Microsoft Misc System Reviews
The Microsoft Monopoly
Next time you walk past a photocopier, pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that all of the desktop technology that you take for granted, be it Windows, Mac or Internet, should by rights belong to Xerox. Yup - a copier company..... So what's all that about then?? The story of Windows and, to a lesser extent, the Mac ... reads like a good thriller. It is a tale of greed, business double dealing, at least one suspicious death, a whole succession of unbelievably bright people who could not, for the life of them, see any value in what they had created and two men who saw immense value in pale reflections of other people's original ideas. It also has a pretty depressing moral, but we'll leave that 'til the end.
I have had it in mind to tell this story for some little time. I recently had reason to mull over this stuff for a piece I did on a guy named Jack Shemer. Jack was my boss at Teradata Corp and one of the pioneers of massively parallel supercomputers.. I stumbled across the echos of the Windows story when researching his early career...
In 1970 Jack was about to join Xerox, although he didn't know it. At the time he was employed by a company called Scientific Data Systems (SDS). SDS built a spiffy little range of computers with a very clever (for the time) 'Time Sharing' operating system. It was a direct forerunner of UNIX and today's LINUX. Xerox desperately wanted to get into the computing business. They greedily eyed the profitability of IBM and wanted a share of it for themselves. To cut a long story short, they decided to buy SDS lock, stock and barrel. Jack became a Xerox employee and Xerox became a player in the IT industry. For a time.
At around the same time they commissioned a dedicated R&D facility in Palo Alto (Caifornia) to look into digital technologies. Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre) became as famous, in its own way, as the likes of Bell Labs (AT&T), Santa Theresa (IBM)
and Martlesham (BT). In the early/mid seventies, Jack found himself at PARC working upon the convergence of computers and documents. In those early days the project was codenamed 'Janus', it would be renamed 'Star' in 1977...
Documents were always going to be very close to Xerox' heart. They envisaged a brave new world where documents would be kept in real-time and people would be able to work on them and share them by simply calling them up onto their computer screens. Sound familiar? In 1970 it was bloody revolutionary. Furthermore, the actual technology to hold all of this stuff together didn't exist then. Xerox decided to invent it....
'Star' was probably the most important example of a man/machine interface ever built. Yet very few people have ever heard of it. We'll see why in a moment.
One of the more influential scientists on the project was a guy named Alan Kay. Kay was interested in how we, as humans, learn. As a result, he spent a lot of time observing children learning and from this he concluded that we learn more rapidly and completely from graphics and sound than we do from text. This led to a belief that the new workspace should be graphically orientated and eventually to the fundamental Star idea of a 'WIMP' interface. WIMP stands for Windows, Icons, Mice, Pointers. You can see where this is going can't you? If anyone should be anointed as the 'father' of Windows, then it is Alan Kay.
Kay is also attributed with coining the PARC slogan:-
'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.'
By 1979 STAR was done. It looked and behaved a lot like a Macintosh, which is not surprising, as we'll see later. It was the first true workstation. It had the first mouse (in the form that we know it today), the first GUI (Graphical User Interface), the first WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) word-processing software. Des igned
and built by Charles Simonyl and Butler Lampson, it was called BRAVO X, and it was a direct forerunner of MS Word. STAR also had an e-mail system and a primitive workflow system called OfficeTalk.
Laser printers (also invented and developed at PARC) were used to print the high-quality text and graphics which Star was capable of producing. A program called Press (later InterPress) was developed to provide a page-description language so that any computer could describe what was being sent to the laser printer. As an interesting aside, some of the InterPress developers later left PARC and set up a company to provide a more modern page description language. It was christened Postscript. The company is, of course. Adobe.
Finally, in order to glue this whole new 'Star' world together they developed a brand new way of connecting computers in a peer-to-peer network which they called 'Ethernet', It was to become the cornerstone of the Internet.
Astonishingly, from a standing start, Xerox had invented the four things which would change the way the world did computing:-
The idea of a 'personal' workstation or computer
Graphical User Interfaces using a mouse as a pointing device
Object Oriented Programming
The last is the most esoteric, however, in layman's terms it was a new way of looking at and creating computer programs which was much quicker and more intuitive than anything which had gone before. It was also very important in the creation of Graphical User Interfaces (GUI's).
So why haven't you ever heard of Star? Because Xerox fucked it up, that's why. The hardware available at the time was not really powerful enough to make it perform well, they priced each workstation at five times the cost of the IBM PC, which was just launching at the time, and the Xerox salesforce, who were all old photocopier boys and girls, neither
stood it nor knew how to sell it nor gave a shit anyway..
Xerox left the IT business shortly thereafter, older and wiser but no richer. It never made a dime from its astonishing breakthroughs. We'll come back to Star in a moment but let's leave Xerox for for a little while and pop over to IBM to see what they were up to at around the same time...
