Daniel Eran Dilger
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Windows Vista, 7, and Singularity: The New Copland, Gershwin, Taligent

Windows 7
Daniel Eran Dilger
Microsoft’s current and future operating system projects, Windows Vista, Windows Seven, and Singularity, share too much in common with Apple’s failures of the mid-90s. Each project bears a striking resemblance to the three catastrophes that nearly killed Apple in the early 90s, and for many of the same core reasons. Here’s why, and what this means for the future of the PC desktop, the Windows platform, and new emerging mobile markets.

How Microsoft has become the Beleaguered Apple ‘96

Mac OS 8 Copland = Windows Vista.
The old Apple canceled its Mac OS Copland project in 1996 after recognizing that it was too big and had too many problems. Ten years later, Microsoft simply kept working on its Longhorn boondoggle and eventually shipped it as Vista.

While the old Apple cut its losses and quickly moved to identify a backup plan, Microsoft has dug deeper into failure by assuming that Vista could be sold automatically even if it wasn’t a good product, simply because of Microsoft’s Windows monopoly position. That turned out to be a grave mistake.

The main problem for Apple’s Copland was the threat of Windows 95; Apple’s new Mac OS couldn’t just show up, it had to compete. Similarly, the main problem for Vista was the reality of Mac OS X Tiger, and then of Leopard. Vista was repeatedly compared to Mac OS X, and not favorably. Without Apple, Microsoft’s efforts with Vista might have seemed sufficient. Instead, a year after shipping Vista the company is still struggling to find interest in it. Microsoft is discovering that competing in a real market is far harder than simply coasting in monopoly mode.

Has Leopard Fallen into a Copland-Vista Conundrum?

Has Leopard Fallen into a Copland-Vista Conundrum?
The Secrets of Pink, Taligent and Copland

Pretend Nothing’s Wrong.
The only thing worse than making a mistake is failing to recognize that a mistake was made. Microsoft’s mix of desperation and its failure to grasp reality are reflected in the internal sales video that employed dancers jumping to celebrate a supposedly successful launch of Vista among consumers last year, something that in reality never happened.

And you saw lots of sales vista!

It then depicted white men in suits suddenly getting excited about Vista in business sales because of the release of SP1, a collection of bug fixes hailed over the past year to be the savior of Vista but which really offers nothing to mitigate its sluggish performance and compatibility problems that are actually keeping enterprise users from adopting it.

Vista gotta get me some

In comparison, Windows XP wasn’t really ready for serious adoption until SP2, which was released in August 2004, three years after the original appearance of XP in October 2001. Vista users can’t expect things to improve until another service pack is offered in another year or two. By that time, Apple will be shipping its next reference release of Mac OS X, Apple’s hardware sales growth will have continued to far outpace those of generic PCs dependent upon Windows, and other alternatives to Windows for PC users will have developed by another year or two as well.

As unintentionally detailed in a report by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Apple has already been able to significantly outpace Microsoft’s development schedule in both the release of maintenance patches as well as in major reference releases and updates.

Patches Windows vs Mac OS X

CanSecWest and Swiss Federal Institute of Tech Deliver Attacks on the Reality of Mac Security
YouTube – Stupid Internal Microsoft Vista SP1 Video

Asleep at the Wheel.
Microsoft’s dependance upon a competition-free, monopolized market has lulled it to sleep while its customers have suffered under a rash of malware and viruses as Microsoft has raised the price of Windows. Only after its customers grew angry about their security-related damages and started looking at alternatives did the company take any action.

Microsoft’s initial reaction was to work hard to improve Vista’s external security. The problem is that Windows’ malware problems aren’t solely related to the platform’s security flaws; Microsoft itself has pursued a corporate strategy of developing and bundling adware, spyware, license policing, and other objectionable tactics that in effect punish customers for not leaving. It’s therefore no wonder why people are switching whenever they can. As the barriers to switching are removed, that migration will only speed up.

Imagine if Apple had simply plowed more money into shipping Copland in 1997: it might never have recognized the importance of digging out of its legacy trap and starting over with new technology. That’s exactly the problem Microsoft is now deeply invested in with Vista. The company lacks any opportunity to a pursue an alternative backup plan and is now wedded to a boondoggle for the next several years. It doesn’t help that the company is only making things worse by pursuing adware, spyware, and DRM activation measures that irritate users.

Five Factors Shifting the Future of Malware and Platform Security
The Unavoidable Malware Myth: Why Apple Won’t Inherit Microsoft’s Malware Crown

Mac OS 9 Gershwin = Windows 7.
Back at the cancelation of Copland, Apple revealed that the plans for the next new Mac OS, code named Gershwin, were completely vapor and that nobody who had ever done any work on it could even be identified. Microsoft played the same game with Blackcomb, which was supposed to closely follow Whistler (Windows XP), and then Longhorn in 2004. As 2006 rolled around, the still unreleased Longhorn turned into Vista and Blackcomb was renamed Vienna. More recently, it has been renamed Windows 7.

Windows Enthusiast love to prattle on about how Windows 7 will solve all of Microsoft’s legacy issues by introducing a hypervisor or an optimized “MinWin” kernel and a compatibility virtual machine that works something like Mac OS X’s Carbon or perhaps the Classic environment, but the reality is that even Microsoft has little idea of what Windows 7 will deliver. Last year, Microsoft’s Ben Fathi said, “We’re going to look at a fundamental piece of enabling technology. Maybe it’s hypervisors. I don’t know what it is” […] “Maybe it’s a new user interface paradigm for consumers.” Apple had a better idea of what Gershwin was supposed to accomplish in 1994.

Microsoft has always focused attention on its plans two to three years out, because it is far easier to hype up vaporous intentions than to put positive spin on the less than exceptional products it was currently shipping. The most infamous example was Cairo, which served as the company’s ghostly mascot throughout much of the 90s and essentially reappeared to haunt the media during the following decade as Longhorn. However, the company can’t say much about Windows 7, due three years from now, because today’s Windows 6 (Vista) is still struggling for attention and facing serious problems of its own.

