (SmartDisplay, launched in 2002 and cancelled the following year), and in a rare and ill-fated effort to match Apple's level of creativity in user-friendly product design, called Bob – an interface intended to make learning how to use a computer more simple.   Bob proved not only to be unsuccessful (and some thought even more annoying than Clippy, Bob's lineal descendant), but was soon cancelled, earning the unfortunate honor of being named "worst product of the decade" by CNET.com.  Today, Microsoft has increasing revenues from a variety of newer products and services, such as its Xbox game stations, where it competes with Sony's PlayStations and Nintendo's GameCube, Web-based advertising, where it lags Google and Yahoo, Zune portable music players, where Microsoft (and all other competitors) have been hopelessly outsold by Apple's wildly popular iPod line, and the CE OS for portable devices such as phones, where a variety of Linux distros is rapidly becoming dominant.

Microsoft's difficulty in entering markets that were already dominated by well-established and capable competitors is doubtless attributable in part to its culture of copying already successful products rather than entering the marketplace with more innovative alternatives.  As a result, it has operated many of these new business lines at a significant loss – often in the billions of dollars per year - as it struggles to gain market share.  These billions continue to be provided by its two flagship products, operating system and office suite software.

The picture that emerges from even such a cursory review of Microsoft's history, as well as its current financials, is therefore of great and ongoing dependence on just two product lines – Windows and Office, although that picture is gradually changing over time.  In 2005, Windows and Office contributed $[X] billion and $[Y] billion out of $[Z] in total revenues, and a much larger percentage of its operating profits (Microsoft projects that the equivalent numbers for its 2007 fiscal year will be X, Y and Z for 2007).   Clearly, under no circumstances can Microsoft afford to see its dominance in either of these product lines be eroded.

Moreover, Microsoft knows only too well how it acquired control of the office productivity suite marketplace to begin with, and how its lock in of the same niche has been sustained.

->Next Chapter      What a Difference a Decade Can Make
In which Microsoft captures - and locks in - the office suite marketplace

<-Previous ChapterOut of Nowhere
How ODf came to the attention of the World - and Microsoft

  <All Chapters>

 

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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2 | 33 comments | Create New Account
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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, December 02 2007 @ 07:41 PM CST
Andy,

I really enjoy your posts and your book effort.  I (like you) think this is important.

My major criticism of this second chapter (and the reason for this post) is that I think you're being too nice to Microsoft.  This is not an attempt at bashing Microsoft, but an attempt to get the full range of activities into the record.

You failed to mention that Microsoft was not always able to copy or buy technology and when they were unable to copy or buy, they stole it.  Example # 1 was Bill Gate's dumpster-diving & 'theft' of computer resources while writing the first basic compiler.  They also have a long history of dirty business dealings with their partners / competitors.  I submit as example # 2, the STAC disk compression technology which later became the source of a lawsuit when Microsoft violated their agreements with STAC and 'took' the technology into Windows, thus driving STAC out of business.  Microsoft managed to delay the court case long enough that STAC folded before the ultimate 'win', leaving their technology orphaned and vulnerable to a Microsoft ownership claim.  This was a common theme during their early years - 'take' competing technology, stall the lawsuit until their competitors folded, then claim the technology as their own 'innovation'.  I believe that Groklaw may also have a 'history of Microsoft lawsuits' page that should have lots of examples of Microsoft showing no respect whatsoever of other people's IP. 

Another example is the Winframe/Winview products from Citrix.  The Microsoft duplicate offering is not as good, but is more prevalent today because it's 'free' with the OS.  Citrix revenues have taken the hit for this as customers object to paying full price for MS with one multi-user graft-on capability, then having to buy the Citrix server & per seat client licenses on top of that.  Fortunately for Citrix, the Microsoft terminal program does not work nearly as well and does not have near the feature set of Citrix.

Ditto their entire 'EEE' history of their 'partnerships'.  I know that Groklaw has a 'dirtry tricks' page - much of which originated with the Iowa class action lawsuit that may provide some more interesting reading and far more details than I can recall from the top of my head.