IBM were secretly developing the IBM PC. God knows, they didn't want to. IBM was a company that made a fortune from selling big mainframe computers for silly prices to large corporations. However, they figured that if they didn't control the PC market then someone else undoubtedly would. Their own paranoia in this matter would ultimately lead to their downfall. IBM, just like Xerox, was a loser in this story. Ordinarily, IBM would have developed the PC in house, but they figured it would take them around four years to get something out the door and in 1979 they felt that they didn't have the time. Instead they set up a small independent operation, based in Boca Raton Florida - well away from any other IBM divisions, and told them to get something up and running as quickly as possible. The only other stipulation was that it must in no way ever be powerful enough to threaten any of IBM's existing Minicomputer products.
As a result of this last, the Boca Raton guys deliberately chose an inferior chip for the job. The Intel 8088. Intel had effectively invented the microprocessor in 1971, with their 4004 chip. Originally developed to power an electronic calculator (called the Busicom) it was the first self-contained CPU on a single chip. In 1978 they launched the 8086 and 8088 Chips. The 8088 being a slower, less featured version of the 8086. It was the 8088 which IBM chose for the PC. At the time, all Intel personal computers (and there were a lot of different kinds around) used a very good little operating system called CP/M (Control Progam/Micro). Naturally, IBM wante
d to commission a version of CP/M for their PC. Unfortunately, in one of those strange twists of fate that change history, the owner and developer, decided to go flying his new plane on the day that IBM called...
Dr Gary Kildall, a computer languages expert, was retained as a consultant by Intel in 1975 to help design and develop a high-level programming language for the Intel chip. The language, a dialect of IBM's PL/I was called PL/M. If Gary had lived a litle closer to the Intel plant then history might have been a lot different. As it was, he lived some 50 miles away. To avoid the daily 100 mile round trip, he asked Intel to supply him with a development computer so that he could work from home . The only 8080 based machine that Intel had available at the time was a thing called an 'Intellec-8' but it didn't have any disk storage attached to it.
Kildall, being the resourceful chap that he was, blagged a test example of one of the, then brand new, 'floppy' disk drives from Shugart Associates (The inventors of the floppy drive). He attached it to the Intellec-8, using a controller built by his friend John Torode. To make it all work, he wrote a primitive operating system for the whole thing which he christened CP/M. CP/M recognised the floppy drives by assigning letters to disk drives. This was the original A:> prompt operating system!
The fundamental brilliance of CP/M (at least from release 2 on) lay in its layered architecture. All of the hardware calls were handled in a separate layer known as the BIOS (basic input/output system). This made CP/M very portable. You could run it on a new computer simply by changing the BIOS. You didn't have to worry about the main system. There is still a setarate BIOS present in your PC today.
Gary offered CP/M to Intel but they weren't interested so he formed a company with the amusing name of 'Intergalactic Digital Research" t o market the product
The 'Intergalactic' was dropped as the company grew and it simply became Digital Research Inc, or DRI
Release 2 of the software, with the BIOS layer incorporated into it, became a huge success and by 1979 when IBM were ready to trade, there were some 600,000 copies in operation worldwide. Lots of companies had developed applications to run on it including a little company called Microsoft who developed the first Basic Interpreter for Intel machines. Bill Gates and Kildall knew one another because they had been at college together and had both been users of the college computer. Unlike Gates, Kildall went on to complete his degree.
It seems Gates has led something of a charmed life. He too, was to become involved with the IBM PC, not because his company was famous but due to a fortunate accident. Apparently, one of the senior VP's at IBM was, coincidentally, a patron of the same charity as Gates' well-to-do mother (Gates comes from a wealthy family). Through this tenuous link, it appears that Gates learnt of the existence of the IBM PC project and he pitched to provide the BASIC language interpreter for it. He subsequently won the business.
On the day that the two IBM execs called at Gary Kildall's house, the story goes that they were met by Gary's ex-wife and business partner, Dorothy. Gary was well aware that the meeting was to take place but he felt that Dorothy could handle the money negotiations and so decided that he didn't need to be there. Besides which, for all that they were business partners , Gary and Dorothy no longer got along with one another and actively avoided contact. Apparently, the first thing which the two IBM suits attempted to do was to have Dorothy sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding what they were about to discuss. These days this is extremely common business practice but it was almost unheard of in the mid-seventies. Spooked by their manner and the unfamilia
of the form, she refused to sign the NDA and, more or less, threw the suits out of the house!
Rebuffed by what they saw as arrogance, the two IBM execs dusted themselves down and went back to see Bill Gates. At the second meeting they asked if he could sell them an operating system in addition to the BASIC Interpreter. Gates said that indeed he could, which was interesting because Gates didn't HAVE an operating system to sell at the time!