Microsoft's Yellow Road to Cairo

Microsoft’s Yellow Road to Cairo

What About Bob Vista?
Vista was supposed to create a whirlwind of wowing excitement. Instead, PC manufacturers have demanded the ability to continue selling Windows 5.1 (XP), and consumers have expressed little enthusiasm for giving up PC performance simply to buy into Microsoft’s latest release. Microsoft’s OS development efforts are simply a mess, just as it’s facing the most competition it ever has on the PC desktop. While tempted to flog the imaginary potential of Windows 7, Microsoft desperately needs to shake some attention out of Vista right now.

Windows 7 would have a tough struggle if it were ready for release today. Microsoft’s credibility in terms of shipping a functional, salable operating system is in the toilet. But the successor to Vista won’t ship for another three years, a very long time in the tech industry. Three years ago, Apple was selling Power PC computers, the iPod looked like it was running out of steam, and the company had only half as many retail stores as the present. Three years from now, it appears Apple will be sitting on a massive installed base of mobile WiFi iPods and iPhones and a retail presence that is more than 150% larger than today. Additionally, Linux will also experience three years of advancement.

Ironically, the more Microsoft changes Windows to make it competitive against Mac OS X, Linux, and other alternatives, the less attractive Windows will be to the core Windows Enthusiast crowd that wants to bask in backwards compatibility. That’s the precise problem Apple faced in migrating classic Mac OS users toward Copland or Pink: its customers wanted a better old product, not an entirely new one.

Apple could later excise its legacy cruft in the move to Mac OS X because at that point, active developers had only minimal investment in old technologies and NeXT offered a ready infusion of compelling new development tools. Microsoft must string along support for old Win32 applications and proprietary, security challenged features built into products such as Internet Explorer; if it doesn’t, it can’t offer any advantages over the cheaper alternatives that already exist.

Windows 95 and Vista: Why 2007 Won't Be Like 1995

Windows 95 and Vista: Why 2007 Won’t Be Like 1995

Taligent = Singularity.

Back during Apple’s OS crisis, the slow progress of Copland was initially considered to be less of critical problem because Apple was also working with IBM to develop Pink and Taligent, which were bandied about as the next thing that would someday solve all of the Mac’s foreseeable problems. Microsoft’s modern day version of this mythical white knight is Singularity, a research project that has little to do with Windows and will not solve the problems of users who need Windows.

Singularity is an experimental effort to build an operating system in Microsoft’s C# language for research purposes. It boots on legacy PCs using the early 80s BIOS architecture. While it introduces some novel ideas about how to build a microkernel, Microsoft’s real problems in Windows don’t revolve around major deficiencies in the NT Kernel used in WinNT/2000/XP/Vista, but rather the problematic pile of junk that supports the sprawling Win32 API. Nothing in Singularity addresses that at all.

What people quickly forget is that the only reason why anyone uses Windows is because it runs ubiquitous Win32 legacy applications. As Unix and Linux gain the ability to do this using libraries such as WINE, there will be little allure to pay for using Windows at all, or any OS from Microsoft. A new OS from Microsoft that doesn’t run Win32 will have no advantage over Linux or Mac OS X, which already has mature frameworks for building modern apps, nor any advantage over alternative enterprise development platforms such as Sun’s Java EE and open web services development.

Why spin Win32 apps into a compatibility mode of a future, cleaned up and modernized version of a Microsoft operating system when one can already do that today on top of Mac OS X or Linux and skip paying Microsoft for all those licensing fees? Microsoft is now grappling with that question itself.

Microsoft exists to maintain its monopoly position. Suggesting that Windows 7 or Singularity will help solve problems that Vista has been unable to is akin to saying that future generations of a monarch will solve the despotism of the current king. Why not just depose the king now and set up a representative government that isn’t designed around the whims of an incompetent tyrant or his unproven offspring?

Vaporware: Why Apple Doesn’t Blog

Bill Gate’s Worthless Legacy.
At its most beleaguered, Apple at least had a legacy of brilliant industrial design, intuitive user interface contributions, and forward thinking software offerings from the pioneering Quicktime architecture to the innovative handwritten recognition and data soups of the Newton. Microsoft’s legacy has been poorly architected security, performance eating spaghetti code bloat, a bastardized and inconsistent user interface, and a series of vaporware initiatives intended to hold back competition and rein in any progress in the state of the art.

Unlike the old Apple, Microsoft lacks an estranged leader like Steve Jobs and a parallel wing of development like NeXT to remerge with in order to revitalize its future. Microsoft didn’t spin Bill Gates off into a decade long skunkworks project that produced incredible technology that can now be purchased for a song. Gates stuck around and wasted billions of dollars annually chasing after a myopic vision of Tablet PCs, SPOT watches, and a flurry of other failed products that the company could not successfully develop and market.

But more importantly, Microsoft lacks any need to exist. As a brand, the company has established itself as a huge meaningless nothing. At its core ideology and corporate identity, Microsoft symbolizes not a faltering greatness in technology as the old Apple did, but a tumbling monstrosity of conniving, greedy, short sighted megalomania. Microsoft never aspired to deliver great products; it only ever sought to destroy competitors and spread its brand name.

bill gates

Innovation: Apple at Macworld vs Microsoft at CES
Microsoft Surface: the Fine Clothes of a Naked Empire
The Spectacular Failure of WinCE and Windows Mobile

Why Would You Buy That?
This desperate greed is reflected in its glassy eyed advertisements for Vista that presented users as being wowed by its veneer rather than actually being able to use it. It’s also reflected in the insane fist pumping of its CEO chanting for developers, developers, developers while the company has repeatedly and intentionally steamrolled its own development partners. It’s also obvious in the internal videos that present Vista simply as a box people need to be sold.