I hope you keep up the good work as I believe there needs to be records of Microsoft's 'business' and litigation history including mentions of their 'business ethics' (or lack thereof).  Don't forget they they made exclusive deals with all major PC vendors and in that illegal move (illegal per the anti-trust findings), they starved OS/2 out of existance as well as one or two additional OS(s) that never caught on (such as BEOS).  Most - if not all - of their IP infringement lawsuits were settled out of court and under seal, so there is no public history of the outcomes other than that the plaintiff eventually went out of business and that Microsoft continued to ship the contested technology as part of Windows.  I can only observe that as many times as Microsoft has been sued for copyright or patent infringement and as many times as they've settled and as much money as they've paid out in settlements sure implies a very dirty history that they do not want widely known.

In summary, while I enjoyed reading your 2nd chapter, I think you do your ebook a grave disservice by setting a tone (or at least giving the impression) that Microsoft's 'business innovation' was at all times legal and above-board.  It was not - far from it - as many techies saw first-hand at the time and as we continue to see today in such things as the OOXML <-> OSI fracas and the OOXML <-> ODF spin that Microsoft employees continue to spread via blogs now that their PR releases are no longer regurgitated verbatim by mainstream journalists.

- Ed
[ # ]
ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, December 02 2007 @ 10:18 PM CST

In the 12th paragraph (the one that begins "When it did, ...") there is ".. selling for a free ..." that should be "for a fee".

I would suggest that, in the following two paragraphs, that you have oversimplified the history of "servers" beyond usefulness or relevance. The client - server architecture has slowly evolved from the dumb terminal - mainframe architecture of yore, with almost no change in the basic relationship. The server market was dominated, for a long time, by Unix derivatives and clones. Linux, being a Unix derivative that is the same on all machines, is the logical replacement. Microsoft's entry into the server business was provided by the proprietary and secret communications protocols (SMB?) that Samba provides, that Microsoft is constantly changing to discourage Samba and that is the center of the EU antitrust rulings.

I expect that Microsoft expects to use OO-XML in some way to further lock up the server market.

Jeremy Allison would be a good source for the straight scoop on all this.

Otherwise, I mark your e-book "excellent".

Gordon MacGinitie < grundoon at telerama dot com >
[ # ]
ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, December 02 2007 @ 10:30 PM CST
"where a variety of Linux distros is rapidly becoming dominant" should be "where a variety of Linux distros are rapidly becoming dominant"
[ # ]
On Netscape
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, December 03 2007 @ 05:41 AM CST
"Soon he succeeded in supplanting Netscape - by largely copying Netscape's Navigator browser"

I find the use of the word "copying" in this sentence slightly problematic. I understand, using the context from previous sentence, that what is meant is Microsoft "copying" the functions of Netscape.

In the previous paragraph, "copying" is used to meant "pirating" Mac GUI. (Although a judge throw it out, we understand what you meant)

In this case, however, Microsoft actually bought in a budding, alternative implementation of a browser. See Wikipedia's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Explorer  (version history).


----

"and then by giving what Microsoft called Internet Explorer away for free"

Knowing that you have a legal background, and continuing from the fact that the previous paragraph says the trial judge rules in favour of Microsoft over Apple in the UI case, I think you should consider mention here that DOJ failed to convince the original judge that this is an illegal practice in the Microsoft antitrust case, probably as a footnote.

HTH
[ # ]
Responses to Comments
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Monday, December 03 2007 @ 06:00 AM CST
Thanks very much to each of you for these helpful comments - I appreciate the help and your time and trouble.

First, an overview response before addressing each comment individually.  There are a number of constraints and decisions that I'll likely be working out for quite a while which will result in ongoing changes in chapters already written.  By posting the chapters in real time, you'll be able to see how these changes work out, rather than (in the usual course) only seeing the final, finished book.  And I, of course, will benefit a lot from input such as this in deciding on the adjustments to make.