Of course the question was and has always been, "What, precisely, DID Gates have?" A couple of months earlier, he had seen a demo of a CP/M 'clone' at a company called Seattle Computer Products.(SCP). He now re-approached SCP and made an offer for the clone. Reports vary, some claiming that Gates paid as little as US$50,000 some claiming as much as US$250,000. Either way, it was peanuts. Where did SCP get the software from? They claimed that one of their employees, Tim Paterson, wrote it. In six weeks...
It took Kildall three years to write CP/M. Paterson claimed that he bought a CP/M manual and wrote his system as a clone. He called it QDOS (Quick & Dirty Operating System). For years there has been speculation that he didn't clone CP/M at all, he copied it. Many reporters at the time refer to QDOS as running 'surprisingly' well, a thinly veiled accusation of plagerism. New software is rarely without teething troubles.
Sceptic that I am, I find it fairly damning that the first 36 DOS system calls mirror the original CP/M calls EXACTLY. It's highly unlikely that this would have happened had Paterson really cloned CP/M (i.e. written something functionally similar) but would have been inevitable in a copy. Just my opinion, but there you go.
Gates called the IBM version of his newly acquired operating system PC-DOS. He then did something really rather brilliant. He talked IBM into letting him keep his own vers ion, which he called MS-DOS. T
that he was no
longer beholden to IBM. How the hell IBM ever agreed to that one I will never know. But agree they did... It would eventually lead to their loss of control of the PC software market to Microsoft.
Kildall is reported to have been furious when he found out what had happened. He believed that he and Gates had a gentlemen's agreement to the effect that Gates would not stray into operating system production if Kildall kept out of programming languages. Kildall attempted to sue for theft of intellectual property. Microsoft immediately rolled over and got IBM's lawyers involved. They pushed any blame firmly onto Seattle Computing who, having sold the code for bugger-all weren't worth suing anyway. IBM responded on another level by agreeing to license CP/M as well as PC-DOS for their new PC, provided that Kildall withdrew his lawsuit. He agreed. The suit was dropped.
It was only when the product was finally launched in August 1981 that Kildall realized that he had still, after all, been screwed. PC-DOS sold on the PC for $40. CP/M sold for $240. IBM had subsidized DOS. Game, set and match. In that same year 1981, Tim Paterson, apparent author of DOS, left SCP. Funnily enough, he found employment with Microsoft. Isn't that nice? By that time, Bill could probably afford to pay him a good salary.
Not all PC's at the time were based upon Intel chips. The most significant competitor was the Apple II. It was built by a company run by Steve Jobs. Jobs too was working on something pretty revolutionary. It was called the Apple Lisa. The Lisa would fail but it's successor, the Macintosh would revolutionize computing in its own way. And where did the Mac come from? Fortunately, Jobs is quite open about this. It was a straight rip-off of the Xerox Star system...
Jobs relates that he had a Damascus-like experience when he was allowed to tour PARC in the s pring of 1979. At that time the PARC folks were very secretive about what they were doing, particularly with 'Star' so it was quite a privelege for Jobs to be allowed in. He recalls being bowled over by the 'Star' demonstration which the PARC folks gave him. He came away convinced that graphical user interfaces were the future of computing and he decided that this was where Apple would go. He headhunted Larry Tessler, one of the principal Star scientists, and assigned him to the Lisa project.
Lisa was directly based upon Star and it cost Apple a reported $150Million to develop. Sales of the initial machine were disappointing. It was too expensive and too slow. Lisa II was launched in 1984 and a year later officially renamed the Macintosh XL. At this time Gates had MS-DOS 3.1, a piece of ageing shit in comparison to the Mac However, Gates' PC's had three advantages ; the letters I, B & M, writ large on the front. Corporate America bought PC's. Gates still had the muscle of big blue (IBM) behind him.
Re-enter Gary Kildall, as if he hadn't already had enough of a kicking. Kildall was also interested in the idea of graphical interfaces and he too was familiar with the work that had gone on at PARC. He built a GUI interface of his own. Called GEM (Graphical Environment Manager), he had it running as early as November 1983 (The Apple Lisa preceded him by about 10 months). GEM looked virtually identical to the Mac (unsurprisingly - since both were inspired by Star). In an astonishing bit of sheer bravado, Apple (who themselves had ripped-off Star) threatened to sue Kildall's company . As a result, Kildall made cosmetic changes to GEM but he never really saw the full potential of GUI's so he never put any major marketing money behind it. GEM faded away into obscurity. However, in a superbly ironic twist, one of the biggest customers for GEM turned out to be none other than XEROX, who used it to front-end a desk top publishing system called 'Ventura'. Yup, they bought their own bootleg!