In contrast, the new Apple presents ads showing why users might actually want to buy its products, including demonstrations of the iPhone’s interface. You’d never see Microsoft advertising the clunky interface of Windows Mobile. Further, each reference release of Mac OS X has been defined by major features first, then “hundreds” of other significant features, and subtle interface refinements afterward. Windows releases have historically all been hype surrounding the name and associated logo, vague promises about being the best ever, and prominent but mostly gimmicky interface overhauls that principally served to sell a new edition of Office along with it.

If Apple made bad products, it wouldn’t be able to sell them. Microsoft has made a series of truly awful products such as Windows ME, yet was able to extract huge sums of money from them because consumers and business users had no alternative choices available to them. The rapid uptake in Mac sales and in iPhones compared to the flat demand for Windows PCs and Windows Mobile smartphones indicates that Microsoft is ill prepared to compete in the real, functional markets it now finds itself in.

Office Wars 3 - How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly

Office Wars 3 – How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly
Office Wars 4 – Microsoft’s Assault on Lotus and IBM
Apple’s iPhone Vs. Other Mobile Hardware Makers: 5 Revenue Engines

The Market Corrects.
Microsoft hasn’t ever had to compete in a fair market. It got rich shoehorning its DOS licensing into IBM’s PC sales, then pushed Windows licenses through OEM IBM clone sales, then systematically displaced its third party Windows developers by introducing its own Office applications, development tools, terminal services, web browser, media software, and antivirus tools. The PC market is now a fully monopolized platform owned by Microsoft.

Societies work when markets allow groups to specialize in specific areas of expertise and then work together to form mutually beneficial partnerships. Microsoft has converted the PC market into a dictatorial commune, and expands its control by eating up partners, harvesting their technology, and spitting them out as chaff. Microsoft’s poor treatment of its partners has resulted in an industry that views Microsoft as a dangerous enemy.

Apple has historically focused on what it could do best: develop hardware. It partnered early on with Microsoft, only to discover the company had no ethics, no desire to build anything mutually beneficial, and saw no real core competencies to focus on. Microsoft simply wanted to control everything, but was not very good at actually doing so. After a lengthy reign of terror marked by shoddy engineering, ugly interface designs, and greedy business models, Microsoft is now surrounded by companies that only want to remove it from power.

Soviet Microsoft: How Resistance to Free Markets and Open Ideas Will the Unravel the Software Superpower

Soviet Microsoft: How Resistance to Free Markets and Open Ideas Will the Unravel the Software Superpower
Microsoft’s Unwinnable War on Linux and Open Source

SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 1970s
SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 1980s
SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 1990s
SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 2000s

Swimming Against Fitter Competitors.
The lucky current that happened to bring Microsoft to the top has left it sitting in place above the stagnant desktop PC market. The company has proven itself incapable of expanding into new arenas or replicating its PC OS fortune. It will have to idly watch as its monopoly position is eroded and as swifter competitors expand into the markets it has been unable to develop, including smartphones and mobile Internet devices.

Apple is well situated to expand with those markets because it has developed fundamentally better products and assembled partners that contribute towards its success, including automakers and airlines, studios and labels, Nike and the iPod hardware makers, mobile service operators, and now a series of game and software developers for the iPhone.

Apple now has the critical mass pushing economies of scale that Microsoft enjoyed as a DOS supplier to IBM’s early PC, but today’s Apple is like Microsoft and IBM put together. That gives the company advantages that Microsoft’s software-only approach can’t match. Apple also has hardware experience and expertise that Microsoft can’t duplicate just by throwing its money around, as evidenced by the fantastic losses related to its every attempt at custom engineered hardware.

Apple’s partnerships with Intel give it access to the cream of technology in desktop systems, and its iPod-centric volume purchasing from component vendors such as Samsung give it incredible market power in the Flash RAM arena. Microsoft has already played its hand in mobile devices, and every attempt has been a spectacular failure, from Windows Mobile to PlaysForSure to Zune.

Microsoft’s sole attraction for developers has been its large, monopolized PC platform. However, the tantalizing allure of that large market has been contaminated by Microsoft’s own pillaging of its development partners, its failure to take reasonable precautions to ensure the computing safety of its customers, and the widespread piracy among Windows’ less sophisticated users. Developers have long realized that targeting the Mac platform results in returns far greater than its 5% worldwide penetration would suggest.

10 FAS: 7 – Apple’s Hardware and Dvorak’s Microsoft Branded PC
The Spectacular Failure of WinCE and Windows Mobile
Video Game Consoles 2007: Wii, PS3 and the Death of Microsoft’s Xbox 360
Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing

The Puck Is Mobile.
As growth in the conventional desktop PC market slows, developers are eying mobile devices, a category Microsoft has failed to monopolize or to even successfully compete in. Apple is currently offering the prospect of a safer platform that is more profitable for third party developers and makes it easier for them to reach potential customers. Microsoft is again scrambling to catch up with the iPhone, just as it has tried for years to copy the success of the iPod.

In mobile devices, Microsoft also faces entrenched rivals including Nokia, and the threat of free software alternatives, including Google’s Android offerings. Microsoft’s monopolized PC platform is beginning to look irrelevant, and its monopoly business model isn’t something the company has been able to duplicate elsewhere.

From its mid 90s attempts to spread “Windows Everywhere” from Pen Computing to Tablets to copiers and office equipment, to today’s efforts to get WinCE or XP/Vista running on UMPCs, phone tablets, and touch sensitive tubs, Microsoft has never been able to successfully expand its range significantly outside the PC market, which is now slowing to a crawl.

Even the company’s satellite buffer of lauding pundits is drying up, making it more difficult for Microsoft to maintain its influence via misinformation campaigns. The tech media in general is still loath to seriously criticize Microsoft’s actions or dispute its future relevance, but as its ad budget and public perception wanes, so will its coverage. Not even Apple could escape the fangs of the media once its fortunes turned. The difference is that a number of influential people wanted to save the remains of Apple in 1997. Nobody really feels the same about today’s Microsoft.

