Re: POL: Reaction to Microsoft Ruling

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Sat Apr 08 2000 - 23:24:07 MDT

I don't want to get into the Microsoft debate, but I do have some history
from my 20 years in the computer industry.

"Billy Brown" <> wrote on Sunday, April 09, 2000 12:00
> In actual fact, Microsoft has never relied on secret APIs. Sometimes they
> get lazy about documenting everything, but I have yet to see anything
> especially important in an undocumented API function (and I've done a LOT
> Windows programming). What they have done is to write their apps to take
> every possible advantage of their OS.

The have written their APIs to act differently depending on whether it was
being called from a Microsoft program or from a competitor's program.
Microsoft's font smoothing routines used to check for the calling program,
and returned smooth fonts to Internet Explorer while returning jagged fonts
to Netscape. Their printer software used to grab the printer queue from a
Novell NetWare queue, and then playing "keep-away" by passing control among
the Windows PCs until they were all finished before returning control back
to the Novell queue for non-Microsoft clients to use. Microsoft servers
used to prioritize web page requests and serving all Internet Explorer
requests before serving Netscape requests. They also used to give false
error messages to Netscape browsers claiming that it could not read the file
type, when in reality it could, but the server refused to give it to
Netscape. The original Windows used to refuse to let non-Microsoft DOSes
call some of their routines which they considered propriatery. The Mac
version of Excel was found to have timing loops that actually made it run
slower than the Windows version. The disk formatter used to seek out OS/2
partitions and corrupt them. The MSN network used to edit the CompuServe
and AOL prefs files and corrupt them. MSN changed the format of the
Macintosh control panel so that Microsoft products would work, but all other
products stopped working. Microsoft claimed that all of these were
accidental programming errors. They never could explain why they were
editing competitor's product files anyway.

I say "used to", because after these things were discovered, Microsoft fixed
them and claimed they were programming errors.

> Microsoft does not own the hardware companies, and it does not have a
> wand that controls the industry. If hardware vendors pre-install MS
> software, they do so because they thing their customers want them to.

Microsoft used to claim a rediculously high price for Windows. They would
give a rediculously low price to hardware manufacturers who shipped only
Microsoft OSes on their PCs. The price of the Microsoft product depended on
whether a vendor was working with Microsoft's competitors or not. As an
employee of IBM, I know that it was impossible to ship a PC with OS/2 on it.
We had to ship PCs with Windows pre-installed, and instructions on how to
remove Windows and install OS/2. Every purchase of OS/2 included a purchase
of Windows, whether the customer wanted it or not.

This also warped the product counts. Every copy of OS/2 also counted as a
purchase of Windows, so OS/2 never could catch up with Windows in the
market. Similarly, Microsoft now claims that their Internet Explorer
browser is part of the operating system. When you see statistics about the
number of IE users, be aware that this counts all Windows systems as being
IE users. There is no way that Netscape could outnumber the number of
Windows OSes sold.

> > The ability to deliberately break competing software via changes to the
> > system confers advantage.
> Maybe a small tactical advantage, as long as you don't do it very often.
> Maybe.

Microsoft also has a habit of reinterpretting standards such that their
customer's files only work with Microsoft and not with competitors. For
example, webpage style sheets require that sizing measurements always have
units (pixels, ems, inches, centimeters, something) on them. The standards
specificallly state that measurements without units are supposed to be
ignored. Microsoft's program produce all their measurements without units.
These are magically interpretted by Microsoft products, but are correctly
ignored by other vendors. The result is that these broken pages work only
with Microsoft products and no one else.

Now, before anyone claims that I am anti-Microsoft, you should know that I
choose to use my Windows 95 PC over my Macintosh, and I choose to run the
Microsoft Internet Explorer browser over my Netscape browser. I use all
these products extensively for different purpose, including testing my web
pages, so I am not tied to one or the other. (I also have SunOS, AIX and
Linux Unixes running.)

I don't want the government interfering with the free market or with any
technical decisions in the computer industry. But I also get tired of
people saying that there is a government plot against Microsoft. There is
no evil conpiracy theory. The fact is that Microsoft has played some pretty
obnoxious games to trample the competition. While they may not have been
illegal, they certainly seem to go against the free-market method of
choosing the best product. Many government officials believe that Microsoft
has crossed the legal line. (And getting caught faking their evidence in
court didn't help their case either!)

Harvey Newstrom <>
Certified Consultant,  Legal Hacker, Engineer, Research Scientist, Author.

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