Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


End of an Era
May 18, 2011 9:19 AM   Subscribe

On Thursday, the final judgement in the Microsoft antitrust case expires. The case was filed in 1998 and was so far reaching that the DOJ set up a website to coordinate efforts. Microsoft is still appealing the judgement in the European Union antitrust case.
posted by agatha_magatha (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just in time for Browser Wars 2.0!
posted by Artw at 9:22 AM on May 18, 2011


Browser Wars 2.0 2.7.1 SP Pack 3
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:25 AM on May 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


They deserved to get broken into 3 pieces or so, but due to internal discord they managed to squander their efforts to leverage their monopoly advantage to attack other markets; just like IBM way back in the day.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:30 AM on May 18, 2011


Microsoft? OMG! I totally remember those guys!
posted by entropicamericana at 9:34 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Microsoft? OMG! I totally remember those guys!

Sadly, so does our internal IT department. Yay for Microsoft Exchange and it's broken implementations of pretty much everything!
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how much of an effect the decree actually had on Microsoft's business. The experience of being brought down by the government, coupled with the actual mechanism of the decision, significantly weakened the company. So did external forces, of course. But there was a time there where Microsoft could have abused its monopoly position to significantly harm, say, Google. And they didn't.
posted by Nelson at 9:36 AM on May 18, 2011


But there was a time there where Microsoft could have abused its monopoly position to significantly harm, say, Google. And they didn't.

I would say that's largely because of this decree.
posted by empath at 9:38 AM on May 18, 2011


Maybe this will work out as well as breaking up AT&T.
posted by smackfu at 9:44 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Netscape was not saved though.

Thank god.
posted by Artw at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Microsoft did plenty of bad things, such as the restrictive licenses with OEM manufacturers. But the central point, that bundling applications with an operating system is unfair, has always escaped me. Downloading third-party applications for Windows has never been a challenge.

The EU forced Microsoft to release a version of XP without Media Player. Of course, no-one bought it.

It's true that selecting default programs is a little simpler in Windows 7 than in previous versions, so maybe the lawsuits helped that along.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would say that's largely because of this decree.

It's amazing how much of an effect the decree actually had on Microsoft's business!
posted by kmz at 9:56 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Netscape was not saved though.

Thank god.


The company or the browser? The browser seems to be doing pretty well for itself as far as I can see, albeit under a different name. As for the company, there are probably worse fates than being acquired for US$4.2 billion, even if it was in the form of AOL stock.
posted by kersplunk at 9:57 AM on May 18, 2011


The browser is a completely different beast at this stage. Phoenix Firebird Firefox is essentially completely different in all ways that matter from Netscape. It shares some history and has some common DNA (like the original plug-in architecture), but it's a relative, not a descendant.

I wish they'd have been able to keep the Phoenix name. Phoenix Tech died a slow death shortly after complaining about the project name.
posted by bonehead at 10:05 AM on May 18, 2011


SeaMonkey is the true descendent of Netscape.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:09 AM on May 18, 2011


But the central point, that bundling applications with an operating system is unfair, has always escaped me. Downloading third-party applications for Windows has never been a challenge.
The issue central to the case was whether Microsoft was allowed to bundle its flagship Internet Explorer (IE) web browser software with its Microsoft Windows operating system. Bundling them together is alleged to have been responsible for Microsoft's victory in the browser wars as every Windows user had a copy of Internet Explorer. It was further alleged that this restricted the market for competing web browsers (such as Netscape Navigator or Opera) that were slow to download over a modem or had to be purchased at a store. Underlying these disputes were questions over whether Microsoft altered or manipulated its application programming interfaces (APIs) to favor Internet Explorer over third party web browsers, Microsoft's conduct in forming restrictive licensing agreements with original equipment manufacturer (OEMs), and Microsoft's intent in its course of conduct.
posted by DU at 10:17 AM on May 18, 2011


Bundling is a classic antitrust violation. Exploiting a dominant position in one market to create one in another has always been illegal.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:25 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The browser is a completely different beast at this stage. Phoenix Firebird Firefox is essentially completely different in all ways that matter from Netscape. It shares some history and has some common DNA (like the original plug-in architecture), but it's a relative, not a descendant.

What would your thoughts on this picture be? There's obviously a Ship of Theseus issue with software versions, plus forks, plus branding.

I've been thinking about this lately, because I've just helped write the latest version of a program that was first released in 1988. A lot of people have made/forked their own versions of it over the years, under various names. Our latest version is the official version, but it's a rewrite, sharing ~1% of code with the last official version. Which is the 'real' one? What's the family tree?
posted by kersplunk at 10:44 AM on May 18, 2011


That's just browsers. Don't forget, Nescape wasn't just a browser by version 4, it was a mail client and newsgroup client and who knows what else too. Phoenix was a fork or the browser part, and the browser only, stripping out all of the extras that made Netscape so slow and bletcherous. They didn't even keep most of the interface code, just the back-end and the renderer.