As the company fiddles while Windows burns, the PC market will give rise to an explosion of mobile devices, few of which will be running Windows. And as for Windows itself: somewhat ironically, as it moves to divorce itself from its own insecure, sloppy legacy, it increasingly won’t matter, because Windows’ core problems are actually the primary features supporting its sales. That’s like having a skeleton made of cancer cells; you can spend a lot of money on surgery, but there’s no solution that makes any sense.

Can Apple Take Microsoft in the Battle for the Desktop?

Can Apple Take Microsoft in the Battle for the Desktop?

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  • gus2000

    Windows 7 should be renamed to “Osborne”, since its’ looming release (3 years!) is keeping the would-be Vista buyers on the sidelines.

    But hey, at least they’ve got “Surface”, which I guess is just like the Mac Cube. Except, the Cube didn’t cost $10K, and the Cube actually made money.

  • http://wondersoftech.blogspot.com/ jmdunys


    I have been reading your posts for a while now and have used a lot of your stuff in personal conversation, or sent URLs to make a point, as your comments are so well written and pertinent.

    Do you really think that:
    1. Windows7 – Apple had a System 7 many many years ago ;-) – is it really just vaporware, or are Microsoft exec so ‘scared’ that they want to release this as soon as possible (Bill Gates talks about the end of next year) to counteract the embarrassment of, like they did with the debacle of Windows Me?

    2. Microsoft is working very hard at placing themselves on the web 2.0 bandwagon, with multiple tests of putting some of their product ‘on the cloud’. It’s mainly to counteract Google – so obvious – and don’t seem to have an overall strategy – except purchasing Yahoo to be able to copy Google’s – but do you think that they will be able to convince people to go for their solution on the web, rather than using their desktop offering, or Google’s own solution on the web.

    3. Do you think Apple will – at last – make a positive move towards making .mac a seriously attractive solution, in the same vein as msn/hotmail/yahoo (which are all very faulty but have the merits to be ‘there’ for most users.

  • PerGrenerfors

    Nice article.

    As for Surface, there will never be a budget box edition. Microsofts fortune was built on crap hardware sold cheaply. Just what are they gonna use? Old flipped-up CRT screens with a touch-sensitive layer glued to it? Just what kind of person would buy that? It doesn’t offer any productivity and none of the current game titles would play on it. People with some sense instead get a Wii, a PS3 or even an X-Box.

    To even remotely stand a chance of creating a mobile monopoly, Microsoft needs to flood the market with ultra-cheap phones with Windows on them. They have to be so cheap that wouldn’t have to think twice if they actually needed a “smart phone” instead of a “feature phone”.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    @jmdunys: the flap about 7 being released in a year was misquoted by several sites. In reality, MS has repeated several times that it is not planned for release for another 3 years. Gates stated that an alpha/beta demo might ship earlier, and hopefully Vista users will get a service pack that actually helps things, but no 7 until at least 2010.

  • Berend Schotanus

    “…the only reason why anyone uses Windows is because it runs ubiquitous Win32 legacy applications”

    It seams like another “Classic Coke” drama is unfolding.

    What’s fascinating me is not so much why Microsoft sucks (even though this has to be said) but why and how Windows users stick to their operating system. It is interesting to see Asus offers 8GB flash memory for free as a bonus for using Linux instead of Windows (mind you: XP, not Vista).
    Apparently many computer users are keen keeping what they know or at least getting the same kind of equipment their family and friends already have. This is not so hard to understand, computers are complicated devices. Of course Apple launched its Mac-PC switch campaign for this same reason.
    So despite of all Windows flaws many many consumers just want XP on their next PC, can they ever be convinced to think about something else?

    Well, the best way to achieve this might be by simply taking XP out of the market…

  • Brau

    “Microsoft never aspired to deliver great products”
    -too true. I recall when Win95 was released there was no delusion about it from the sellers or even MS as far as being not as good as a Mac but “close enough and cheap”.

    “…the insane fist pumping of its CEO chanting for developers, developers, developers ”
    -the only change I see in MicroSoft today is that a decade of being the leading software seller has allowed them to convince themselves they are true innovators, when they have never released a product better than a Mac or anything else for that matter. They now appear wildly disconnected from the reality of what their product is.

    “Microsoft has always focused attention on its plans two to three years out, because it is far easier to hype up vaporous intentions than to put positive spin on the less than exceptional products it was currently shipping.”
    -If you don’t have clear goals, then this is the only option. You spend all your time trying to keep up with the competition instead of creating truly original products. You end up with Origami, the MicroSoft House-of-the-future replete with stupid Surface Tables. Who’s going to buy that?

    “Imagine if Apple had simply plowed more money into shipping Copland in 1997”
    -If Apple had continued down that path they would have been doing the same thing as MS – just being copycats. Steve Jobs’ simple brilliance was to refocus Apple back to creating great deliverable products, the kind you dream of, instead of just trying to be vaguely great by keeping up. It’s like a musician who aspires to be great but just floats from band to band with no vision of how to get there except by trying to copy what the other great players are doing. Ultimately they fail, no matter how physically talented, because they lack their own originality. Then along comes some pimply faced kid who can barely play but has an original song he wants to sing … and takes the world by storm.

    “As the company fiddles while Windows burns…”
    -just loved this line. So very apt. (“Gates” of hell … hmmm.) I just hope Monkey Boy doesn’t follow Nero’s lead and try to kill all the Mac zealots.

    Good article!

  • http://info-tran.com/ info-dave

    Another nice article, I look forward to your writings. I do believe you were remiss by not including XP as part of the main problem for Vista. It wasn’t just OS X that makes Vista look bad. XP, being good enough, is more of a Vista deterrent than OS X. Sometimes I feel you slant your writings in favor of Apple, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves. I would be more inclined to share your writings with my Microsoft buddies if you stayed on the high road.

    The whole question of how Microsoft will transition Windows will be very interesting. I lived through Apple’s transition from OS 9 to OS X. What a beautiful piece of work. In the project I was working on at the time, OS 9 compatibility within OS X was key to making the transition. It was as seamless and transparent as the coherence mode of Parallels today.

