Microsoft has been hiding behind the need to innovate for a long time,
and the national media has been eating it right up. After all, they've
given us all so much, right?
Wrong. This will come as a shock to a very many people, so I'll say it
Microsoft has never contributed a single notable innovation to any
Yes, you heard me right. Not one, not ever. Microsoft has purchased or
taken more good ideas than any other company I know of. They sell them
as their own (well, because they generally own them). But they didn't
Let's look at some obvious major examples.
- MS-DOS. Actually, when Microsoft sold MS-DOS to IBM in the
'80s, they didn't own it. They licensed it from a small company for a
lump sum (the company had no idea Microsoft intended to resell it, and
had no legal recourse when it made Bill Gates rich).
- Multitasking. Sorry, Unix did this in 1969, and Unix wasn't
the first. Also, Microsoft's current
implementation isn't as advanced as the
1969 Unix implementation was.
- The graphical windowing environment. Don't you remember the
Macintosh, which was six years ahead of windows 3.1? Most any user
interface expert will tell you that even the original MacOS was better
designed than any of the Windows releases. The MacOS
interface was loosely based on
Xerox PARC research dating back to the '70s, which grew out of work
by Douglas C. Engelbart in the late '60s. Even user-unfriendly
Unix had a windowing
environment back in the '80s, long before Microsoft. Finally, let me
point out that the word "window" was a generic term for computer windows
back in the '70s. By using it as the name of their product, it makes
it seem a lot like Microsoft created the concept of windows.
- Long file names. Wasn't that a great 1995 innovation! No,
actually, Unix had 14 character filenames (with no "dot" restriction)
back in 1969. And they moved to two hundred some-odd character
filenames in the
early '80s. MacOS has always had long filenames.
I could go on for a long time, but there's no point. They've just never
innovated. If you want more, there's a great web site,
Boycott Microsoft that has
started to compile more information on things Microsoft hasn't done,
of Innovation and
Invented Here web pages.
But often they've made technically meaningless changes under the banner
of innovation. These changes don't really give any new functionality to
the user, but they typically make life very difficult for their competitors.
Let's look at some of the things they've called innovations.
- Disabling Netscape. When windows 95 was originally released,
users found that installing it caused Netscape to quit working. This
cost Netscape real money in terms of lost business (those who switched)
and the need to rewrite the application. There was no new functionality
from this change. It just tripped up Netscape.
- Altering Java. Java is a package that promises complete
inter-operability between different platforms. Microsoft licensed
Java from Sun, and added an "innovation" that would allow developers to
include Windows-specific code in their Java application. This might
make it easier for Windows developers, but it destroys the whole reason for
using Java (inter-operability). The courts have found that by altering
Java in this way, Microsoft has violated their license agreement with
Sun, and therefore must fix it. But this tactic has successfully set back
Java considerably, and cost Sun a lot of money.
- Integrating Internet Explorer with Windows98. The most recent
innovation is that Internet Explorer is a real actual part of Windows98.
The concept here is a good one, though not new (it has been suggested
numerous times on www-related mailing lists as early as 1992).
Modern software development techniques dictate that programmers "divide
and conquer" -- that they reduce complexity by keeping complex systems
cleanly separated from each other. To integrate a web server
with an OS, you should specify how they should talk to each other. You
should provide resources in the OS that support the web server.
But what they did was take an actual application and merge it with the
operating system. They also claimed that they were so tightly intertwined
that they couldn't be separated. Well, if they intertwined them so tightly,
it could not be for any technical reason. And it would spit in the face
of well-respected software development practices. (Recent experiments
have shown they aren't integrated very tightly).
The purpose of this "innovation" is to put Netscape out of business once
and for all, while getting around some specific wording in the
federal ruling from their last clash with the Department of Justice.
Microsoft isn't an innovator, they just play one on TV.