What the World Owes Microsoft

by Chris Seibold Jul 28, 2006

If you judged the popularity of OSes solely on the amount of coverage on the internet, you’d be hard pressed to reach the conclusion that Apple and Linux count for less than 10% of the market combined. An objective observer would probably peg the market split at somewhere around 40%, 30%, 30%.

There are reasons for the disparity between coverage and market share. Few are passionate about Windows, and since Windows is the default OS for the overwhelming majority of users, articles about alternatives have more appeal than yet another piece about ten ways to avoid spyware. Another contributing factor is, of course, the glacial delay between releases of Windows, how much more is there to say about Windows XP?

Windows is an easy target, the tech is a little outdated, everyone hates the big bully that is Microsoft, and people don’t see a legitimate choice in OSes. Hence, the antipathy towards Windows is understandable and, remembering some of the Redmond giant’s actions, justified. Those who don’t despise Microsoft are largely indifferent, the OS is just what ships with the computer after all, much like the coolant in your air-conditioning system. When you’re floating in the big sea of Windows apathy and the only rocky outcroppings visible on the horizon are craggy cliffs of Microsoft loathing it easy to forget all the great stuff Microsoft brought to the masses, things like the GUI and affordable computing.

Pure heresy you say? Time to step into the Apple Matters trolley to yesteryear and survey the computing landscape. Before Windows became ubiquitous, OSes were seen as something companies made to so the hardware would actually do something out of the box. The best illustration of this is Apple. While it would seem foolish now for one company to have multiple OSes that is precisely what Apple had with the Lisa, the Mac and the Apple II. Hardware wise the Lisa and the Mac were fairly close, close enough that unsold Lisas were sold as repackaged Macs, but they used incompatible OSes. The Apple II was still a big seller and that machine shipped with a different OS altogether.

So, from a single company, there were three OSes. If you bought a Lisa you had the Lisa OS, if you bought a Mac you got Mac OS and if you bought an Apple II you had the command line. Apple was not atypical in this regard, every manufacturer had some odd and semi useless OS. Most were shells for running DOS programs but they were all a little different and most were pitched as providing an advantage over the competition.

This is the point where Microsoft got innovative. Seeing the Mac as the most consumer friendly computer around Bill Gates decided he wanted to port the Mac experience to the PC. Microsoft begged Apple to license the software, Apple declined. Knowing the future when he it saw Gates set the Microsoft minions to the task of making the best copy of the Mac OS they could. It took a few tries, Windows 1.0 was laughable but Windows 3.0 was getting close. Windows ‘95? The proverbial nail in the coffin.

The best thing about Windows was that it would run on just about any PC compatible (PC compatibles being defined as knock off of IBM computers), and PC compatibles were cheap. Where an original Mac cost $2500, a PC compatible cost half as much. But those machines didn’t have a reasonable copy of the Mac GUI so Apple was able to make hay for a few years, few thought it would last. The notable exception? Apple, who enjoyed the 400% markups too much to consider doing things another way.

In 1990 Windows 3.0 was released. PCs still cost half as much as a Mac but they now had a semi-competitive GUI. Computer prices had dropped to the point where not only the elite and hobbyists would buy the things, computers were now within the reach of the middle class. But just barely, faced with the option of buying a PC or a Mac and already tight budgets most, the vast majority, opted for the PC. The situation is analogous to cars. Mercedes made cars before Ford, but Ford made cars for everyone. Who really empowered the movement of the average guy?

So we are faced with a choice: would it have been better to keep the Mac-like GUI restricted to only the well heeled or was it a better thing for the masses to be able to get their hands on a computer system that worked like a Mac? Keep in mind that before the Mac computers were hard to use, requiring cumbersome memorization of commands. By liberating the GUI from Apple Microsoft gave a vast number of people the ability to use a machine that would have been little more than a doorstop without the user friendly Windows. Sure, Microsoft ripped off the Mac interface but it democratized the computing experience and allowed the masses to participate.* Can that really be a bad thing?