    Workstations connected to old and new servers, running old and new applications, made the logistics of the move much easier. Preserving the user interface allowed many users to remain clueless to what was really going on, and that was a good thing. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Microsoft will need to nail this if they are to be successful.

    And I had the unfortunate privilege to witness the strength and beauty of OS X. Initial workstations were 10.2, the test server was 10.3, and the final role out was all 10.4. I avoided NetInfo, but missed the power of ACL’s. I was going crazy with all the changes going on under the covers, but the users remained clueless, and never skipped a beat. And the software developers were even more pressured than me to keep up. It was a fast few years.

  • Pingback: Despre Microsoft si Windows 7 (pacate)()

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ info-dave

    I don’t think Daniel’s biased, but rather your comparison’s a bit off. OS X does make Vista look bad. XP meanwhile makes Vista look alien. XP ain’t pretty or advanced or much of anything besides one: it’s the 2000’s *default* OS. When people say “PC” they mean Windows XP. That’s what’s screwing around with them just now as they wind up with Vista. “What the hell’s this?” They were landed a world of change without any consultation on the matter. At least if they bought a Mac, they knew they were in for a new environment…

    Here’s a crucial component of the story unfolding today: Windows XP was out for too long. It became the System 7 of the PC world. Microsoft’s furious troubles with Longhorn stopped them from toying around arbitrarily with the interface people were using every year or two like they did from 1995-2001. Back in those days Windows was a moving target. But since 2001, it’s been frozen in Carbonite.

    Kind of like how Adobe would prefer OS X but that’s another story!

  • dearsina

    I don’t understand the purpose of this article. What are you trying to say?

    Vista works fine, it is stable, doesn’t have any major security flaws and—although I’d be the first to admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder—it’s a decent looking OS.

    Vista-bashing seems to have become such a popular past-time amongst OSX fanboys that articles are written without any factual reference to the software itself by authors whose only direct exposure to Vista seems to have been at an airport electronics shop.

    If you’re going to criticise Vista, at least use valid (and God forbid, novel) arguments, rather than saying that since the number of Mac users has risen from 6% to 8%, that must mean any other OS sucks.

    And I don’t understand how on earth having the highest number of patches is a sign of superiority. Have you looked up the definition of ‘patch’ lately? You might be in for a bit of a shock.

    [Vista sales have been very disappointing for a number of reasons, including poor performance (XP runs considerably faster on the same hardware) and driver problems. The point is that MS worked for 6 years and ~$6 billion to produce it, and shipped something that offered users little reason to upgrade over XP. That’s why I compared it to Copland, although Apple didn’t spend nearly as much money or time on Copland before dropping it. You can dismiss a review of the facts by waving the “fanboy” flag, but that term applies to an emotional attack or defense, not a factual argument. There was no criticism of Vista related to loss of ~5 million PC customers annually to the Mac, so I’m not sure why you brought that up. Also, you seem to suggest that Vista doesn’t need patching; that’s not the case. It’s just that Apple delivers support for its OS faster. Apple also delivers patches for all of the FOSS software it bundles, so its patch counts are not directly related to flaws Apple creates for itself. All of Vista’s flaws are developed by Microsoft directly. – Dan ]

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    I liked the Intel bit, then I go back to my feed reader to discover this:
    Surprising move. Wonder what Apple have in mind?

  • cocoy

    Excellent post.

    Apple used Rosetta to run its ppc on intel. there are similar technologies for windows apps like wine.

    In a hypothetical situation, couldn’t for example, MS move to a Unix (BSD/Linux) base and simply borrow wine to run its existing apps? Wine as it is today, already can run photoshop.

    my point being, i think keeping up with legacy code, while starting fresh on a new OS code base… is not impossible to accomplish. So I guess, at the end of the day, it is how Microsoft sees the future of Windows that’s the question.

  • lmasanti

    “…the only reason why anyone uses Windows is because it runs ubiquitous Win32 legacy applications”

    It seams like another “Classic Coke” drama is unfolding.

    The main difference is that drinkers [users] want the “Classic Coke” and demanded it. Win32 legacy apps “fix you” in an undesired world: you are forced to stay in.

  • lmasanti

    I think you missed some details on MS behaviours.

    To face facts, MS usually spreads FUD and vaporware. You explain it truly good.
    But the second way of facing facts is by “buying companies”.
    I won’t mention Y! bid here, but… What can MS buy to solve its actual OS troubles?

    Tommorow announcement would be: “Microsoft made an unsolicited bid to buy Linus Torvald itself!”

    Although I think it is the “only” serious solution to solve MS problems, it is also unthinkable of.

    So, the question remains: “What can MS buy?”

  • dicklacara

    Sic Transit Microsoft

    Brilliant article, Dan!

    Especially amusing is the reference to the seven deadly sins :)

    Your methodical analysis of the state of the Windows OS is quite sobering.

    I am reminded of a George Coe’s* definition of entropy:

    “… a gradual decline and degradation into a state of disorder and chaos…”

    And George’s description of what to do when you encounter entropy:

    “Nothing… anything you CHANGE makes it WORSE!”.

    * George Coe was a software developer at IBM

  • Electrolytic

    I disagree, I think MS will turn itself around just like Apple did. Steve Jobs also won’t be at Apple forever either…

    Apple will never be as big as MS or even get to 40% market share if they keep their closed system where they’re the only one that builds they’re hardware. Apple does not even have a mid-range tower which is one of the most sold desktops in the world. One of the reason MS is so popular is you can build your own PC from many different hardware mfg, it makes it cheap & easy to repair & upgrade, which cannot be done on the mac mini or imac.

  • stefn

    Great article, Daniel, as usual.

    Peter Drucker talked about “creative destruction,” and both Apple and Microsoft are stories of how even smart success can narcotize an organization while even stupid failure can stimulate growth and development.
    * Imagine that Apple had not been kicked out Jobs.
    * Imagine that Microsoft had been broken up.
    It’s all about creating flow, however it can be done. Established structures are quickly outdated structures.

