Programming Windows: Civil War (Premium)

In early 1997, Microsoft was preparing to release Internet Explorer 4.0, through which it would fully integrate the web browser and its Internet capabilities into the Windows shell. But rather than waiting to deliver this functionality in Windows 98, the next version of DOS-based Windows, the IE team was giving it away for free to users of Windows 95. This would undermine the Windows 98 upgrade, some key Microsoft executives believed, not to mention the next version of NT, setting off a civil war inside the company that would derail strategies, careers, and Microsoft’s booming Internet product division.

The seeds of this discontent were sown a year earlier, when Microsoft hosted a Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in San Francisco. Microsoft had introduced the world to Win32, its 32-bit Windows APIs, and Windows NT at a PDC in 1993. So, it used its March 1996 PDC---known as the “Internet PDC”---to signal the seriousness of its shift to the Internet.

“For software developers, Microsoft’s developers’ conferences were the equivalent of papal encyclicals,” Wall Street Journal reporter David Bank writes in Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates Fumbled the Future of Microsoft. “Thousands of programmers gathered to find out in what direction the overlords from Redmond would take them.”

That direction was firmly rooted in Internet technologies. But there was a battle raging internally for the soul of Microsoft, a battle that none of the several thousand developers in attendance at PDC 1996 could detect from Bill Gates’ steady recitation of Microsoft’s strategy. On one side was Brad Silverberg, the man who had most recently led the development of the highly successful Windows 95. And on the other was Jim Allchin, who had been leading the development of Cairo, a planned second major release of Windows NT that never materialized.

Since shipping Windows 95, the two men’s roles had changed. Silverberg had shifted over to lead Microsoft’s new Internet Platform and Tools Division, taking development of Internet Explorer with him. And Allchin now led all Windows development---both Windows 95 and Windows NT---and planned a unification of the two product lines.

They did not agree on Microsoft’s direction at all.

Silverberg was pushing for Microsoft to move past Windows and create an “Internet platform” that would form the basis of the next decade of advances. As Banks describes in Breaking Windows, the word platform was “explosive” within Microsoft, as it indicated internally and externally that this thing could replace Windows. And as Microsoft swiftly and completely embraced the Internet, it seemed that it would do just that.

But Allchin saw Microsoft’s focus on the Internet as an overreaction that threatened his unification plans. Windows was Microsoft’s platform, he argued, and Silverberg’s Internet offerings should be described less loftily as frameworks---frameworks that ran on Windows--...

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