*Even the ripping off aspect is questionable. While Windows is obviously derivative of the Mac,  John Sculley exchanged a “perpetual, non transferable” license of Mac technology to Microsoft in exchange for a promises to upgrade Word for the Mac and not to ship Excel for Windows until October of 1986 (Excel, typically, shipped late anyway).


  • Microsoft does have one skill everyone either hate in disgust or appreciate. M$, as a cultral tradition of sort, waits for someone else to pioneer that great “idea” then later, when that very “idea” takes hold, swoops in and buys it out.

    Also, M$ has shown in the past that it can be good at reverse engineering other de facto technologies to their advantage - the Mac GUI is a prime example. Not that it is illegal, any company can legally come up with an entirely different product based upon an existing one, just as long as that product does not infringe upon the original. Pepsi was able to bring out knock-off of Coke, Popeye’s came out with a different way of spicing up fried chicken from Kentucky’s. And you can go on with almost all of our daily consumer items in the home.

    So what sets M$ apart from Procter $ Gamble (makers of cosumer goods such as Tide, Crest, etc.) or Colgate Palmolive? Those two giants have been going at it since the consumer goods industry was born in the 1920s. For one, they are old news.  Another, boring. Who would like to talk how Crest stole Colgate’s show? Not I for sure. Ripping apart and accusing M$ of every innocuous “innovations” is much, much more interesting.

    Oh, and there will be cynics out there to defend M$‘s sacred traditions of ripping off every small, creative companies. They just have too much $$$ in the cargo hold for them to invest their time to innovation. Bill’s credo: “Why not buy innovation?”. And that same sentiment will carry forward until money for R&D is gone.

    So, yes M$ innovates but it needs inspiration for them to do it. A true innovator does not need anyone to point them toward innovation. A true innovator only depends upon their passion and obsession to come up with a genuine idea. And my friends, one of those companies we cherish: Apple.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 29, 2006 Posts: 846
  • But nana, the mac “copied” a great deal from xerox.
    yeah the pointing device known as mouse…. i saw the movie.

    nana had this to say on Jul 29, 2006 Posts: 63
  • I think you will find that Xerox received shares for their input and did pretty well out of the deal.

    In what way does this mean that Apple did NOT copy Xerox?  If anything, it proves they did.  Whether they paid Xerox or not, the GUI was Xerox PARC’s and Apple took it. 

    In fact, the shares were in exchange for a look at the research and the GUI, not for any engineering.  Xerox later sued Apple for copyright infringement, after Apple sued Microsoft.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 30, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Talking about Xerox, how stupid were they? PARC developed the GUI, mouse, Postscript, and Eithernet, which they never marketed.

    cloudwall had this to say on Jul 31, 2006 Posts: 21
  • XEROX shall be the penultimate innovator if there was one…Too bad they were tunnel-visioned by the laser copier.

    Thanks, XEROX, let me be the first to say my gratuities to your explosive inventions that spawned many great companies.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 01, 2006 Posts: 846
  • But don’t you rememeber MS’s lies between the introduction of the Mac in 1/84 and Win 3.1 in 1992, eight years later. Look at all the fools who took it bait, line, and sinker. Yes, I bought Windows 95 in 1984, it was called a MacIntosh, eleven years before MS could come up with the product!

    The excuse was that a Mac was more expensive than a DOS machine. Only in ititial cost, not the cost of product.

    Remember Harvard Graphics, the DOS standard for slide presentations? I always had a challenge to my boss. Give me twenty-five slides for tomorrow morinings brief and the same twenty slides to anyone on the DOS machine and I will go home tonight and they will be here all night. He would only give me the slide to do, if there was absolutly no one else to do them.

    My son had to take a computer indoctronation course in High School after he had been using a Mac for 6 years and doing all his homework on the Mac. I took in a science report to the principal and asked him to have the instructor show me how to produce the same product on the DOS machine using their software. The instructor told me that it was not possible.

    Bottom line is if MS had not put up a tirade of lies until Win 3.1 more folks would be using a Mac.

    nrkmann had this to say on Aug 07, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Page 2 of 2 pages  <  1 2
You need log in, or register, in order to comment