  • Flynn Miller

    Good article, I actually consider Microsoft to be the more interesting of the two companies here. A recent science channel documentary opined that Bill Gates was actually quite shell shocked by the anti-trust lawsuits of the late 1990’s. Do you believe that Microsoft actually wants a 5% marketshare competitor? Does it make them look less aggressive? Is this dangerous for them?

  • tundraboy

    Nice, nice article. Couldn’t agree more.

    Microsoft has been suffering from severe monopolitis for a long time. The primary symptom of which is that you assume that your product is by far the best out there just because you’re selling every last one you make.

  • pecos.bill

    Still reading it, but I really don’t think of Vista as Longhorn. Sooooo much of Longhorn was stripped out and that last minute rewrite makes Vista seem far too much of a warmed over XP than anything. I call it lipstick on a pig.

  • lmasanti

    “… a gradual decline and degradation into a state of disorder and chaos…”
    “Nothing… anything you CHANGE makes it WORSE!”.

    If you take into account “gaseous separation thru membranes” used in Uranium enrichment, you’ll see that with the right pressure/membrane combination a mixture of U235/U238 uranium gas (usually a fluoride compound) can be separated in two streams, each one denser in each of the compounds.

    In the same way, I think that the correct selection of pressure/membrane could be used to revert from chaos.

    See the story of Apple with the Second Coming of Jobs: he cut everything out of the main 4 lines of products (killing the Newton on its way) and push development into fundational places (Mac OS X).

    So, you can do things to reduce chaos on an enterprise/product line/software.

    At least Macs/iPods/iPhones show me that.

  • pecos.bill

    Daniel Eran,

    I do think you missed two things. Envy and Pride. Don’t you think M$ is overly prideful and now again Envies Apple’s product lust (our lust for their products, of course)? I do.

    Sadly, there’s so many companies out there that are inexorably locked into M$’ products that M$ still gets their money in one way or another. It might not be with Vista or the current M$Office, but at some time, they will upgrade. I think M$ knows this. It will take a long time for that to change drastically.

    Apple/Jobs was brilliant to primarily target consumers as they aren’t beholden to CIOs trained in M$ loving business schools. There’s more consumers than businesses, too. I think that consumers will help Apple with some inroads to businesses, too, of course.

  • ebob

    Microsoft is quietly saying goodbye to the old APIs as it ushers in .NET. The job boards are full of companies doing new development in .NET and less in the old Win32 APIs. That is how they are building a base of new locked-in code, and why they HAD to (try to) wrest Java from Sun. .NET has enabled them to suck in C++ and Java developers (C#, J#), maintain the old Basic developer base (VB.NET), and even start to acquire a lock-in on the new scripting tools (Ruby, Python). .NET is their migration strategy. Don’t overlook its power or significance.

  • gothgod

    Great article. There is just one thing. Microsoft will never go down since it doesn’t matter how crappy they are. Do you truly believe this will/can happen or are you just hoping?

    Off topic: Do everyone here want Microsoft to die? Personally I like oasis of great software and hardware that the mac platform provides. I don’t see that it will remain if everyone switched.

  • lehenbauer

    Windows 7 is a paper tiger that serves as a foil for Thurrott and his ilk to compare to Apple’s shipping kit. “This thing in Leopard is a ripoff of Windows 7 but the Windows version is actually much better.”

    Would anyone care to wager whether or not Microsoft will ship Window 7 in three years? I say the will not, but if they told the truth and said 5 to 6 years, there’d be a revolt. Keep promising people all their problems will be solved, real soon now. Very familiar terriroty.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ ebob

    I do actually hear quite good things about .NET and the MSDN (although there’s been complaints about the documentation library being reshuffled of late). Definitely, it’s Microsoft’s equivalent to Cocoa. It’s important to note that Cocoa runs on top of OS X: a new operating system. What MS have with .NET is a modern API lying on top of the old beast: NT.

    It’s unlikely they’ll ever let old things go unless somehow the whole house came crashing down. There was a great forum of MS insider comments on this a few years ago when the great Longhorn slip hit the news … if only I could dig it up. So many comparisons with Apple’s darkest days, made by the Microsofties themselves.

    @ gothgod

    Daniel clearly thinks it *will*. I’m minded that way too, given the turnaround of momentum in recent years. Though it’s certainly not a given. It’s just impossible to figure out where Microsoft’s desperately needed change in direction is supposed to come from.

    As for OS X v Windows, it’s not a zero sum game. If and when Windows slides, it may well not be straight into Apple’s hands. I don’t see a turn of events which makes Apple the manufacturer of the majority of the world’s computers. Though right now: I also don’t see a Linux surge to maintain that open hardware platform either.

  • http://www.thecarbonlesspaper.com johnnyapple

    Apple just reported Mac sales for the quarter of 2.289 million representing 51% year over year growth.

    iPods came in at 10.644 million
    iPhone 1.703 million
    Revenue $7,512 billion (wow)
    Earning $1.16 per share, $1.05 billion total – yeah!

  • http://www.thecarbonlesspaper.com johnnyapple

    What recession?

  • anonymous500r

    Windows will remain popular among professionals for quite some time. Despite the fact I’m really happy with my MacBook the task management system on OSX is extremely poorly designed, and the lack of cutting edge hardware for macs will limit it’s market. Linux requires typing in thousands of commands even to set up a file server and even with the cutting edge wine still doesn’t run many Win32 apps – so Microsoft is far from dead. And most consumers just want something cheap that will do the job – macs are these expensive and shiny things.

  • NormM

    If I was in charge of microsoft I would buy the best modern OS I could find and pay VMWare to virtualize XP. Just dress it up a bit and you have win32 compatibility without having to pay for a second OS. Since Apple won’t license OSX, the box vendors would have no good alternative but to use this. This maintains lockin while migrating away from their legacy base.

