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How Microsoft Got Bing, And Why It Is Failing to Matter

Daniel Eran Dilger

After having proven itself unable to compete in web search and advertising, Microsoft has acquired technology from a company with management problems and has launched a wildly hailed attempt to catch up to Google using a dishonest campaign targeting the government. Of course, this isn’t anything new, simply a repeat performance of the historical development of Windows NT. The only difference this time around is that Microsoft’s monopoly is no longer able to exert much leverage against legitimate competitors in the market, providing little hope for Bing. Here’s why.
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Windows Search: A Third Rate Brand for Third Rate Search.

If you’ve only ever been exposed to coverage of Microsoft’s recent historically revised press releases, you might get the impression that Microsoft only recently set its sights on destroying Google and has been ratcheting up its efforts to take on the market leader, culminating in its latest development, Bing, which has managed to grab new ground in web search and ads.

That’s almost entirely inaccurate. Microsoft’s web efforts predate the rise of Google, although Bill Gate’s company largely only ever attempted to put its brand on the technology of other companies. 1998′s MSN Search was just a Windows-bundled version of Inktomi’s search, which later added results from Looksmart and AltaVista. It wasn’t very popular because it didn’t offer the search results Google could.

Very little changed until Microsoft renamed its web search services to Windows Live in an effort to hitch its distantly third place search engine brand to the coattails of Windows Vista, something that in retrospect wasn’t very useful.

Microsoft’s Mojave Experiment Exposes Serious Vista Problems

That All Happened Before.

Up to the last several years, Microsoft’s experiences in web ads and search have been a lot like its experiences in operating systems prior to Windows NT: Microsoft was only putting its name on somebody else’s technology and pushing it via monopoly leverage rather than actually working to compete in the market against other products with its own creation.

From 1975 to 1990, Microsoft resold DRI’s CP/M operating system (although “resold” suggests that Microsoft bought it from DRI rather than just ripping the company off) as MS-DOS and then similarly resold a clone of Apple’s Mac desktop environment as Windows.

The company also resold AT&T’s Unix under the brand Xenix, although it actually licensed the code from AT&T. Xenix was among Microsoft’s least successful products, indicating that crime does indeed pay, as long as you can avoid prosecution or delay lawsuits until their impact is largely irrelevant.

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

Windows N’T.

In the early 90s, Microsoft’s growth in the PC space began to position it against real operating systems: Unix distributions such as NeXTSTEP and Sun Solaris were now being sold to PC users, and Microsoft wanted to sell something that could rival those operating systems in the server space, a market dominated by AT&T and BSD Unix and Digital’s VMS alternative.

Microsoft hired a team led by Dave Cutler, which had been working at Digital to create the next generation of VMS, Digital’s competitor to AT&T’s Unix. The result was eventually released as Windows NT. Microsoft aggressively sold the new operating system to government agencies under the pretense that it supplied a real Unix subsystem for backward compatibility as most contracts required.

Once Microsoft got its foot in the door, it was able to convince the government to spend massive amounts of money to port its existing systems from Unix servers that worked to Windows NT servers that didn’t. Tasks that could be performed by a large central server now required a “server farm” of racks upon racks of PC servers each running a single server program on top of NT, because Microsoft’s new operating system simply couldn’t manage the uptime, stability or capacity of previous Unix servers.

Microsoft itself purchased significantly large server businesses and struggled to transition them to Windows NT, including HoTMaiL and WebTV, both of which were originally built using Sun servers running Unix. This required a massive expansion in hardware and resulted in less efficient, more expensive operations. WebTV eventually failed completely, while Microsoft continued to pour millions of dollars into Hotmail as part of its desperate web strategy.

Readers Write: How Microsoft got Windows NT
Windows XP Media Center Edition vs Apple TV: WebTV

Trading Good for Bad in Servers.

Behind the scenes, Microsoft also leveraged its monopoly position in PCs in the late 90s to influence HP and Digital/Compaq to drop their own high performance server processor architectures (PA-RISC and Alpha, respectively) and throw their weight behind Intel’s new Itanium. Once Itanium failed, Microsoft was left with the home field advantage on Intel PCs with Windows NT/2000.

With the future of HP’s HP-UX and Compaq’s DigitalUnix/Tru64 operating systems now anchored to the sinking Itanium and their own corresponding high performance hardware terminated, the two merged to form a company left primarily with just selling Windows PCs.

That conglomeration of monoculture also hampered the prospects of other digital species of Unix in the server market, including Sun’s Solaris running on Sparc processors and IBM’s AIX and Linux running on PowerPC chips. Microsoft had brought the Windows monopoly it enjoyed in the desktop PC market in the 90s into the server market for what it hoped would be similarly competition-free sales in the big iron server market in the 2000s.

There was a sticking point though: Linux had developed throughout the 90s and was blossoming into a powerful force of its own, thanks to support from IBM, Sun, Oracle, and other big enterprise vendors. Microsoft attempted to divert the settlement money it eventually paid out to DRI (for stealing its software and repressing its competitive DOS product) into a pool of lawyers at SCO that it then pointed directly at Linux. This effort to neutralize competition in the server space eventually failed, but not before Windows Enthusiasts all got on board trying to drum up support for Microsoft and SCO while attacking Linux.

Daniel Lyons: Fake Steve Jobs and the SCO Shill Who Hated Linux
SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 1990s
SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 2000s

Overture, Google, and Yahoo.

