Despite its massive successes in the 1990s, Microsoft was always considered a third-rate technology company by its jealous rivals. This was galling to Bill Gates and his employees, given the company’s history and its creation of the most successful software ecosystem in the industry.
But Microsoft’s critics had a point. After all, Microsoft’s developer tools were mostly terrible. BASIC was a toy language and, yes, Visual Basic was innovative and fun, but professional developers quickly ran into its limits and, after all, Microsoft had acquired it from a third party anyway. The Win32 Windows API was notoriously terrible and hard to use, and Microsoft’s conversion to the 32-bit world was a missed opportunity for cleaning up that API. Microsoft’s first attempt at an object-oriented wrapper over Win32, the C++-based Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC), was an industry joke thanks to its bloated, hard-to-read code. Rival firms like Borland created better and more sophisticated developer tools. And Sun Microsystems---Sun, of all companies---had created an elegant and modern developer environment called Java that Microsoft had been forced to license to gain some traction in the emerging online world it was so worried about at the end of the 20th century.