A very big company indeed. Microsoft actually makes more money from playing the stock market than from software these days. Without wishing to drag this writeup down to Slashdot-style mudslinging, there are some key points I would like to mention:

Microsoft do not, at present, produce any products that I would term "good". Define good by any criteria that fit that area of the market. This includes their optical mouse, touted as a great innovation (which it might be - for HP). The Windows platform (all 6 or 7 mutually incompatible fragments of it) is still used by me for some things because, while it is deplorable for many reasons*, it does do a large range of client-side tasks relatively bearably. If my machine was just used for coding and word processing, or just used for graphics and DTP or just used for gameplaying, I'd pick out a different OS accordingly. Currently Linux can't do all these things without a major time investment, and even then there are gaps. (I have a dual boot machine to allow me to migrate as the gap closes, and my focus shifts to different applications).

The other point is that Microsoft's business practices are indefensible. Muddying the water with politics or does not alter the fact that while they profit, everyone else suffers. They sunk upwards of $500 million dollars into trying to destroy Netscape. They are supremely arrogant - their insufferable belief that they have done no wrong, and their persistence in commiting large-scale crime dwarf the posturing of even the hardest Un*x zealot. (Their shady financial activities also dwarf any half-assed attempt at philanthropy by their top brass.)

In the US, they've bought enough congressmen to keep the government at arms length, but they will find the European and Japanese administrations rather less easy to buy off. (The European Commission in fact have recently mooted imposing the highest penalty in law - a fine of 10% of the company's value - should they be found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour. Youch.)

Microsoft are currently working on .net, an attempt to catch up with Sun's Java Platform, and the xbox, an attempt to imitate the original Sony Playstation's penetration of the home market. As you can see, the "innovation" never stops. They are also vehemently denying that they will be split in two by the Department of Justice (but Gates, Allen and Ballmer are selling off their stock just in case).

* If the Windows source code was leaked, what do you think would happen?

1975 was the year Microsoft was born. Today, this software giant is 25 years old.

To start, the company didn't even have a name, it wasn't until November 1975 that the name Micro-Soft was coined - nearly a year after co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen first teamed up. Despite the recent publicity, there is more to the Redmond, Washington company than Windows and anti-trust trials.

1975 - Harvard dropout Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen created Basic, the first programme for a P-C, and set up shop in New Mexico.

1977 - Microsoft shipped Fortran, it's second product. (soon after, business began to pick up.)

1981 - a year after moving the Microsoft headquarters from New Mexico to Washington State, I-B-M introduced it's first personal computer. It just happened to run on Microsoft's 16-bit operating system M-S-dos 1.0, Basic, Cobol and Pascal.

1983 - Paul Allen stepped down as Vice President, but stayed on as a board member. The Microsoft mouse and Microsoft World were released and on November 10th, the first versions of Windows made it's debut.

1985 - The operating system began shipping.

1986 - March 13th, Microsoft joined the NASDAQ under the ticker M-S-F-T and began it's legendary climb to the stratosphere!

1990 - In May, Microsoft launched Windows 3.0.

Microsoft kept things rolling by continually revamping its signature operating systems, hitting peak in 1995, with Windows '95 selling 1 million copies in 4 days!

Three years later, with an anti-trust battle starting against the US-Department of Justice, Microsoft released Windows 98!.

2000 - In January, Bill Gates stepped down as Chief Executive Officer. A month later, Windows 2000 made it's debut and, of course, through it all, the anti-trust battle has continued with the Department of Justice.

No matter what happens in the company's future, there can be no denying that Microsoft has played a major role in creating the software industry as we know it today.

Author's note:
This is a little essay I wrote up in a UBB message board, far away and removed from Everything. The original topic was the most recent yet another shooting at an American high school. My post was vaguely related to the shooting but mostly concerned with Microsoft, the Evil Empire. So yes, this is mostly a cut and paste writeup, but it's my own words and, more importantly, my own ideas which I wanted to share with a wider audience.
Information technology is rapidly becoming the heartblood of the world, a major driving force of technology, communication and things financial. Microsoft has been the world's largest player in this field for more than ten years now. Together with IBM and their PC, Microsoft has helped make computing available and accessible to everyone. So far, so good. My big problem with Microsoft is the fact that, ever since MS has grown large enough to have such influence on the world, it has pursued its business interests to the detriment of the quality of its products and the productivity of its users. In plain English:
  • MS has produced technically inferior products wherever this has helped them obtain or maintain a business advantage. I know of several examples of MS coding which is intentionally buggy so as to make it incompatible with competing products.
  • MS is using its financial clout to destroy competitors who have been producing innovative and useful alternatives to MS products. Netscape and Stac come to mind, but there are others.
  • MS adopts, subverts and then changes standards in ways that give MS products an advantage but reduce the usefulness of the standards to the IT world as a whole.
I can understand a company fighting to survive, even fighting to stay #1. But I fiercely object to a company doing things that globally slows the progress and development of a resource which is becoming more and more vital to the whole world. I'm convinced that billions and billions are wasted worldwide every month in lost productivity, compromised data, squandered resources and wasted time. I'm not talking about the inevitable problems and mistakes inherent in practically any software; I'm talking about very intentional design decisions to trade off product quality against power on the market.