What does this all have to do with Microsoft’s search efforts? Once again, Microsoft has been sitting in a market for over a decade without offering anything unique. From 1996 to 2006 the company’s search strategy has largely been to put its brand on other search engines in the hope that its monopoly power in the PC and server businesses would simply cause all revenues to flow in its direction.

Instead, Microsoft has increasingly fallen behind in search, with Yahoo and then Google outpacing it. Google primarily invented better search. It then put into place the money maker: paid search placement. Google didn’t invent this; it was the product of Overture, originally GoTo.com. Using paid search placement, Overture was originally the only company effectively making money in search. However, in 2003 Overture launched itself into the adware business in a partnership with Claria, the source of the notorious Gator malware, blighting its reputation. Oddly enough, Microsoft later entered into talks to acquire Claria’s malware operations in 2005.

Yahoo subsequently bought Overture and wrapped its tentacles of failure around it. Yahoo’s executives also settled Overture’s “you stole our paid-search” suit against Google, which resulted in a bonanza of 2.7 million shares of Google being awarded to Yahoo. This effectively encouraged Yahoo to sit back and let Google earn money for it, as Google’s success directly benefitted Yahoo. The biggest loser was Microsoft, which saw its ad and search business trail off into irrelevance as Google innovated and Yahoo rode its coattails.

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Success through Failure, and then Failure.

Microsoft’s Windows monopoly threatened to help it foist its third place, third rate Windows Live search services upon consumers with the rollout of Vista, destroying any prospect of competition in the search business. That kept Google on the defensive up until Vista’s launch collapsed, resulting in Microsoft falling even further behind in both market share and reputation.

Meanwhile, Yahoo’s management got so bad that it effectively kicked off an employee revolt. Rather than reinvesting in provenly-profitable search, Yahoo’s management chased guaranteed failure in the media business. The search brains at Yahoo, including the former employees of Overture, began a mass migration to other companies, effectively firing their management. The primary benefactor was Microsoft, which hired up as many disgruntled Yahoo people as it could. The result: Yahoo’s talent is now at Microsoft, much the same way as Microsoft acquired Digital’s operating system talent two decades ago.

The difference between Bing (a product of the Yahoo diaspora) and Windows NT (Digital’s former crown jewels) is that with Bing, Microsoft has only acquired a few percentage points of Yahoo’s remaining, ailing search business. Google continues to plough ahead with its own efforts, cementing its dominating lead while it takes on Microsoft’s own core businesses with products that challenge Office, Windows Mobile, and Windows itself with the newly announced Chrome OS.

Like operating systems, the search business is a fantastically expensive game to play in, requiring massive investments in new technology. Google has been collecting the lion’s share of ad search revenue, financing its investments in new technology including Caffeine. Microsoft has been forced to pay for search research and development out of its monopoly profits, something that is becoming increasingly difficult to do as the global PC market plateaus, as PCs shift to ever cheaper price points, and as Google steps up its game against Office and Windows.

Microsoft Bing share vs Google smaller than Safari vs IE

Bing: Stick a Fork In It.

After so much isolation from real competition, Microsoft is poorly prepared to market Bing against a market leader. It has attempted to tie Bing branding to all of its other products, but as Office and Windows sag in their influence, Microsoft is left with tying Bing into its sadly performing Zune and Windows Mobile devices.

Bing also has little to no presence on Apple’s premium, high visibility platforms of the iPhone and the Mac. Microsoft is conflicted about doing anything that might support Apple, which sells platforms that make Microsoft’s own software look bad. Microsoft has meekly rolled out a toolkit to allow iPhone developers to incorporate Bing search into their apps, but Apple has already delegated its core search services in Safari and the iPhone to Google, leaving any third party use of Bing nearly irrelevant even if it were to take off among Cocoa developers for some reason.

Microsoft’s expensive marketing campaign has been bumping the Bing brand into headlines for the last couple months, but that sort of investment is short lived and impossible to sustain without an ongoing revenue stream. The problem is, it’s far easier for Google to maintain its dominance in search than it is for Microsoft to earn it back.

Just ask Apple, which has spent ten years clawing back into leadership of the graphical desktop. Compared to Bing however, Apple’s task was easier because it always made money selling Macs. The search business requires just as much investment and provides far less return per user, making a minority market share position like Microsoft’s a money pit.

Microsoft’s position as a distantly trailing minority player in search is similar to its loser position in media downloads against iTunes, its cash hemorrhaging position in video games, and its profitless business of trying to sell Windows Mobile in a market dominated by free alternatives, from Android to Symbian to Linux. The company seems committed to trying to win in every market where little profit potential exists, while failing dramatically in markets where other companies have established profitability, such as Apple’s iPod and iPhone business, or of course, Google’s ad search.

Why Microsoft Will Slaughter Its Windows Mobile and PC Partners
Why Can’t Microsoft Develop Software for Zune HD?

An Open Failure.

Microsoft’s failure in search is notable because search is also an example of a business ill-served by open software. Just like media compression codecs, the search business is one where massive investment is required with limited potential for short term payback. Both are examples of basic research hogs, just like battery technology or operating system and human user interface development. The open community has offered some help but certainly no leadership in these fields.

These are all areas that big, dominate companies like Google (in search), Apple (in media , OS, and UI), IBM, Xerox, AT&T, and other historical think tank corporate investors have excelled at exploring and advancing. Why can’t Microsoft? Further, why are companies in general increasingly shunning big investment in the next new thing to instead fish up short term profits through copy-cat efforts?

Liberal spending on basic research and development has been consistently cut off at the knees in an environment which has put rapid profiteering and the emphasis on immediate payback for investors as the pinnacle of human achievement. During the conservative 2000s, Microsoft continued to scrape easy profits from its monopoly position as companies like Google and Apple worked independently on the next new things.

Now, ill equipped to catch up, Microsoft is using its well equipped lobbyists to attack Google using government interference in lieu of competing against it in the marketplace. Ten years ago, Microsoft was defending its own monopoly to the government, although Microsoft’s monopoly was not legitimately won in the market as Google’s, but was instead massed together through shady business practices and competition suppression.

The question this time around will be: has the “center right” American government become saturated enough with corporate socialism for the rich that the very success of liberal spending on basic research will be attacked and handed over to loser parties such as Microsoft in new bailouts that reward failure and punish legitimate success, after twenty years of doing the opposite, ignoring Microsoft’s monopolistic lock on markets while rewarding conservative corporate profiteering with more government grants and overseas political support?

Because that would be devastating to US recovery.

43 comments

1 bartfat { 08.31.09 at 1:37 pm }

Wow, so many recent articles on the front page. Anyway, great article Dan, except that you left out Yahoo and how it’s partnering with Bing to provide search results. And Apple allows users to choose Yahoo in the settings of the iPhone for Safari, so technically Bing doesn’t have to even provide an API to get developers to use Bing, since Yahoo essentially uses Bing. And I think you forgot about the cashback incentives that MS is offering to users who use their site to shop. Sometimes you can really save some serious coin to shop there for cashback (I think it’s up to $200), and I know several people who used it to get 15% cashback on eBay… for a Macbook Pro. LOL! All irony aside though, the fact remains that alot of times, MS just offers a better deal than Google due to their cashback and even has better cashback than eBates in most cases (Apple store is the notable exception, vs. on eBates you could get cashback for that). So I don’t think Bing will fail anytime soon, so long as MS has enough monopoly profits to fund its development… and it keeps using that cashback incentive to draw in people to search on shopping. But I have to agree with everything else, though. Bing doesn’t really make it easier than Google to provide search results (visual searches or natural language searching, anyone?) or provide unique results that Google can’t match, so most users won’t bother switching.

One thing that didn’t make sense in the article was this:
[quote]The company also resold AT&T’s Unix under the brand Xenix, although it actually licensed the code from AT&T. Xenix was among Microsoft’s least successful products, indicating that crime does indeed pay, as long as you can avoid prosecution or delay lawsuits until their impact is largely irrelevant.[/quote]

You say MS sold Xenix and it was their least successful product and then you go on to say that crime pays? I would think if its their most successful product, then it pays.. very well, considering that their least successful products are the Zune and Windows Mobile.

2 stormj { 08.31.09 at 2:14 pm }

Apple should buy the Office apps division of Microsoft to take on Google.

3 SteveS { 08.31.09 at 2:27 pm }

It’s unfortunate. I come to this site every now and then wanting to like the article based on the title, but in the end, it’s little more than a fiction piece. The problem is actual facts are mixed with blatant likes and strong opinion. I suppose it’s up to the reader to separate the pieces, but it’s hardly worth the bother. As usual, what would a technology piece be without a dose of politics thrown in for good measure?

[Blatant lies? When you call somebody a liar, you should have something to back it up.]

DOS (QDOS) was modeled after CP/M and was a cheap imitation of it just as Windows is/was a cheap imitation of the Mac’s GUI. But to suggest Microsoft resold CP/M is just silly.

[The fact that MS-DOS is so completely an uncontroversial rip off of CP/M is evident in the fact that it uses drive letters. Like C:/. Microsoft didn't invent that. They failed to uninvent it from DRI. ]

Dilger claims: “Microsoft itself purchased significantly large server businesses and struggled to transition them to Windows NT, including HoTMaiL and WebTV, both of which were originally built using Sun servers running Unix. This required a massive expansion in hardware and resulted in less efficient, more expensive operations.”

The only problem with that claim is that Hotmail was running FreeBSD, which is UNIX like in terms of capability but otherwise is a completely different operating system. Further, Microsoft’s migration used existing hardware and network topologies only. No new hardware was used. This was probably Microsoft’s most successful migration project and it’s been written about in detail. A simple Google search will discredit Daniel’s claims.

[Well first off, it's common knowledge that the backbone of HoTMaiL was running Sun servers using Solaris, which is a licensed version of AT&T SVR4 Unix. It also used FreeBSD PC servers to run Apache web services. FreeBSD is Unix. Additionally, the failure of Microsoft to migrate it to NT is not only uncontroversial, but legendary.

"The software giant has attempted to exchange the Sun/Solaris infrastructure of Hotmail with NT since buying it in December 1997. However, the demands of supporting 10 million users reportedly proved too great for NT, and Solaris was reinstated.

In a leaked report, sources close to Hotmail said: "... its whole mail server infrastructure is Solaris. NT couldn't handle it. On the web server, they're running MP Pentiums and Apache on FreeBSD. They're moving to Solaris for threads. The engineering team did its best to run NT - and failed. The issue's being escalated.""

http://www.lege.com/unix-nt/hotmail.html

You might want to check facts before you post an arrogant comment calling me a "liar" when I'm not even in error. - Dan ]

etc., etc.

4 ChuckO { 08.31.09 at 2:44 pm }

bartfat, what Dan is saying here “The company also resold AT&T’s Unix under the brand Xenix, although it actually licensed the code from AT&T. Xenix was among Microsoft’s least successful products, indicating that crime does indeed pay, as long as you can avoid prosecution or delay lawsuits until their impact is largely irrelevant.” is that stealing DRI’s CP/M operating system was profitable whereas licensing AT&T’s Unix was not.

5 ChuckO { 08.31.09 at 2:47 pm }

Barfat, its difficult to believe that paying people to buy as you describe is a long term strategy for Microsoft especially if they don’t make significant inroads against Google’s share of search.

6 Dafydd Williams { 08.31.09 at 6:25 pm }

StevsS said “The only problem with that claim is that Hotmail was running FreeBSD, which is UNIX like in terms of capability but otherwise is a completely different operating system.”

That’s wrong, egregiously so. FreeBSD is a free fork of BSD, the Berkeley Standard Distribution, which itself is directly descended from AT&T UNIX.

As an example of this, there are many BSD variants that can claim full POSIX compliance, Apple’s Mac OS X among them. This is the defined standard for what it means to be a UNIX workalike. POSIX stands for “Portable Operating System Interface for UNIX”.

Who’s the fiction author again?

7 Dafydd Williams { 08.31.09 at 6:29 pm }

I should also note that Wikipedia (although not the most trustworthy source) defines FreeBSD as not being a UNIX clone, but being wholly UNIX compatible. Through its descent from 4.4BSD and AT&T UNIX, it’s changed enough that the author of the article felt the distinction should be made.

Regardless, the POSIX compliance of all these operating systems mean that fully POSIX compliant code can be recompiled without change for any of them, assuming they’re running on the same architecture. Not the same OS? Not if you’re a pedant. Indistinguishably the same OS for the operator? Yep, and that was the whole damned point.

8 antiorario { 08.31.09 at 6:31 pm }

“big, dominate companies like Google”

It should be ‘dominant’, not ‘dominate’.

[Yes i'm still getting used to Snow Leopard's auto correct. - Dan]

9 truthseeker { 08.31.09 at 7:13 pm }

I hate Microsoft, its shady business practices, and its shoddy products with a passion. I’m concerned about Bing because Microsoft has shown that you don’t have to earn multibillion dollar success – you just have to be ruthless and dump lots of money into your legal team. I hated their campaign of Windows Everywhere (parasitic amoeba attempting to engulf everything comes to mind) and the desktop and internet meld seamlessly campaign (their legitimization of their stranglehold on the browser market). In the case of Bing, instead of providing innovative search tools they woo users with cashback – basically, they buy (bribe) volume. I hope they crash and burn. But there’s a very real chance they might score with their gamble – who’s going to turn away cashback especially during these hard times?

10 mihomeagent { 08.31.09 at 8:05 pm }

Gees, some proofreading is in order. “Dominate” is not an adjective. “Dominant” is. Etc. And wow, I like the incoherent ramble on conservatism and “conservative corporate profiteering” (what the eff is that?) that give it just that unnecessary touch of political hysteria.

11 The Mad Hatter { 08.31.09 at 10:00 pm }

The question this time around will be: has the “center right” American government become saturated enough with corporate socialism for the rich that the very success of liberal spending on basic research will be attacked and handed over to loser parties such as Microsoft in new bailouts that reward failure and punish legitimate success, after twenty years of doing the opposite, ignoring Microsoft’s monopolistic lock on markets while rewarding conservative corporate profiteering with more government grants and overseas political support?

It all depends on who does the most lobbying. I think that Google has had it’s wake up call, and that Microsoft can forget about winning any other easy lobbying victories.

SteveS:
DOS (QDOS) was modeled after CP/M and was a cheap imitation of it just as Windows is/was a cheap imitation of the Mac’s GUI. But to suggest Microsoft resold CP/M is just silly.

Actually it isn’t silly. DRI sued Microsoft for copyright infringement, and during the case a running copy of Microsoft DOS showed a DRI copyright notice when a special key combination was pressed, which won the case for DRI (didn’t you ever wonder how DRI could produce a DOS clone without getting sued – this is why).

12 deemery { 08.31.09 at 11:32 pm }

>Once Microsoft got its foot in the door, it was able to convince the government to spend massive amounts of money to port its existing systems from Unix servers that worked to Windows NT servers that didn’t. Tasks that could be performed by a large central server now required a “server farm” of racks upon racks of PC servers each running a single server program on top of NT, because Microsoft’s new operating system simply couldn’t manage the uptime, stability or capacity of previous Unix servers.

YES. Right on the mark.

(I’m much less thrilled about the “center right” comment…)

13 hylas { 08.31.09 at 11:40 pm }

Wow, called the Dude a fiction writer …

I been lurking – mostly, here (lately), but this weeks lovely “handing them their ass” moment (looking at you SteveS) was brought to you by the often used, and never credited Republican technique (politics?) known as “Indian Poker Bluff” Also known as “All Hat – No Cattle”.
No, no, not really – I made that last part up.

It’s really tough to bluff when you don’t even know what cards you are holding – but – there you go – and most everyone sees it, but you.
Pick up a book, – research it, something, or maybe apologize (eh?), *enlighten us* – with facts (got any of those?).
Study, come back, contribute FACTS, you’ll get respect, even if you smile manically with your underwear on your head.

Indian Poker:

http://www.pokersource.com/games/indian-poker.asp

14 beanie { 09.01.09 at 2:26 am }

Facebook is a partner with Microsoft and will help Bing grow. Google’s OpenSocial and MySpace tried to take on Facebook API but failed. Facebook is now ranked the #3 website while MySpace is ranked 11th. Powerful partner Microsoft has in Facebook.

15 ring-of-fire { 09.01.09 at 4:50 am }

As usual, what would a technology piece be without a dose of politics thrown in for good measure?

Technology is now a central part of life and the economy. A technology article which discusses a major technology company and its business practices, will necessarily cross into the realms of politics and the economy after a point – particularly in these times.

Such comments also show an awareness of the greater picture of how things fit together, and Daniel IMHO nails this down so well. It’s also strongly encouraging for this New Zealand citizen to see that commentators from the U.S have the courage to ask the hard questions about the position the U.S finds itself in today.

I believe the U.S is the most amazing powerhouse of ideas, of talent, and of respect for the ideals of how people should live. Once the U.S finds its true identity again, and truly lives up to the principles espoused in the Constitution, I think it will be of immense benefit to all humanity.

I, for one, remain an avid reader of Daniel’s articles.

16 ring-of-fire { 09.01.09 at 4:51 am }

My above comment was supposed to indent this bit as a quote: “As usual, what would a technology piece be without a dose of politics thrown in for good measure?”

I must find out how to format these comments…

17 broadbean { 09.01.09 at 5:17 am }

@antiorario etc
“It should be ‘dominant’, not ‘dominate’.”

Don’t you guys read the name of Dan’s web site? :D

18 antiorario { 09.01.09 at 5:24 am }

@broadbean

Yes I do. Still no reason to mistake a verb for an adjective :-D

But contrary to another commenter, I didn’t correct Dan’s spelling to shame him, just to let him know of something that might be more than just a typo. No matter how rough a draft may be, certain mistakes might hinder credibility and give way to harsher (yet not necessarily more sensible or even intelligible) comments. There’s enough proof above :-)

19 Raymond { 09.01.09 at 2:19 pm }

Google appears to be stepping up a gear. Google have just struck a deal with Sony to bundle the chrome browser on their PCs and are in talks with other OEMs. I’m guessing that this is in no small part because Google expects Windows 7 to do much better than Vista. Left unchallenged Win7 could steal a chunk of Google’s search share.

source FT http://www.ft.com/cms/s/89f80508-9663-11de-84d1-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=9a36c1aa-3016-11da-ba9f-00000e2511c8,print=yes.html

20 danieleran { 09.01.09 at 2:38 pm }

@beanie

The “partnership” Microsoft has with Facebook is a 1.6% share of the company, which Microsoft bought for $240 million, suggesting that Facebook was worth around $15 billion.

Facebook doesn’t even have a business model. The site sells ads and barely brings in $300 M a year. It’s real valuation is closer to $3-5 if everything works out in Facebooks’ favor and its user don’t get distracted by the next big thing.

To suggest Facebook will rescue Microsoft is hilarious. To suggest that Facebook will divert a significant part of the search/ad market to Bing is also wishful thinking. Advertisers aren’t excited about a new place to show ads, particularly a site where people go to waste time or talk to their friends, not shop.

Google makes money on search because it is the place people go to look for things when they’re ready to buy. That’s worth a lot to advertisers. Ignored ads in Facebook aren’t, and Microsoft’s tiny, overpriced purchase of Facebook isn’t doing anything but giving the company the appearance of desperation.

21 JohnWatkins { 09.01.09 at 9:00 pm }

I have to say, although my 20 year old nieces and nephews are smitten with Facebook, I think it can only be for the short term (I’m aware in saying this I appear a bit like the old man on Scoobie Doo — Damn kids!) Because of the fact that the UI design is horrific, the pages are dripping with spamvertisments, and they seem to have no respect for the privacy of their users, it seems inevitable to me that the whole thing will eventually migrate to something more open source or Craig’s List-ish. In the end it is pretty much just a (rather trashy) website after all (gasp!)

22 enzos { 09.02.09 at 12:41 am }

John,
Far be it from me to promote the wretched thing, but Facebook is really quite useful for folks who want to catch up with old friends from school, uni, work, etc.. I believe the average age of a facebooker is over 40 (heaven forbid that they even allow such old people to use the internet!). The site discussion is chockers full of exclamation marks, smileys and interjections. Thee UI is a mess to navigate and the chatter about as deep as a coat of paint.. but OK at what it does.

23 The Mad Hatter { 09.02.09 at 6:44 am }

Far be it from me to promote the wretched thing, but Facebook is really quite useful for folks who want to catch up with old friends from school, uni, work, etc.. I believe the average age of a facebooker is over 40 (heaven forbid that they even allow such old people to use the internet!).

Pardon goofball, but just because I’m over 40 (actually over 50) are you trying to say that I shouldn’t be allowed to use Facebook or the Internet? That I shouldn’t be able to keep in touch with the pretty girl I meet in grade 2 (who is now a happy grandmother) or my aunt who retired to the south of France?

Sheesh. This jerk is suicidal!

24 Robert.Public { 09.02.09 at 12:01 pm }

Some of the replies to this article have mentioned Facebook leaning towards Microsoft as the preferred partner. Anyone catch Wired’s article about how Zuckerberg wants to take on Google as a new paradigm in internet usage? I would like to hear what Dan has to say regarding the potential of social networking as utilized by a search company (current, new, or forthcoming). I understand and mostly agree that Facebook is mostly a time waster but it has reached a critical mass -I know few people who don’t have at least an account.

Like many other readers of Dan’s exceptional work, I always liked the “imagineering” articles and would like to know what his crystal ball says about the subject. What’s on the horizon? -some mashup of facebook, delicious, going.com, google apps, etc……?

25 airmanchairman { 09.03.09 at 6:23 am }

Best post of the year so far, by a country mile (typos or no typos), both for the incisive analysis backed up by historical fact and also the sterling contributions of both pro and anti commenters.

I never stop learning stuff I never knew about from these pages (like the dramatic keystrokes in court that revealed the fact of the code theft from DRI and handed them the victory; POSIX compliance and the various flavours of UNIX; the continued inability of NT to “scale the Enterprise” etc).

Then there’s the sheer entertainment of the inevitable pedantic “typo-hunters” and the rib-busting spectacles of the “ass-handings” that are the perfect icing on the cake that brings me back time and again to these pages, ROTFLMAO.

Man, I LOVE RoughlyDrafted.com!!!!

26 ericfj { 09.03.09 at 11:29 am }

As a minor correction, Microsoft originally licensed what became MS-DOS from another company. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-DOS at Wikipedia. In summary:

“MS-DOS was a renamed form of 86-DOS (informally known as the Quick-and-Dirty Operating System or Q-DOS) owned by Seattle Computer Products, written by Tim Paterson. Microsoft needed an operating system for the then-new Intel 8086 but it had none available, so it licensed 86-DOS and released a version of it as MS-DOS 1.0.”

This doesn’t change the gist of your article, though.

[Microsoft did buy out (not just license) QDOS, but that was an illegitimate, unlicensed copy of DRI's work. Just like the software copies in China Microsoft itself works to prevent from being sold today. - Dan ]

27 JohnWatkins { 09.04.09 at 11:03 pm }

enzos,
Of course you are right that many folks find Facebook “useful,” I just find its implementation a constant aching kick in the crotch. Eventually people will realize that the value comes from the users (not Facebook) and will find or create some more open and useful frameworks for creating this value without the eternal pain in the crotch. I find the LinkedIn approach a little nicer in many ways, if obviously less “fun” (but it too has been rapidly degrading into a sort of biz spam!) I see the restraint of the google search site, minus their data mining, and combined with the nonprofit approach of CraigsList as a possible hopeful destination (But what do I know? I’m closing in on 50! Soon I’ll be nearly as “internet inappropriate” as The Mad Hatter! ;-)
And as Bob Public intimated, when Facebook becomes the new internet paradigm, we will know we have reached the point of
Idiocracy.

28 mrBitch { 09.05.09 at 4:51 am }

@ The Mad Hatter, RE: ” DRI sued Microsoft for copyright infringement, and during the case a running copy of Microsoft DOS showed a DRI copyright notice when a special key combination was pressed, which won the case for DRI (didn’t you ever wonder how DRI could produce a DOS clone without getting sued – this is why).”

This is a bit of tech history I wasn’t aware of. Have you got a citation so that I could learn a little more about this?

29 The Mad Hatter { 09.05.09 at 6:26 pm }

mrBitch,

I read it in a book over ten years ago. I don’t remember the name of the book unfortunately.

30 tonortall { 09.05.09 at 8:07 pm }

Daniel,

You wrote:

“the settlement money it eventually paid out to DRI (for stealing its software and repressing its competitive DOS product)”

I’m having trouble finding a reference for the first part of your reason in parenthesis. I know that that Microsoft paid a settlement to Caldera over DR-DOS with respect to intentionally breaking compatibility but nothing woth respect to stealing the software.

Additionally, a comment was made about a set of keystrokes being exhibited in a court room proving copyright infringement. I can’t find a reference for that – it sounds like folklore to me. Information such as this should turn up at discovery and any sane lawyer would have settled the matter on the spot.

[When companies settle before trial, as Microsoft did in the DRI/Caldera lawsuit, the can keep the terms of the settlement confidential and don't have to admit to any wrongdoing. The fact was that Microsoft did "settle on the spot," so I don't understand what your comment is suggesting.

Microsoft also settled with Apple over its theft of QuickTime code. There was no admission of guilt nor a public recounting of the negotiations that led up to that either. If you do some research about the 90s, you'll find other examples of Microsoft settling over code theft and repressing competition. In fact, that was core to its business plan. Steal today, pay back a trivial settlement ten years from now. Crime pays in the USA. The rule of law is a joke. - Dan ]

31 tonortall { 09.07.09 at 10:18 pm }

Thanks Daniel,

but I think you’ve missed the point I was trying to make. The suggestion I am making is that I can’t find any reference which say that anyone settled anything over the ‘theft’ of DRs CP/M – this is something you’ve asserted in your article. Everything I’ve read about the Caldera settlement refers solely to the artificial messages placed to scare Window users away from DR-DOS. I don’t wish to make too fine a point of it but the code theft of CP/M was an assertion of yours. I’m just curious as to where this snippet of information can be found. If it’s in the terms of a confidential agreement then all anyone can lean on is folklore and innuendo.

I’m not particularly interested in the theft of Quicktime code because nothing of the kind is asserted in the article of yours I read.

32 The Mad Hatter { 09.07.09 at 11:46 pm }

but I think you’ve missed the point I was trying to make. The suggestion I am making is that I can’t find any reference which say that anyone settled anything over the ‘theft’ of DRs CP/M – this is something you’ve asserted in your article. Everything I’ve read about the Caldera settlement refers solely to the artificial messages placed to scare Window users away from DR-DOS. I don’t wish to make too fine a point of it but the code theft of CP/M was an assertion of yours. I’m just curious as to where this snippet of information can be found. If it’s in the terms of a confidential agreement then all anyone can lean on is folklore and innuendo.

Tonortall,
Those were two different cases. What I was told was that DRI sued Microsoft in the early 1980s complaining the MS-DOS used pirated DRI source code. In court, Gary Kildall booted up an MS-DOS computer, and using an easter egg key combo popped up a DRI copyright notice, which was proof that DRI code was included in MS-DOS. Microsoft requested a settlement conference at this point, and the case was settled out of court with an NDA which prevented even mentioning that there was a settlement, or for that matter a case. A lot of us oldtimers know the basics about the case, everyone knew about it at the time of course, it was covered in the business pages of many of the major newspapers, up until the NDA was signed, and everything went silent.

I have one question for you – how do you think Digital Research was able to sell DR-DOS without being sued by Microsoft? Think about it. They sold it for years, and never once did Microsoft try to take them to court to stop it. Doesn’t make sense, unless part of the settlement allowed them to produce a DOS clone.

And that’s why you can’t find a reference. The NDA. I think NDAs should be illegal.

33 airmanchairman { 09.08.09 at 4:05 am }

“Everything I’ve read about the Caldera settlement refers solely to the artificial messages placed to scare Window users away from DR-DOS.”

There was a bit more to what was being done to DR-DOS than artificial messages, as Wikipedia explains:

“Other versions of Windows deliberately crashed the system if DR-DOS was detected so as to give the impression that DR-DOS was unstable. These activities came to light when the discovery process of the subsequent lawsuit uncovered emails from senior Microsoft executives that showed this virus plant was part of a concerted program to drive DRI out of the PC operating systems business. DRI’s successor Caldera Systems raised these disputes in a 1996 lawsuit, but the case was settled without a trial.”

34 tonortall { 09.08.09 at 8:48 am }

FWIW, Kildall’s camp said they never did sue over code theft:

http://www.digitalresearch.biz/DR/Gary/newsx011.html

I just wanted to clear up whether Microsoft settled over stealing DRIs code – to me it looks like they never did.

Re the extent of Windows messing with DR-DOS in the 90s. I can accept that some pretty dodgy things happened there. I’m not one way of the other with Windows or Mac. I am not trying to wind anyone up. Just looking for some truths.

Thanks, all.

35 The Mad Hatter { 09.08.09 at 11:47 pm }

FWIW, Kildall’s camp said they never did sue over code theft

The current owner of Digital Research.biz is Max Frame, a computer consulting firm that is operated by Jim R. Benfer Jr. What connection, if any, he has to Digital Research is not shown on either the MaxFrame or Digital Research websites. Based on that, it looks like the Digital Research site is a fan site, rather than an “Official” site.

Tim Patterson has written about his experiences here. However there is the NDA. I don’t know if you’ve ever signed an NDA, however I have, and the joke at work was that I’d signed so many NDA’s that I was no longer allowed to tell anyone my real name. In other words, an NDA can require you to lie.

So I’ll go with what I’ve been told. The people who told me about this didn’t appear to have any reason to lie. Of course its possible that they may not have known the truth either, and with Gary dead, and Bill having a reputation for taking liberties with the truth, a definitive answer may not be possible.

36 tonortall { 09.09.09 at 7:30 am }

Thanks again for the link to Tim Patterson – I have signed an NDA or two in my time but you have the benefit of verbal discourse on the matter at hand. I have Google (or Bing(!)) and the ability to read.

Cheers, again.

37 feroze { 09.12.09 at 2:22 pm }

Regarding the incompatibility between Win3.1 and DR-DOS, Microsoft folks have blogged about that:

http://blogs.msdn.com/larryosterman/archive/2004/08/12/213681.aspx
http://blogs.msdn.com/larryosterman/archive/2004/08/13/214338.aspx

[Microsoft's assurance that "we would neeeeeever do anything to hurt our own developers!" is a bit hard to swallow given the documented cases of Microsoft doing just that: DOS/Stacker, QuickTime SF Canyon theft and then IE blockades , WordPerfect and Lotus on the OS/2 bait and switch, and even more recent events like PlaysForSure.

You might as well defend the hypocrisy of Republican congressmen who were outraged about Clinton while cheating on their own wives by saying "but their religion condemns adultery and holds them to a higher standard!" Clearly that's not the case. Being able to fabricate an excuse is not the same as not being guilty. ]

Also, note that Tim Patterson implemented his version by writing an OS that just exposed the same public interfaces that CP/M exposed. This is similar to how many projects implement functionality pioneered by other companies, for eg, Wine project, as well as Compaq’s reverse engineering of the IBM PC-BIOS. I dont understand how you can claim that this is same as copying, or “selling an unauthorized copy”.

[So in your mind, Microsoft developed an original code base overnight to replicate the functionality of CP/M, along the lines of the fantasy apocryphal story at the time time that Bill Gates wrote it on the back of a napkin because he was such a genius, rather than the more obvious reality that Gates' rich mom had a hookup with IBM and he managed buy out a clone of CP/M?

