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Microsoft

Microsoft Corporation will be best remembered for its blue screen of death, a randomly occuring, incomprehensible, bright blue message would appear, glibly informing you that your machine has, yet again, crashed and that you've lost all your work and you're going to have to reboot.

Microsoft is the original big company with a staggering cash bank balance, legions of marketing types and a healthy stock price. Microsoft gets rich by selling bad software to everybody, home users, businesses, even computer gamers. Most of the company's influence came about by the so-called "Microsoft Tax", where users purchasing a personal computer would pay Microsoft for use of their OS, whether or not they intended to run it.

Worse than technically inferior software is insecure software. System administrators around the world blindly installed Microsoft web servers and failed to follow up on patches designed to fix security problems. This run-of-the-mill hole allowed attackers to control and cascade viruses, bringing Internet sites to their knees during the "Code Red" virus attack. Microsoft is also to blame for spreading the "Love Bug" virus, a clever bit of code that would allow the remote attacker to execute arbitrary code on one's machine, automatically, thanks to poor choices for default values in Microsoft's e-mail client.

Microsoft effectively owns various markets including desktop operating systems, internet browsers and business productivity software in the form of word processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools. Where Microsoft has had great successes, it has also had a series of failures. Adobe Systems still sells copies of Photoshop in the shadow of Microsoft, as Claris Corporation enjoys a modicum of success with Filemaker Pro. Large companies are slow to adopt Microsoft products as server-side solutions, sticking with industrial-strength UNIX products from Sun, IBM and even free solutions such as Linux. Sure, Oracle runs on Windows NT but would you trust your career with it? Yes, you can get fired for buying Microsoft.

At best, Microsoft is capable of monkey-see, monkey-do, making knockoff workalikes of Apple Computer's desktop software, a poor clone of the ever-present mp3 format and even shamelessly copying from Sun Microsystem's Java programming language.

At the heart of Microsoft is a bowl-haired little geek named William Gates III. Fabulously wealthy and badly deluded into thinking his company has contributed good things to the world, Bill is not much of a programmer and did in fact not create Microsoft's Disk Operating System. But Bill and his flock certainly figured out how to market and bundle software. In 1980, DOS was a pale imitation of UNIX, even more difficult to use, easy to crash and only allowing a single process to run at once. These early, poor engineering decisions still haunt Microsoft to this day.

In 1983, Microsoft released the first version of Windows, what would eventually become the world's most popular operating system. Windows was, of course, simply a large graphic interface placed on top of DOS. From this year on, they figured out a clever scheme: force users to upgrade, i.e., to pay for bugfixes, every year. By 1995, "Windows 95" sold 1 million copies in the first 4 days.

Part of Microsoft's secret was to partner with not only IBM but also with Intel. Without Microsoft's Windows operating system, IBM and Intel have an less compelling product to offer. An Anti-trust action brought against Microsoft in the late 90's accused Microsoft of having used this position to place a stranglehold on the industry and stifle innovation.

In 1995, when Netscape Communications Corporation released their browser, Microsoft noticed. Eventually. It took a few years, the purchase of a smaller browser company and a series of questionable business deals, but they wrestled control of the market from Netscape. The dominating web browser in 1995, Netscape Communicator, had became a footnote in the history of computing within a few years. Netscape didn't do itself any favors by trying to compete with Microsoft, frantically making release after release, each crappier than the next. Even so, Microsoft's swift destruction of Netscape is a harsh lesson for those that want to innovate in Silicon Valley.

Timeline

12 Nov 1975 Bill Gates and Paul Allen's 7-person software company in Albuquerque, New Mexico adopts the name "Microsoft."
27 Apr 2000 Texas Governor George W. Bush discusses the Microsoft antitrust case with Jim Lehrer.
LEHRER: Conventional wisdom, as I'm sure you're aware, Governor, is that if you are elected President and the Microsoft is still pending in some way - either on appeal or whatever - that you'll stop it.
BUSH: I think those are -- that's needless speculation, and I've -- it's like the guy said -- I've got friends on both sides of the issue. And you know, Jim Barksdale is a close friend of mine and a supporter, he's a really good fellah, who is part of the reason why the case came up in the first place -- testified against Microsoft, so I think that's speculation that people should --
LEHRER: Is your flexibility compromised at all by the role of Ralph Reed, an adviser to you -- it also turned out had been hired by Microsoft to lobby you?
BUSH: No. I said - we're beginning to scrimp -- I typed this speech myself -- I'm beginning to save money in my campaign and I want you to know I typed this speech. "Ralph Reed was right. Microsoft '98 is great." I didn't have any idea Ralph Reed was representing Microsoft, nor would it have mattered to me.
12 Jun 2000 Microsoft announces a partnership with DirecTV and Thomson multimedia to develop a TiVo killer it calls UltimateTV.
23 Jan 2002 Microsoft announces it has killed the UltimateTV project, their TiVo killer.


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