I'd like to propose a little analogy:

  • Imagine that your city's municipal water supply was controlled by a privately-owned company. (This isn't the case now, is it?)
  • Imagine that they have a deal with a nearby chemical plant to dispose of some of their industrial waste - by mixing it in with your drinking water.
  • Imagine that people who are aware of the water's aftertaste are interested in buying bottled water from the supermarket, but this company happens to own the supermarket too, and make it a policy not to stock bottled water, or to "accidentally" break 50% of all water bottles in stock.
  • Imagine that they go into the bottled water business too, except they use tin cans, which are not as easily recycled as bottles. With the money they make from selling sewage-polluted tap water at a steep profit, they can afford to sell you canned water at 1 cent per can.
  • Imagine that there are stores in town other than the supermarket that want to sell bottled water (all brands), but that this company sets up private meetings with the storeowners, informing them that if they sell anybody else's bottled water, they will not be eligible for shipments of this company's water.
  • Unsurprisingly, the competitors that puts healthy water into recyclable bottles at a fair price go out of business.
Does this sound overdone? Far-fetched? Preposterous? I don't think my analogy is so far off. Computing has become almost as vital a resource as air and water. And there is one company controlling most of this resource. And it is using tactics which I as a software developer consider equivalent to mixing sewage into drinking water.

Again, I believe that the damage which Microsoft has caused with its predatory business tactics far exceeds Microsoft's gross turnover, impressive though it may be. I believe that tax money has been wasted by the bushel, that economies are ailing, that companies have gone out of business, that family fathers have lost jobs, partly due to some of the intentional actions of Microsoft. I believe that a healthy economy feeds its people and educates its children. Call me crazy, but I believe that, if you look very hard, you will see a faint but very real connection between the business practices of Microsoft and the incidence of violent crime in the US.

I swear by my house, my 5 PCs and my Cadillac that I am not a Communist. But I feel that when a business uses its stranglehold on a vital resource to the detriment of an entire nation, then it's time for the government to intervene. This is what we pay taxes for. It's their job - unless they happen to be on Microsoft's payroll.

Microsloth Windows = M = micros~1

Microsoft

The new Evil Empire (the old one was IBM). The basic complaints are, as formerly with IBM, that (a) their system designs are horrible botches, (b) we can't get source to fix them, and (c) they throw their weight around a lot. See also Halloween Documents.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, this entry manually entered by rootbeer277.

This being the year 2009, I feel that an update should be made about Microsoft. When the original entries were written here, Microsoft was the largest company in computing, and in fact was perceived to be reaching out for near-complete dominance of computing at all levels. Since that date, Microsoft's business has changed, and people's perception of it has changed perhaps even more.

Microsoft's changes have been both in the realms of business practices and technology. I am not a large expert on either, but I will present the basic run down.

As far as business practices go, Microsoft is no longer facing any large court cases over monopoly practices. There is no fear of Microsoft getting larger, and further abusing its position. This is because there was really no further ways that Microsoft could grow in the desktop operating system market, since it had close to total market share by the late 1990s. Also, Bill Gates' retirement from active duty and dedication to philanthropy seems to have softened resentment, in the public mind. There is also just the fact that other events, both inside the business world and out, have overwhelmed public concern over whether Microsoft was bundling their browser. Enron's 2001 implosion and the subsequent revelation that they were playing a total shell game made Microsoft's behavior seem somewhat less extreme.

Microsoft's technical efforts have seemed to changed people's perspectives of them, mostly for two opposite reasons: they have managed to do some things well, and have been rather unsuccessful at other things. The main success Microsoft has had is putting together an operating system, Windows XP, that is generally considered to be workably stable and secure. One of the things that caused the most annoyance with Microsoft's monopoly is that it was a monopoly of bad products that people had to buy because there were no other options. People are less annoyed at being forced to buy good products. The fact that Windows XP is not prone to Blue Screen constantly makes people less angry at the company. I am not as familiar with Microsoft's other products, such as Word and Office, but they seem to also have an increase in usability.

However, I almost think that it is Microsoft's failures that make them more acceptable to people. During the late 1990s and early parts of this decade, Microsoft looked like they were going to extend their hold on everything computing related, meaning that people would have to deal with a monopoly of bad products. And Microsoft has certainly tried to extend beyond the desktop, but in a decade of trying, they have failed.

  • Microsoft has tried to expand into the server market, but has not had the success they have had with the desktop market.
  • Apple introduced the iPod. Microsoft introduced the Zune.
  • Apple also has released many iterations of OS X since Microsoft's heyday. Although OS X has never had the type of mass market success of Windows, it has been successful, and Apple computers have become somewhat of a status symbol.
  • Microsoft's forays into the world wide web have also been less than successful, especially since google became the web's source not just for search, but for many other things. gmail has replaced hotmail as the standard webmail system. I am going to predict that Microsoft's new Bing search engine will not displace google.
  • Just as Microsoft won the browser wars, and Netscape faded from use, Firefox was released. Although Internet Explorer still has around 67% of web client usage, this is probably mostly due to its installation in institutions, and that people who don't know or care about their web browser use it by default. Amongst the young and technically savvy, Firefox is easily the default browser.
  • While XP was good, and successful, Microsoft's delayed release of Vista made them look less than streamlined in their product development.

So while Microsoft has earned some goodwill by putting out competent products, part of the changing perception of them is due to the fact that they are an underdog. Of course, they are still one of the largest companies in the world, and still have a near-monopoly on the desktop market. But the fears that Microsoft would become a monolithic force in computing appear to be unfounded. Although business conditions constantly change, it looks like Microsoft is following the trajectory of IBM: a company that resisted outside pressure to break up its monopoly, but fell naturally due to changing and diversifying market forces.

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