The point of course isn't to put Microsoft on trial as a company that does illegal, immoral, anti-competitive things. That's already happen and Microsoft was convicted. Its also repeatedly settled to avoid prosecution in many many other cases. My point is that Microsoft hasn't ever been a creative innovator in the tech industry, but merely rips off and resells other people's work. - Dan]

As regards that hotkey combination, that shows that DOS was an illegal copy of DRDOS, there is no evidence of it.

When you say that MS sold an “unathorized copy” you are implying something illegal happened. That is not the case here. Implementing a piece of software that adheres to public interfaces is a very standard practice in the S/W industry.

[There was no such thing as a public interface in CP/M in the early 80s. Be aware that the software industry is changing and has changed dramatically. The only constant has been that Microsoft has always been a third rate company cheating its way into the lead, and destroying human potential in technology in the process. You don't need to defend its illegal conduct or make excuses for it. ]

38 feroze { 09.12.09 at 8:05 pm }

By public interface, I mean the Interrupt vector that was exposed by the OS to it’s applications, due to which an app could run on the platform. Tim patterson, who wasnt even in Microsoft at that time, wrote an OS from ground up that exposed the same interrupts, so all apps written for DR-DOS could also be run on his OS.

Now, some people have proposed that even writing software from the ground up, that cloned the public interface of another piece of software, is copying, because copyright law at that time wasnt clear on this issue. However, as Tim says in his blog, this issue was never brought to trial, so it was never decided one way or the other. Also, it is worth noting, that even DR-DOS didnt sue his company for copyright.

I agree that a lot of illegal activity happened in MS in this case, esp regarding insertion of the AARD code to break compatibility from DR-DOS. And as you mentioned, a lot of this has been litigated and MS has been found guilty as charged.

While the Caldera case was going on, all the discovery documents about this made very interesting reading. It is ironic that MS sought to break compatibility from Windows 3.1 with DR-DOS, whereas what got DOS started to begin with, was the compatibility between it and DR-DOS as far as the apps were concerned.

39 The Mad Hatter { 09.12.09 at 10:08 pm }

By public interface, I mean the Interrupt vector that was exposed by the OS to it’s applications, due to which an app could run on the platform. Tim patterson, who wasnt even in Microsoft at that time, wrote an OS from ground up that exposed the same interrupts, so all apps written for DR-DOS could also be run on his OS.

Now, some people have proposed that even writing software from the ground up, that cloned the public interface of another piece of software, is copying, because copyright law at that time wasnt clear on this issue. However, as Tim says in his blog, this issue was never brought to trial, so it was never decided one way or the other. Also, it is worth noting, that even DR-DOS didnt sue his company for copyright.

Um, did you read what I wrote? According to what I was told, Digital Research did sure Microsoft, and the suit was settled under a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which specified that none of the parties was allowed to comment on the case. Now, I cannot prove this, however 25 years ago when I was told about it, a lot of people in the industry believed it was true.

If Tim Patterson implemented the CP/M API on his own, that would be fine. If he used DRI source code to do this, it wouldn’t be. While Tim swears he didn’t use DRI code, and that there was no law suit, as I stated earlier, a Non-Disclosure Agreement can force you to lie.

That said, there’s no doubt that he could have implemented the CP/M API on his own, it’s not as if CP/M was a complicated operating system. We don’t know that he did. We don’t know that he didn’t. We don’t know.

And I will repeat – this had nothing to do with the Caldera case, it happened a long time before DR-DOS was released as a product even. I was told it was the basis for Digital being able to offer DR-DOS as a product.

40 tonortall { 09.17.09 at 12:22 am }

That said, there’s no doubt that he could have implemented the CP/M API on his own, it’s not as if CP/M was a complicated operating system. We don’t know that he did. We don’t know that he didn’t. We don’t know.

“And I will repeat – this had nothing to do with the Caldera case, it happened a long time before DR-DOS was released as a product even. I was told it was the basis for Digital being able to offer DR-DOS as a product.”

And I guess that is the point. The articles asserts settlement over anticompetitive practices AND stealing code when there is little to no evidence as to the former except for folklore.

41 Microsoft uses adware model to pay for Zune HD apps — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 09.17.09 at 8:12 pm }

[...] by Google: subtle, textual ads that had some relevance to the content the user was viewing. Overture, the company that invented Google’s successful ad placement model, ended up disgraced by its [...]

42 ulric { 09.20.09 at 1:44 pm }

“1998’s MSN Search was just a Windows-bundled version of Inktomi’s search, which later added results from Looksmart and AltaVista. It wasn’t very popular because it didn’t offer the search results Google could.”

FYI : Google only came to be late 1998, so at that point MSN Search results compared to Google is something that never happened.

[The idea that web search in 1998 was in any way similar to the current concept of web search and how it is used by consumers, and its importance in commerce, ect, is simply a false comparison. The simple fact is that Microsoft search (since its branded origins in 1998) were never comparable to Google's, which also originated in 1998. The market's history makes that clear even for people with a revisionist bent who suggest that Google was first to market, and that Microsoft just started trying with "Bing." - Dan ]

43 Microsoft’s SideKick/Pink problems blamed on dogfooding and sabotage — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 10.12.09 at 3:36 pm }

[...] technologies with its own. The company famously failed to do this after buying up HoTMaiL in 1996 and attempting to replace its Sun Solaris servers with PCs running NT; it similarly failed [...]

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