Two key concerns I'm juggling are length, depth and tone control.  A book like this would normally be c. 200 pages in length, which means about 60,000 - 80,000 words, if I were to target that length, and I've already used up about 6,000 of them.  That means I'll need to think carefully what to cover and in what depth, which will mean that I'll have to shortchange a lot of good historical material, in particular, in order to leave enough room for the narrative of the ODF-OOXML story.  That means that I need to shorthand a lot, using terms like "borrow" and "copy."

The tone control problem is particularly tricky, because if you use the unsubstantiated "some say" approach, then you're not practicing very respectable journalism.  But if you go into adequate detail, then you run into the length problem.  That said, I agree that I need to add something into this chapter that acknowledges the issue you bring up, but probably not in much detail, because I had already planned to come back to some examples in the course of the narrative.  For example, one will be the history of Gates in first justifying heavy copyrighting of his initial programs, then copying products widely when there were no patents, and now today rattling the patent sabers not because others have copied Microsoft products, but because there are so many patents now that anyone creating anything may innocently run afoul of existing patents.

Now on to specific comments.

Ed:  I've covered a lot of your comments in the overview above,  but that still leaves your examples and your central point.  I had considered going into the dirty tricks topic here, and indeed using the STAC saga as an example, as it was not only an egregious but a well documented example.  I decided not to use it in the first draft primarily for length concerns.  The other examples are good ones that I know a lot less about.  If I decide to go into "dirty tricks" in detail, I'll need to spend more time on research.  That will take a bit of time, but there will be plenty of existing material for me to make use of, as you point out.

That said, I've added in the following paragraph for now, which could be expanded later, or I can come back to the topic in future chapters.
And what Microsoft couldn't copy, it was more than happy to buy.  In some cases, competitors felt that Microsoft went much farther, and Microsoft soon acquired a reputation for overly aggressive, and worse, tactics of many types.  Nor did the vendor discourage that reputation entirely as it developed an increasingly brash, steamrolling corporate persona that suggested the inevitability of its success in any niche that it chose to enter.  Sometimes, these tactics landed Microsoft in court.  In one of the more notorious examples, a company called STAC claimed that Microsoft first gained access to its disc compression technology under an agreement between the two companies, and then appropriated that technology into its own products.  Microsoft outlasted STAC in court, and STAC eventually went out of business.  Microsoft steamed forward, stronger than ever. 

Gordon:  Thanks for the thoughts on servers.  While length is a concern, I've invested another couple of paragraphs, and revised one of the ones that was already there.  The server-related text now reads like this, so let me know if you think this does a better job :
Microsoft's entry into the server space was both inevitable and timely.  Inevitable, because having conquered the desktop, it needed to attack another platform in order to grow its OS sales faster than the desktop market was growing.  And timely, because of changes in the marketplace itself.
Those changes involved the evolution of the IT environment away from proprietary, closed systems where a single vendor would sell the entire "stack" of hardware and software to a customer, and then own that locked in customer for many years.  In the proprietary world, desktop users sat at "dumb" terminals comprising a monitor and keyboard, but no resident application software, linked to huge "mainframe computers.  Later, terminals more commonly connected to the minicomputers that for years were the foundation for the transitory success of companies like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General and Wang Laboratories - all now gone.  These minicomputers in turn gave way to what we now call servers, and these servers, like many of the minicomputers they replaced, ran variations of a program called UNIX, originally developed by Bell Laboratories.  But each vendor used a somewhat different version of UNIX, making it still difficult for customers to switch from one vendor to another.

Microsoft came late in the game to the server marketplace, but its timing was right, in that the next evolutionary transition was beginning to take place in hosted terminal architecture.  And while many major companies, such as IBM, HP and Sun were well established in this marketplace, Microsoft had good field position as well for the game that was to follow. This was because most Microsoft's PC customers already used servers, and these customers could gain technical advantages by buying both server and desktop products from the same vendor so that they would more easily work together.  Customers could expect favorable bundled pricing as well, and that pricing could be very attractive indeed as Microsoft first entered the market for server operating system software. 

And thanks for the typo catch.

Anon:  I think that "is" is right, since it modifies the singular "a variety" rather than the plural distros themselves.

I see that other comments are still being posted, but I'll post these comments for now, and return with responses to other comments later today, or first thing tomorrow morning.

