Programming Windows: Findings of Fact (Premium)

While most histories of Microsoft focus on two obvious areas of general interest---the company’s founding and early years, and its historic antitrust trials in the U.S. and Europe---I’m taking a different approach here. Instead, I am focusing on the history of a specific product, Windows, and on the forces that shaped it and, in turn, shaped Microsoft and the personal computing industry.

For this reason, we’ll examine antitrust only insofar as it impacted Windows. And we’ll start with an existential threat that dominated Microsoft’s attention in the late 1990s, Netscape and its Navigator web browser.

On November 5, 1999, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his Findings of Fact in U.S. v. Microsoft. It is a 183-page, 60,000-word dressing down of Microsoft and its executives, especially co-founder and CEO Bill Gates, and the first major legal determination that the software had a monopoly which it illegally maintained and expanded at the expense of competitors, partners, and customers.

Key to Jackson’s Findings is that Microsoft perceived a very real threat from so-called middleware solutions that ran on top of Windows, and thus used and needed that platform’s application programming interfaces (APIs) while providing their own APIs for developers as well. Microsoft’s fear of middleware was extensive, and it included even minor platforms like an Intel’s Native Signal Processing (NSP), Apple’s QuickTime, RealNetwork’s RealPlayer, and Lotus Notes. But two middleware technologies emerged in the mid-1990s that represented existential threats to Windows: Netscape Navigator and Sun Microsystems’ Java.

From Microsoft’s perspective, Navigator and Java were particularly pernicious because they were cross-platform---they ran on Mac, Unix, and other platforms in addition to Windows---and could thus work to undermine the importance of Windows to PC makers, developers, and businesses and other customers. That Netscape and Sun explicitly collaborated to take on Microsoft’s stranglehold of the PC industry was likewise a clear sign of threat: Netscape announced that it would bundle Java with its Navigator web browser in May 1995, just three months before Windows 95 shipped to an eager public.

And as was proven in Jackson’s court, Microsoft engaged in illegal activity to harm both Netscape and Sun and to undermine their products and technologies.

It started immediately in the wake of the Netscape/Sun deal: Microsoft tried to convince Netscape to divide the browser market with it in June 1995, with Microsoft gaining total control of web browsers for Windows 95; in return, Microsoft promised to promote Netscape’s server products to make Netscape a “preferred ISV” that would gain access to new Windows APIs more quickly than did most developers. When Netscape refused to collude with Microsoft, the software giant withheld the APIs and other technical documentation that the firm needed to make a W...

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