  • dicklacara


    Way back in 2003, MS bought Connectix to get their virtualization technology. I never used the Windows version, but the Mac version did a surprisingly good job of running XP on a Mac PPC.


    MS killed the Mac version, but they have a Windows virtualization solution in-house.

    Now, all they need is a modern OS :)

  • jfatz

    In other news, “Wedded to a Boondoggle” would make a great name for a folk band.

  • Silencio

    @anonymous500r: by “cuttting edge hardware” I assume you mean “bitchen’ video cards for 3D gaming”, right? Not sure how else the Mac Pro doesn’t qualify, unless you really want DDR3 system memory FWLIW.

  • ArnisAndy

    My first post on RoughlyDrafted so forgive my brain dump.

    Vista struggled because MS blew it in the PR realm. I think the criticisms of it’s technical failings are more a results of MS’s own misteps in marketing: too many versions, the whole Vista Basic debacle, and promising features that were never delivered. On “modern” PC hardware comparable to the iMac, MacBook, and MacBook Pro models of the time period in which Vista was released, it seems to run fine. The criticisms about it’s memory requirements are rather moot given that I just bought 4G for $85. I think Vista’s real improvements are (1) improved security and (2) reworking the OS to deal with the problems of DLL hell to support legacy code.

    Microsoft did dig it’s own [in]security hole back with Windows 2000 by not making the defacto behaviour to run as a non-Admin user. XP actually supports running as a non-admin and would allow alot of the OS X/Linux sudo-like behavior. Unfortunately, the majority of applications assume admin rights and would thus fail. This is the cause of some compatibility issues with Vista. While there are some valid criticisms of the clukiness of Vista’s admin-access nags, it is a much needed improvement.

    I think the MS is Satan argument is a little tired. Daniel gets too excited this time on that soapbox as Mac lovers tend to. I agree that MS has never been an innovation leader. They’ve played it safe, followed where the industry was headed, and used what they would consider good business practice to grow their company. Unfortunately in many cases they used unfair monopolistic practices (which massive companies tend to do). In the end they make them feel (even more) like the evil giant. That’s where the Justice Department comes in. Considering that the number of types of hardware that need to be supported by XP and Vista and the years of legacy code that can be run, I think they deserve a little more respect.

    Interfected thought: WINE (the layer that attempts to let Windows apps be run on Linux et. all) isn’t a viable solution. It still isn’t even to a 1.0 version. It doesn’t have near the compatibility that it needs. Mainly because the Windows API is so quirky and inconsistent it is impossible to get right. It is not a threat to Microsoft.

    One also has to consider Microsoft’s success in the business world. I’m just not aware that Apple worked to provide the business application support that MS did (until it was too late). I mean specifically the ease of interfacing to databases and the ability to distribute stand-alone dynamically loadable binary objects like COM components. I don’t know much about Apple’s current offerings, but I’d be surprised if it comes close to matching .NET’s ease of use. .NET is a much improved evolution of COM, too.

    Apple has an easier market into which to deliver it’s software. The scope of Apple’s testing of it’s software is so much less that MS. Apple controls the hardware and has much better control over testing. Apple doesn’t have to worry about it’s development environment running on more than a handful of machines, it’s phone OS running on more than one hardware platform, or its OS working in cooperation with 17 year-old legacy code. While some businesses are experimenting with introducing Apple hardware into their inner workings, most companies would be loath to lock into a single hardware vendor or give up their existing infrastructure.

    Concerning Windows 7 being vaporware, we’ll have to see. But, like Daniel, I ain’t holding my breath. Here’s a point I think Daniel may be missing regarding MS pre-announcing products. Microsoft HAS to do this pre-announcement because they have so many users, partners and hardware manufacturers that they need to get folks beating their alphas and betas into shape. We see the same thing with Apple and its SDKs and OSes. Where MS errs is being too optimistic about release dates. They don’t seem to learn from their own mistakes. I’m not sure any MS developer or partner puts stock in MS’s release dates anymore. However, being that they own the desktop we’ll still be using their technology. Daniel is right about MS being unfit/bloated. It’s suffering from what huge companies without strong leadership usually feel: the inability to overcome they’re own inertia.

    If Windows 7 does what the MS PR machine is leading us to believe, it will be gratefully received by the Windows development community. .NET is already a hit. I haven’t developed any OS X apps yet (still saving up for my MacBook and I’ll tell you how it goes), but .NET development is fantastic. I love it and can write highly functional, great performance apps, with ease. The only hiccups are when I have to interface to the inconsistent legacy API.

    Apple seems to have finally figured out the need to get it’s developers good support. From what I saw, back in the days of Metrowerks CodeWarrior, I’d have to say I felt for all the Mac Developers. With the kludgy OS that MacOS was at that time it looked like a nightmare. Looking through the mass of excellent tutorials and at demos of the fantastic development environment, I’m itching to write some OS X code.

    Here’s what I think MS needs to do to continue it’s dominance (none of these are original and the MS hype of Windows 7 promises some of this):
    (1) Work to make all it’s own rolled apps consistent. That is, make it look like IE, Windows Media Player, Office, and the OS came from the same freakin’ company! That would go a long way toward a positive user experience
    (2) Roll all the Vista-and-previous interfaces into a virtual machine/emulator managed space. That is, kiss the Windows API goodbye. Support it in virtual machine/emulator environment, but End-of-life any new development.
    (3) Roll a new, consistent, and modern native API. Drop all the heterogeneous legacy API kruft of ActiveX, COM, DirectX, ApiFunctionName + ApiFunctionNameEx in favor of an API as elegant as Qt (of KDE fame). .NET would remain. It can fulfill the COM like requirements and most new business app development is .NET anyway. The dropping of the legacy stuff would result in a major performance improvement.
    (4) Have one version of the OS. Drop the network and domain restriction differences between Home and Pro. Make use of modularity to let users drop/uninstall features they don’t want. One version of the OS will make MS appear a lot leaner. Let MS make up it’s financial loss of the Vista Business premium through a business version of Office.