It was only one survivor of the Mozilla suite. Thunderbird (mail) and Sunbird (calendering) were others.
posted by bonehead at 10:50 AM on May 18, 2011


Don't forget, Nescape wasn't just a browser by version 4, it was a mail client and newsgroup client and who knows what else too.

They also sold a lot of iPlanet.

Apologies to those fellow sysadmins I have just triggered PTSD episodes in.
posted by cmonkey at 10:55 AM on May 18, 2011


I was there. I was a young program manager and UX designer. I was way too naive to have insight to the nefarious powers that be. I can say this: there was a genuine desire to erase the line between looking for local files and looking for internet files. There was a desire to allow the user to have a less ambiguous experience. Today we call this "the cloud" and there is some sense that local files are not important. When hard-drive space was at a premium it made sense (from a UX perspective) to integrate the experience. I'm older and wiser now and again can't speak for business owners at MS. I can say without irony that the people I knew where trying to earnestly for something better. It also remains to be seen if that was even a valid UX idea. fwiw..
posted by lomcovak at 11:09 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sadly, so does our internal IT department. Yay for Microsoft Exchange and it's broken implementations of pretty much everything!


I knew folks on the Exchange dev team. Faced with appallingly bad program management, unworkably tight ship schedules, and plunging morale, they had T-shirts printed that read "Microsoft Exchange: Quality is Job 1.1". They passed a rule that said that you couldn't transfer out of the Exchange team until something like 6 months after it shipped; if you wanted out, you had to leave MS entirely (along with your stock options, which at that point were rapidly increasing in value). The failure of the entire management team for that product to control the feature creep and provide an environment where people could write quality software was just absolutely staggering. I'm honestly amazed the product is still sold.
posted by KathrynT at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2011


I can say this: there was a genuine desire to erase the line between looking for local files and looking for internet files.

Can you say why? The distinction between "stuff stored on the physical equipment I own" and "stuff on other people's computers that I have network access to" is the most fundamental and important one I can think of in terms of finding and keeping track of files.
posted by straight at 11:42 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The distinction between "stuff stored on the physical equipment I own" and "stuff on other people's computers that I have network access to" is the most fundamental and important one I can think of in terms of finding and keeping track of files.

With services like Dropbox and software like AeroFS, it's no longer an either/or.
posted by ryoshu at 11:58 AM on May 18, 2011


how many files does one store on their iphone for example? Do you buy movies from netflix or stream them? file/data ownership is still fundamentally important but physical locale seems increasingly blurry and the respective interface(s) seem to also reflect this. Again, I was talking about earnest intent ~15 years ago and not how it all settled out..
posted by lomcovak at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2011


When I listen to music files or watch videos, I'm never confused about whether I'm watching a file stored locally or remotely, and the difference still seems pretty important.

As for Dropbox, the whole point of that service is that there are competing advantages and disadvantages to local or remote storage, and for some purposes it's important to have both. The existence of Dropbox emphasizes the differences between remote and local storage, makes them a selling point for using the service, rather than erasing them.
posted by straight at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2011


and the difference still seems pretty important.

Yeah, I pay a flat rate for the stuff remotely (Netflix, etc), vs paying for each item on my local. Local is on the way out.
posted by smackfu at 1:48 PM on May 18, 2011


Apologies to those fellow sysadmins I have just triggered PTSD episodes in.

FUCK YOU AND THE MAGNUS.CONF YOU RODE IN ON.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:01 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


They deserved to get broken into 3 pieces or so, but due to internal discord they managed to squander their efforts to leverage their monopoly advantage to attack other markets; just like IBM way back in the day.
Internal discord? You realize that the DOJ actually had people involved with Microsoft to ensure they weren't leveraging their monopoly, right?

It's kind of ridiculous to say that 1) The government didn't do enough to stop them from leveraging their monopoly and 2) They didn't leverage their monopoly after the case, probably because they were just too stupid.

So it will be interesting to see if they start really screwing their competitors again.
posted by delmoi at 2:20 PM on May 18, 2011


When I listen to music files or watch videos, I'm never confused about whether I'm watching a file stored locally or remotely, and the difference still seems pretty important.
Would that be the case if you were living a country that didn't have shitty internet connectivity? Lots of places in the world are moving up to 1gbps broadband standards. The U.S. is lagging behind while telecom companies are busy trying to actually degrade service in order to boost profits
posted by delmoi at 2:22 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


What would your thoughts on this picture be? There's obviously a Ship of Theseus issue with software versions, plus forks, plus branding.

I've been thinking about this lately, because I've just helped write the latest version of a program that was first released in 1988. A lot of people have made/forked their own versions of it over the years, under various names. Our latest version is the official version, but it's a rewrite, sharing ~1% of code with the last official version. Which is the 'real' one? What's the family tree?
Well, the thing is that Mozilla 5 was a complete rewrite. It wasn't just an overhaul, it was a fundamental re-engineering from scratch. Just like how Windows 2000 wasn't a 'decedent' of Windows 95/98/millennium, it was a sister project.

