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Microsoft needs a spanking

(Written in 1997 and published in the Utah Statesman newspaper.)

The name “Microsoft” is usually easily recognized as a producer of PC operating systems and various computer software applications. Many people also think Microsoft has been sucessful because they are the best in the business. Well, they're wrong.

Microsoft, headed by rich-boy Bill Gates, has been an empire in the making since the early 1980's when Gates and company wrote the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) for IBM to run on their IBM PC computers. Gates didn't know it at the time but MS-DOS was going to get his foot in the door of a industry yet to explode.

After developing MS-DOS, Microsoft explored graphical user interfaces. After collaborating with IBM on OS/2, Microsoft produced Microsoft Windows. MS-Windows was not a remarkable product. The Apple Macintosh was a groundbreaking landmark in 1984 with its extremely user-friendly look and feel. Microsoft, however, years later, still could not compete with the Mac's functionality. Part of the problem was Microsoft's perceived need to remain backwards compatible with MS-DOS. The other part was that Microsoft was simply starting to spread itself too thin.

Unfortunately, Microsoft won't play fair when they can't keep up. One of the best examples of this is the story of DR DOS, a third-party replacement for Microsoft's DOS operating system for PCs.

In the mid-1980s, Microsoft started jacking the price on their DOS software without adding any new functionality. In addition, new hardware such as the Intel-80386 PCs were appearing and MS-DOS simply was not taking advantage of the new technology.

Some professional PC users approached a company named Digital Research about writing a new operating system to do everything DOS did and more. Digital Research came up with such a product and called it DR DOS. It was a hit in the retail market, but most computer users got DOS with their computer when it was purchased and Microsoft had PC manufacturers locked into agreements so they would sell only Microsoft products. This made it virtually impossible for Digital Research to effectively penetrate the DOS market despite having a superior product.

DR DOS did not go unnoticed by Microsoft. In May of 1990, Microsoft made announcements that a forthcoming version of DOS would include all the capabilities of DR DOS. Finally in June of 1991, after many held off buying DR DOS, Microsoft released MS DOS version 5 which did not have half of the functionality and power that DR DOS had and it went down in history as one of the worst versions of DOS ever sold.

DR DOS is now owned by Caldera of Orem, Utah. Caldera has recently filed a lawsuit accusing Microsoft of making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for DR DOS to be marketed.

Microsoft also has a nasty habit of taking its users back in time. A perfect example of this is Windows 95.

In 1993, Microsoft started talking about a new version of Windows to replace the aging Windows version 3.1 which was the industry standard at the time. Initially scheduled for release in mid-1994, Windows 4.0, now known as Windows 95, was not released until August of 1995.

While Windows 95 is clearly an improvement on version 3.1, it is still a failure in terms of what could have been done. Microsoft has been advertising features about Windows 95 that Apple included in their first Macintosh computers in 1984. It's built-in networking features are poorly designed compared to Macintosh and Unix operating systems. Bluntly stated, Windows 95 was outdated before it went to the drawing board.

Another example is Microsoft's somewhat successful attempts to displace Novell NetWare as the de facto platform for local area networks. Microsoft's Windows NT server software is gaining popularity because of Microsoft press hailing it as a secure platform that outperforms NetWare. Both of these claims have small print attached to them. For small workgroups, NT may outperform NetWare, but with anymore than a half dozen users, Novell's IPX/SPX protocol suite creams NT's ancient, non-routable NetBEUI protocol.

The Java programming language represents a threat to Microsoft because it is platform independent. This means that programs written in Java can run within Windows 95, Windows NT, Mac OS, and several flavors of Unix. This threatens Microsoft because computer users are no longer bound to Windows in order to use popular applications. Microsoft's response: Take an ancient interprocess communication strategy known as OLE, add a couple of bells and whistles, call it ActiveX, and tell everyone it is a viable competitor to Java. Unfortnately, many consumers will believe anything Microsoft tells them.

Netscape learned a subtle lesson this last year from Microsoft. In an attempt to hit Microsoft head-on in the Internet-desktop race, Netscape fell behind in the Web browser competition. Microsoft's Internet Explorer is up to par with Netscape Navigator now. If Netscape had simply concentrated on making the best browser possible instead of trying to foil Microsoft's efforts to do the same, they wouldn't be in the situation they are.

Microsoft should learn the same lesson. Instead of trying to get his fingers into everyone's business, Bill Gates should concentrate his efforts on one thing, do that one thing well, and quit selling substandard products to the PC users.