    As Daniel has said, the legacy compatibility issues are what is really hampering MS. It’s a victim of it’s own success. Apple was able to pull off a sea-change.

    I am so glad for Apple’s growing popularity. Without it, MS wouldn’t have the pressure to improve or the great ideas to rip off.

    Apple has the midas touch. I think The Steve is the main reason. Apple may make it into the business world in droves, yet. But, they may not need to as they are one their way to own the consumer market. As long as the pressures to grow their stock don’t overwhelm good business practice and they respect their customers and developers the sky is the limit.

    Love your blog, Daniel. I always gets my brain awhirling. See, you got me to post this tome!

  • nat

    That was one hell of a good article Daniel, pardon my French! I like these lengthy posts, which let me set aside time to enjoy them. If I weren’t broke right now, I’d hit that PayPal button. :D

    I’d like to suggest a future article topic: The disconnect made between Microsoft/Windows and PC gaming.

    It’s one of the few remaining vestiges of Microsoft’s monopoly, thanks in large part to the use of the proprietary DirectX, yet now that DX10 has come up short (most PCs can’t handle it and many devs are avoiding it), no one has made the connection between it and MS.

  • Berend Schotanus


    Sure Microsoft *can* die. Our history is full of epic “unsinkable” steam vessels hitting icebergs and real going down. In fact the “unsinkable” label is a risk in itself because it makes the crew think they can afford reckless behaviour (i.e. providing clients with crappy products).

    I don’t think they *should* die. We are witnessing the rear of a wave of creative destruction and the only way to get out of that alive is to adapt to changing market circonstances. Even if we don’t see how Microsoft has a right to try and meet with their challenges.

  • russ


    “If I was in charge of microsoft I would buy the best modern OS I could find and pay VMWare to virtualize XP.”

    From whom are you going to buy it? Apple could go to NeXT and do exactly that, but in this case there is no one like NeXT.

    However, they could do something like this themselves — migrate to a more modern set of APIs and support the old Win 32 API as an interim measure. In fact, this is what they are doing:


    Will that solve their problem? I don’t know. But I do think Daniel did a very good job of expressing his thoughts. He thinks they have a dilemma. They have two poor options and have to choose one — hence the phrase “caught on the horns of a dilemma”:


    On the one hand, MS have to compete with Apple and with the new Linux-based distributions that will arrive over the next few years. (In this connection, note that KDE is currently getting a major re-write, and Gtk, which the GNOME desktop is based on, is in need of one but will get it soon.). But if they cut the cruft, Dan says above:

    “A new OS from Microsoft that doesn’t run Win 32 will have no advantage over Linux or Mac OS X, which already has mature frameworks for building modern apps.”

    Presumably, if MS were to make it clear to business users that the old Win 32 API was being phased out and their crufty old applications _really would not run_ on the next version of Windows those business users would have to think about getting their apps rewritten now. Now ask yourself: if know they’ve got to do that why would they rewrite them as .NET rather than use some more cross-platform means? Will they want to get tied to MS a second time, or would they prefer to leave themselves with an escape route?

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  • MikieV

    @ Electrolytic

    1. “Apple will never be as big as MS or even get to 40% market share…”

    2. “Apple does not even have a mid-range tower which is one of the most sold desktops in the world… you can build your own PC from many different hardware mfg, it makes it cheap & easy to repair & upgrade, which cannot be done on the mac mini or imac.”

    #1. Why does Apple need to get as big as Microsoft, or get 40% market share? I’m more concerned with them maintaining profitability, than some arbitrary amount of market-penetration.

    #2. Why try to compete in the toughest, leanest-profit segment of the market?

    You yourself admit that the major attraction of PCs is how “cheap & easy” it is for people to build and/or upgrade their computers.

    Why would Apple -want- to jump back into that dog-eat-dog world, when they can make better margins in their “niche” markets?

  • http://lexx.warpedsystems.skc.a His Shadow

    > Apple will never be as big as MS or even get to 40%
    > market share if they keep their closed system where
    > they’re the only one that builds they’re hardware

    Nobody cares. Apple is successful, and is more profitable that Microsoft, regardless of how big Microsoft’s share might be. Getting all hung up on meaningless indicators such as how many boxes you can have rotting under desks used only to read emails and view spreadsheets means you will miss the boat on the future of computing.

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  • http://www.cyclelogicpress.com Partners in Grime

    And Macs do way more than just read emails and view spreadsheets. Apple is concentrating on making the end-user experience a pleasant one. By and large, they are succeeding.

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  • kimsnarf

    danieleran: “The lucky current that happened to bring Microsoft to the top has left it sitting in place above the stagnant desktop PC market. The company has proven itself incapable of expanding into new arenas or replicating its PC OS fortune.”

    The Microsoft story isn’t just dumb luck. It’s also a decisive (if questionable) strategy, learning from previous mistakes (e.g. selling Basic for flat rates) and hard work (the employees aren’t just sitting there). The component-based model has traditionally served the company well and has allowed users more freedom (within the platform) and power than Apple’s comparatively narrow and forced one-fits-all experience. In the past decades, Mac OS was just a primitive toy compared to the agile and ground-breaking Amiga OS, and later the multi-tasking and feature-complete Windows 95/98/XP. With OS X and Vista the game has definitely changed though.

    danieleran: “Microsoft has never been able to successfully expand its range significantly outside the PC market, which is now slowing to a crawl.”

    What about the Xbox 360, Xbox Live and the Xbox Marketplace? Wouldn’t you say these are areas Microsoft has successfully expanded into and started to profit from? Xbox Live is the leading online console service, and the 360 has brought a customized, user-centric version of Windows to a whole new market. The 360 has arguably the best games this generation and the platform is also known for its solid development tools and frameworks. With the “new Xbox experience” launching this fall and rumors of a handheld 360 version in the near future, I would say this part of the company, at least, is definitely innovating hard and growing successfully in a tough market where the “monopoly” lies with the competitor(s).

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