Obviously there is some subjectivity, but Moz 5 wasn't really any more descended, in a core sense, from NS 4 then Internet explorer was.
posted by delmoi at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2011


Windows 2000 was a descendant of Windows NT 4. But the shell (a large part of the OS) was part of the same lineage as the one in Windows 98/ME. Just like the Windows NT 4 shell was essentially the one in Windows 95.

The drivers and kernel were different between the 9x Windows and the NT Windows lines. But they shared a large number of components.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:55 PM on May 18, 2011


But the central point, that bundling applications with an operating system is unfair, has always escaped me.

Microsoft used their de-facto monopoly in one area, operating systems, to effectively crush competition and grant themselves a monopoly in another area, browsers.

And then they sat on that newly acquired monopoly and did effectively nothing (IE6 and... pause) for the better part of a decade, because that would threaten their core monopolies of Windows and Office, paralyzing the Web in the process.

It's not terribly difficult to understand why this is bad for the marketplace and ultimately extremely bad for people, and hence illegal behavior.
posted by mhoye at 9:19 PM on May 18, 2011


With services like Dropbox and software like AeroFS, it's no longer an either/or.

People who think that are suckers.

Location matters. Physical ownership matters, and where the bits hit the metal platter, that matters a lot. The day hasn't come yet, to my knowledge, when somebody is arrested getting off a plane for something that was perfectly legal wherever they were when they hit save and got on that plane. But that day is coming fast.
posted by mhoye at 9:25 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand what this antitrust case did. Windows has continued to ship with IE, and that's why everybody uses it. Sure, you don't have the "Active Desktop", but everybody had an IE icon on their desktop and that's how they browsed the internet. During the whole time that this case was active, you had to be someone that knew what you were doing, and have a specific reason to download a different browser.

ALSO, to this very day, it is almost impossible to buy a PC laptop without Windows on it. I've tried. A couple of large computer vendors have very recently made half-assed attempts to sell laptops with Linux, but you end up having to pay more for the same hardware and you don't have nearly as many choices.

Just yesterday, my friend was trying to buy a non-Windows laptop from ... Dell, I believe? He tried to convince the sales person to sell him a computer without a hard drive in it. They wouldn't do it.

Meanwhile, there are stories of people trying to get their money back for copies of Windows they were forced to purchase with their computers. These people struggle for months, with lawyers and constant phone calls. Only occasionally are they successful.

So, to a normal person, there is no way to buy a PC computer that doesn't have both Windows and Internet Explorer. I don't see how the situation could've been any worse if the government had done nothing. What exactly did the government do here?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 6:33 AM on May 19, 2011


I really don't understand what this antitrust case did. Windows has continued to ship with IE, and that's why everybody uses it. Sure, you don't have the "Active Desktop", but everybody had an IE icon on their desktop and that's how they browsed the internet.
I haven't looked at IE in years, lots of people used firefox and now chrome. Their market share was pretty massive.
posted by delmoi at 8:28 AM on May 19, 2011


I haven't looked at IE in years, lots of people used firefox and now chrome.

Yeah, but that's just because you are 1337. When you bought a computer, it came with IE. Then you said "Screw this, I'm getting a different browser because of things I heard from other sources." How did the antitrust case help here? Microsoft wasn't required to distribute a "which browser would you like to download?" program, or even a note that informed you of the existence of other browsers. The computer didn't come with a label that says "Surgeon General's Warning: You have IE on this computer, but you don't have to use it. There are other browsers. Just so ya know".
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 8:57 AM on May 19, 2011


BTW, did anybody notice that microsoft-antitrust.gov uses Microsoft's IIS webserver?

I noticed when I got a 404 trying to retrieve the executive summary of the judgement.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:09 AM on May 19, 2011


Microsoft wasn't required to distribute a "which browser would you like to download?" program

They actually did end up having a "browser choice" screen last year to appease the EU anti-trust regulators.
posted by smackfu at 9:47 AM on May 19, 2011


Yeah, but that's just because you are 1337. When you bought a computer, it came with IE. Then you said "Screw this, I'm getting a different browser because of things I heard from other sources." How did the antitrust case help here?
Yeah, so did a lot of other people. And on top of that Microsoft stop the integration of new products with windows. MS, for example, could have put in a search bar for Microsoft live search (now bing) right on the desktop or in the start menu, with no option to change it. That would have taken a huge bite out of Google, but they never did. Why not? Probably because they knew it would be an anti-trust issue. They could even have put out a patch that just broke Firefox if they'd wanted too, why not?

The point is, with their monopoly and no control over what they were doing, there is a ton of stuff they could have done to win the browser war.
posted by delmoi at 8:06 PM on May 20, 2011


« Older Anger, Politics and the Wisdom of Uncertainty...  |  The atmosphere above Japan was... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments