Programming Windows: Microsoft Announces .NET (Premium)

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson followed up the early April 2000 release of his damning Conclusions of Law in U.S. v. Microsoft by moving the case forward at a torrid pace.

First, the Judge astonished Microsoft and onlookers by holding a short, one-day remedy hearing in late May rather than a protracted, multi-week hearing. Then, on June 7, he issued his final judgment, in which he ordered that Microsoft be split into two separate companies and be held to strict business conduct restrictions for several years.

Microsoft appealed that ruling, of course, and the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed to expedite the schedule given the gravity of the case. Sensing that the appeal could drag out for years and potentially reverse key facets of the verdict, the U.S. Department of Justice then petitioned the Supreme Court to certify Jackson’s ruling, overriding any decisions that the appellate court might have made.

Inside Microsoft, executives and employees alike were shocked that Jackson had moved to break up the firm. But Jackson surprised everyone again by deciding a week later that any remedies in U.S. v. Microsoft would be stayed until the appeals process was completed. And he, too, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case immediately.

Microsoft’s antitrust troubles are historically interesting. But the timing of these actions impacted the firm’s planned announcement of an ambitious new platform, originally called Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS), but now called .NET (“dot NET”), that would span Windows, the web, and a coming wave of “full-screen and small-screen devices.” Connecting these endpoints would be new kinds of software services that would run across the Internet.

Microsoft’s .NET platform, in short, would deliver on a vision called software as a service.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had been focusing on .NET since before he handed over the CEO reins to college buddy Steve Ballmer and assumed the mantel of Chief Software Architect for the firm. Indeed, it was a welcome distraction from Microsoft’s antitrust troubles. Gates being Gates, he started taking credit for .NET both internally and then externally. But the effort had begun far from his prying eyes a few years earlier when it became obvious to the firm’s platform architects that some combination of an internal Java clone and the next generation of COM software could create a truly sophisticated platform for the future.

Gates wanted to announce .NET in early 2000 to assure Microsoft’s customers, partners, and competitors that the antitrust trial hadn’t distracted him or the firm from leveraging and expanding Microsoft’s leadership role in the industry. And that him stepping down as CEO wasn’t a defeat but was rather a signal that Gates was taking a more hands-on role in determining Microsoft’s future: Gates handed over the CEO role specifically to shepherd .NET to release and to transition all of Microsoft businesses, incl...

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