Once more, thanks to all.

  -  Andy
[ # ]
ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, December 03 2007 @ 02:16 PM CST
I think you maybe misunderstand the part of IBM in this.

In the early 80's, IBM was under the 'consent decree' dating back to 1956, and IBM knew that it should not take a dominant position in adjacent businesses. So, if the plan was to sell Personal Computer 'boxes' and dominate the market for a while, it would be a good idea not to use IBM microprocessors inside; and it would also be a good idea not to run IBM software on top.

Of course IBM could have done that; www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/pc/pc_4.html was a fine machine; and there were (and still are) thousands of capable software engineers on the staff. Tens of thousands, actually.

Also, IBM tends to sell things for use in businesses, by professionals. Isn't really capable of selling things for use in homes,  where you need to do a much higher volume with lower margins.

'Way of a product' for IBM starts with an IBM 'exclusive', which sells for high prices; then, as competitors are drawn in to a profitable business, prices fall, and IBM exits the business. Happened with card punches. Happened with typewriters. Happened with networking service. Happened with hard disks. Happened with personal computers. But there's always something to replace the old burnt-out businesses; put enough effort into Research and Development and you'll find it.

Things are really on edge now, that it has happened with OS/2 (the successor is Linux, no charge, downloadable from many places such as ibiblio.org) and Lotus SmartSuite (the successor is Lotus Symphony, no charge, downloadable from symphony.lotus.com
[ # ]
ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, December 03 2007 @ 02:43 PM CST
Hi Andy,

thanks for doing this. It is a good read so far. I have 2 comments:

1, 3rd Paragraph, "Even after that rule fell was conclusively overturned...". Should there be an 'and' between "fell" and "was"?

2, One important area not mentioned in the section on the server/mini-computer time was that of Novell. Everyone I knew in the SME had Wintel on the desk and Novell's file and print servers running over their proprietary SPX/IPX stack. Microsoft nicked IBM's NetBEUI and killed Novell's server business on just a few short years...

Keep up the great work.

Alan
http://www.theopensourcerer.com
[ # ]
ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, December 04 2007 @ 09:55 AM CST
Good chapter Andy. My gripe is its treatment of the development of the GUI. No doubt Apple is an awesome player which more than once strived in bringing to market the right technology, that technology which many others couldn't productize or couldn't even see worth productizing. Examples of those are the GUI, the MP3 player, and the kind of graphics hardware acceleration brought with OS X (wisely ditching years of efforts in the previous generation of this technology, which both Apple and Microsoft had pretty mastered; sadly Windows got stuck with that until Vista came out). All of these weren't really their invention. The first non-marketed implementation of a GUI was Xerox's [1]; furthermore, the "idea" wasn't new either. The MP3 player was already invented (I think the first one was made by Creative; it was a huge brick resembling a discman but much heavier), but Apple's was the first product which just was comfortable enough (and the iPod/iTunes is another exercise in customer lock-in) to attract lots of people. Similar with OS X windowing subsystem (the idea had been around for long, but nobody could productize it before... and for years to come). Now, back to the article, more disturbing is that it is portrayed as Microsoft won over a technicality (a very broad interpretation of a previous agreement). But, why should have Apple been able to exclude a competitor of marketing a GUI? Certainly copyright -- now we can see that -- does not "protect" the idea of using little boxes and a mouse (it would do if it aesthetically resembled Apple's GUI in a very obvious way I think). Patents were thankfully not around at the time. So, I'm GLAD Microsoft was able to "copy" the GUI. I understand that, at the time, it could have been confusing whether or not Apple should have been granted an exlusionary right over it (I understand the Gates himself thought that Apple had rights to the GUI -- and still he did it; that just says something about him!) Don't get me wrong, there are just too damn many shady things Microsoft did and still does. Furthermore, even if its PR guys are getting better, they just simply seem unable to stop doing it, so I think they will keep doing it :(. But bashing Microsoft for doing something we can now understand shouldn't be excluded from doing doesn't help the book. Waiting for the next chapter (and a permanent link to the latest and greatest full edition in a PDF :) :) :) ), nachokb [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_graphical_user_interface#Initial_developments
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  • More Responses - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, December 05 2007 @ 12:20 AM CST
  • re: More Responses - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, December 05 2007 @ 04:55 AM CST
ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, December 04 2007 @ 11:42 AM CST
As the first poster mentioned, this is a pretty sanitized version of MS history.
Not too much mention of MS tactics such as using monopoly revenue to dump products freely and starve competitors of revenue, extending of standards to break compatibility with the real standard, modifying API to break applications of competitors, surreptitious involvement in funding of scurrilous lawsuit, illegal marketing arrangements with PC OEM's.
 I am not too sure if you see the world through rose-colored glasses, or just shy away from conflict, but I am starting to doubt whether this version of history will be courageous enough to tell the whole story.
 To add insult to injury, trying to post a comment to this site using Konqueror yielded the message "Precondition Failed We're sorry, but we could not fulfill your request for /standardsblog/comment.php on this server. We have established rules for access to this server, and any person or robot that violates these rules will be unable to access this site."  
 
Here is some background on the "other" MS.
http://www.michaelrobertson.com/archive.php?minute_id=65
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companies_acquired_by_Microsoft_Corporation
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Final Changes on Microsoft Dirty Tricks
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Wednesday, December 05 2007 @ 05:21 AM CST
OK, guys.  I've made further changes, and that's all for now.  To recite my reasons:

-  THIS IS A DRAFT - it's not final text

-  THIS IS ONLY ONE CHAPTER - there will be about 30 to follow, where there will be great detail added

-  THIS CHAPTER CAN'T BE BOOK LENGTH

-  IF THE TONE CONTROL IS TO STRIDENT IT WILL TAINT THE BOOK'S CREDIBILITY and also make it too easy to be characterized as pure propaganda

Finally, it's easy to say whatever you want at a blog, but when you put charges in a book that you can't personally document and prove it's not only irresponsible journalism, but you're setting yourself up to lose a libel case.  So please don't give me grief about using words like "alleged" unless you're willing to personally post a bond.  Web sites have lots of accurate stuff - and they have stuff that isn't as well.  I don't have the time or the resources to sort out which is which - nor is it the purpose of this book.

So here are the principal paragraphs that have been changed from the original draft on this point (there are other changes in other paragraphs as well).  Hopefully you'll agree that this gets this single chapter in the right place:

Paragraph 2 and 3: 

Microsoft acquired this enviable position in each case through a combination of luck, single-minded determination, obsessive attention to detail, and a willingness to play the game fast and hard – sometimes hard enough to attract the attention of both Federal and state antitrust regulators.  Early on, Bill Gates and his team  acquired a reputation for bare-knuckle tactics that they sometimes seemed to wear with brash pride.  Eventually, these tactics (as well as tales of Gate's internal management style) progressed from industry rumors to the stuff of best sellers, like Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire

With the  emergence of the Web, of course, the opportunity for widely sharing stories, both real (of which there were many) and apocryphal, exploded.  Soon Web sites such as Say No to Monopolies: Boycott Microsoft enthusiastically collected and posted tales of alleged technological terror and dirty deeds.  More staid collections were posted at sites such as the Wikipedia.  The increasing tide of litigation involving Microsoft, launched not only by state and federal regulators but by private parties as well, generated embarrassing documents.  Such original sources were not only difficult to deny, but almost impossible to repress in the age of the Web - and of peer to peer file sharing as well.

Paragraph 6:
And what Microsoft couldn't copy, it was more than happy to license or  buy.  In some cases, competitors felt that Microsoft went much farther, and Microsoft soon acquired a reputation for overly aggressive, and worse, tactics of many types.  Nor did the vendor discourage that reputation entirely as it developed an increasingly brash, steamrolling corporate persona that suggested the inevitability of its success in any niche that it chose to enter.  Sometimes, these tactics landed Microsoft in court.  In one of the more notorious examples, a company called STAC claimed that Microsoft first gained access to its disc compression technology under an agreement between the two companies, and then appropriated that technology into its own products.  Microsoft outlasted STAC in court, and STAC eventually went out of business.  Microsoft steamed forward, stronger than ever.
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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, December 05 2007 @ 02:31 PM CST
Quote:
"Web sites have lots of accurate stuff - and they have stuff that isn't as well.  I don't have the time or the resources to sort out which is which - nor is it the purpose of this book."

Then what is the purpose of a book? MS tactics are material to the subject of this story. They are well documented by credible sources - let us know what you need. Irresposible journalism is also omission of relevant facts. You also contradicted yourself by saying these were final changes, then insisting that it is just a draft.
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Over zealous Geeklot and a Comment n Netscape
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Friday, December 07 2007 @ 05:11 AM CST
Geeklog was apparetnly working too hard for me yesterday.  Two people tried to leave comments and Geeklog ate them, claiming they contained Spam.  We're trying to figure out what's wrong, but in the meantime I've successfully posted one above, and failed at adding a second one on Netscape.  The gist of that reader's comment was that Microsoft had not developed IE, but in fact bought it from a small client called Spyglass, in exchange for royalties on sales - of a browser that it later gave away for free.

That's a bit of history I had either never known or forgotten, and I agree requires modification of the text.  I've ordered a couple of books that should arrive soon, and when they arrive I'll source out further details, and amend the text accordingly (thanks, Rufus).

Meantime, it looks like if you take the time to leave a comment, it would be best to cut, paste and save a copy before you hit the "preview" button, to be sure that you don't lose your text in case Geeklog doesn't like it.  This isn't a feature I can afford to disable entirely,  as the hundreds of blog posts already here would soon be swamped with spam comments and spam links (as they used to be before we turned this on some time back).

  -  Andy
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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, December 22 2007 @ 08:15 AM CST
Andy

In Microsoft's IE6 Help > About the following is listed:

"Based on NCSA Mosaic. NCSA Mosaic(TM); was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Distributed under a licensing agreement with Spyglass, Inc.
Contains security software licensed from RSA Data Security Inc.
Portions of this software are based in part on the work of the Independent JPEG Group.
Multimedia software components, including Indeo(R); video, Indeo(R) audio, and Web Design Effects are provided by Intel Corp.
Unix version contains software licensed from Mainsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1998-1999 Mainsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Mainsoft is a trademark of Mainsoft Corporation.
Warning: This computer program is protected by copyright law and international treaties. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this program, or any portion of it, may result in severe civil and criminal penalties, and will be prosecuted to the maximum extent possible under the law."

Again, Microsoft bought in their Internet Explorer software rather than write it from scratch!

BTW, I believe Marc Andreessen and colleagues worked on this Mosaic software at the University Of Illinois before leaving to set up Mosaic Communications Corporation which they later changed to Netscape Communications.

Would your chapter 2 benefit from stating from where Microsoft purchased their browser software?


Regards


Paul

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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 03 2008 @ 06:19 PM CST

Hi Andy,

This is an excellent project and I fully support your efforts to document things, as they say, contemporaneously.

One thing to give Chapter 2 that à la mode flavor -  the Xbox nowadays competes with the Playstation and Nintendo's Wii, rather than the Gamecube.

Keep up the great work!
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ODF vs. OOXML: The aspect not discussed
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, September 24 2008 @ 07:52 AM CDT
I feel the pain of this process as many of you also have. Unfortunately, you are only discussing one part of the problem. You forgot to mention that the organization that drove this standard through the ISO process did so by ensuring those that stood against it felt some pain. I know of may people who voted in the their respective countries against this standard. The Microsoft representatives in these countries quickly moved to identify them and contact their respective employers. In several of those case, Microsoft indicated that software prices would be increasing significantly if the person did not change their minds and quickly.

Several persons actually were dismissed as the companies they work for have no spine. They would rather deal with crap software than doing the right thing ethically. Think this is something out of a movie, think again. Many good professionals had their livelihoods and reputations damaged by one company. If you were to look at the current standards that Microsoft and others are influencing you might not sleep at night.

My only advice "you better move fast" or get plugged in real quickly to some of the current standards currently being proposed and developed in ISO.

I commend your efforts.
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