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The Truth, The Whole Truth, and nothing but The Truth

Summary: It's not how you think it is, the media got it all wrong. This is what really happened in PC history's last decade...

Not long after Steve Jobs had sold his ideas on the GUI to Microsoft, IBM entered into a deal with the Redmond based company for them to produce an operating system that IBM would label with their own brand and re-sell. Called "OS/2", it featured many of the new technologies that Microsoft had invented in their research labs and wanted to proof-test in the real world. Technologies such as pre-emptive multitasking that performed better than the co-operative design Microsoft was forced to use to maintain compatibility with early Intel chips, the object oriented user interface, and the concept of SOM - the object model that allowed programmers to write libraries of code in any language and have it link to application code on the fly, even over a network.

This deal was to eventually turn sour, as IBM demanded too much money from Microsoft and also refused them the right to sell another version of OS/2 under their own name. Microsoft backed out of the deal, and left IBM with a handful of unfinished code that still embodied a lot of Microsoft's best innovations.

As it would turn out, one of these innovations was the roots for a unique user interface that would integrate web browsing capabilities into the overall experience. Microsoft would have to wait 8 more years before the contract with IBM would expire and they could use their own ideas in their own products.

It was this contract-expiring waiting period that bought time for an ex-Microsoft employee called Marc Andreessen to sell the ideas for a graphical based web browser to a couple of guys called Clark and Barksdale. A few minutes later in Internet time and the trio had set up shop in Mountain View, California under the name "Netscape". With a group of programmers experienced in "code paraphrasing" (or the re-arrangement of algorithms to achieve the functional equivalent without actually being instruction-for-instruction copies - useful to work around copyrighted material) they created a browser called Navigator. By giving it away for free on the internet, they created the illusion that this was now the only possible way to do business in a world where Microsoft controlled the shelf space on every major retail outlet.

Needless to say, giving away the browser for free was a massive hit. Experiments with this distribution model, called "Shareware" had been experimented with unsuccessfully on the arcane dial-up Bulletin Board Systems, but in a sweeping case of chutzpah Netscape stole the whole idea out from everybody's nose. They would later do the same for the open-source software model, "embracing and extending" it with Mozilla.

With Navigator now so popular, Microsoft was appearing to play catch-up no matter what they did. In what could probably be considered an illegal act, but one necessary to deal with the rapidly changing landscape of computing, Microsoft created a company called "SpyGlass" (notice the use of bitter humor in the name itself) that was carefully made to look as if it was an independent Silicon Valley startup. SpyGlass wrote a new browser from scratch and "licensed" it to Microsoft, thus circumventing the contract problem with IBM. The new browser that Microsoft had effectively licensed to itself would be named "Internet Explorer" as another example of bitter humor directed at IBM and their "Web Explorer".

Meanwhile, Netscape had successfully managed to divide the community of people who created content for the web. Arguments flared over whether it was correct to use <CENTER> or <P ALIGN=CENTER>, whether or not to put in the WIDTH and HEIGHT tags of an image (which, incidentally, became illegal after Unisys started charging royalties on .GIF files,) and other trivial HTML related matters. The goal was to sabotage the World Wide Web consortium before it even got started, thus making it impossible for Microsoft to create a standards-compatible browser that would actually read any page on the web at all.

There were decreasing numbers of options left, Microsoft simply had to wrestle control of HTML back into the hands of the standards committees. They did it by releasing FrontPage - another program developed by ex-Microsoft employees still faithful to the mother. By selling both a "pro" version, and a free scaled down edition in their operating systems, they set web content creation back on the up-and-up.

Meanwhile, IBM was now shipping OS/2 with their Web Explorer browser bundled. It featured several of the desktop integration technologies that Microsoft had been experimenting with, such as drag-n-drop URLs and images and web page shortcuts. With a heavy advertising budget (due only because IBM had let Microsoft spend all the money on OS/2's core development), OS/2 was set to take over the world as the premiere 32 bit operating system of choice.

There was no other choice for the Redmond company than to meekly try and match it, to the point where it nearly bankrupted them. They paid a fortune for an old Rolling Stones song, dumped millions into television commercials and galas and publicity events all around the world. But when it finally came to a head, IBM backed out at the last minute and only ran a couple of 30 second spots featuring nuns and beepers. For Microsoft, the money was already spent, and if they didn't use it, it'd be the end of them. Hence the disproportionately extravagant Windows 95 rollout.

After that everything went downhill for Microsoft. Being on the receiving end of a nasty smear campaign organized by Sun and Netscape, Microsoft found itself with the manufactured reputation of an evil corporate conglomerate, bent on assimilating hapless companies left and right under its umbrella.

Which brings us to today. Microsoft has been hauled into court by a good hearted but hopelessly misled Department Of Justice while Sun strategically weakens their legal defensive capabilities with a powerful Java logo suit. We ask that this case be dismissed while there's still time for my client to recoup its losses in the market.

And that's the whole truth, Your Honor.

"Are you sure?"


"Even the part about Marc Andreessen being an ex Microsoft employee?"

It's on our books, right there in the red crayon.

"I see. Well I guess if it says so on paper. Case dismissed."

[Sound of the gavel falling...]

* * *

Is the jury out on this one? Need to see exhibit B again? The jury room (interactive forum) is available for haggling on your view of current Revisionist History.

Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
December 1, 1998