Microsoft finally demonstrated their Windows 1.0 GUI in the spring of 1985. Learning from Kildall's experience they made sure that their ripped-off version of Star looked different enough from the Mac to avoid any lawsuits. V1.0 was a piece of crap. V2.0 likewise. Microsoft completely rewrote the product for V3.0 which they released in 1990, some seven years after GEM and LISA. It was released with the most expensive software promo campaign the industry had ever seen and it had an initial low price of $39. In the final analysis, Gates did what neither IBM, Apple, nor Xerox were prepared to do. He bet the company on the success of a GUI. He won the bet.
Gary Kildall dropped from the forefront of computing research and his company was acquired by Novell, who proceeded to screw it up. Eventually, the rights to CP/M, or FREEDOS as it is now known, were acquired by a company called Caldera. Caldera had the balls to do what Gary himself had not. On July 24th 1996 they filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft. The action was eventually settled out of court in Caldera's favour in January 2000, some twenty years after the initial infringement.
The moral of this story is that it isn't good enough in Corporate America to have the best product. A cheap piece of dubious shit can win hands down if it has the backing of the industry leader. Microsoft was incredibly lucky to enjoy the protection of IBM right up until it was strong enough to bite the hand that fed it and go its own way.
Gary Kildall died as a result of an incident in a seedy bar in Monterey on July 8th 1994. He was 52 years old. The circumstances of the incident at the Franklin street Bar & Grill are vague. Various reports claim that he was shot, beaten up or received some sort of fatal blow to the head. From what I can find on the web, it seems that he did indeed suffer a head injur y in a fall but that it was the result of a massive and fatal heart attack.
What is almost certain is that Gary was a broken man, bitter at his treatment and enraged at his lack of public recognition. As to whether Microsoft, or anyone else, did indeed steal the CP/M code, there is obviously the outcome of the Caldera lawsuit to consider but also a statement which Gary made, not once but several times, in various interviews before his death. It is a technical reference to something deep within the DOS program itself:-
"Ask Bill (Gates) why the string in function 9 is terminated by a dollar sign. Ask him, because he can't answer. Only I know that".
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The Microsoft Monopoly
We all know Microsoft rule the world. What, you say they don't? Well give them another 10 years and I reckon they will! I guess I'm probably exaggerating a bit, but if Microsoft do gain control of every aspect of the computer market then they will be in a very strong, and the way things are going Microsoft don't look as if ... they're going to be beaten ay anything!
99% of people reading this are going to be using a version of Microsoft's Windows, if I'm wrong and you use something else do give me a shout!! Most of you also use Microsoft's browser and e-mail client, Internet Explored and Outlook Express respectively. You probably use Microsoft Word to write your Dooyoo ops, and Microsoft Encarta to research things. For all I know you may even do your practice train driving using Microsoft Train Simulator (yes, I have got it!). Microsoft control your desktop, infact the don't just control it, they create it and a good number of the applications that you run on it. But it doesn't stop there.......do you use one of those nice Microsoft mice, or their keyboard?
But c'mon party people, there must be a reason for it? And, I hate to say this, but, it's because Microsoft are generally better than the rest. I moan about their Operating Systems, they always crash, they're resource intensive and cost a bomb, but I still couldn't live without one. I may use Linux at times, but it's always a dual boot with Windows! Microsoft brought computing to the masses, and for that they have become the most popular (some would say the only viable) operating system in existence. From MS-DOS to Windows XP people have been using Microsoft's products, and depsite the fact that there aren't many competitors now Microsoft have earned this position. Put frankly, they were the best!
This wasn't just limited to their operating systems, take their hardware. I've used my fair share of computer equipment i n the past, and if you ask me you can't beat a Microsoft Mouse in terms of build quality. The keyboards are pretty great too, and who can fault their Sidewinder joypads? Despite their wide audience and large size, Microsoft are still associated with quality in the hardware market. We can only be thankful that they don't build PC's, or the world truly could be in trouble!!
Microsoft don't have control of every market, they are in no way in total control on the server market, nor do they have much luck in the high end workstations or mainframe sector. They do however have the home market pretty tied up, having basically destroyed the browser market a few years back. This does bring in to the equation Microsoft's ethics, or more the lack of them.....
You see, only a few years ago you used to have to pay for your web browser, and in those days Netscape was more popular. I can't remember the exact story, but it goes something along the lines of Microsoft made their browser free, and then bundled it with Windows. Netscape of course stopped charging, but they couldn't possibly bundle Navigator with Windows. Internet Explorer was given an instant head start by the fact that everyone using Windows (or should I have just said everyone) got it pre-installed, ready to use on any new PC.
Naturally people weren't happy with this, and so Microsoft went to court and lost an anti-trust case. The result? Despite a lot of clamour about the company being split up, nothing has happened, IE is still bundled with Windows, and Microsoft have even gone so far as to package their Instant Messenger program, MSN Messenger, with Windows XP. One can see a repeat of the browser situation, where Microsoft's MSN Messenger wins the messaging war simply because everyone has it!
But if there's so much distaste about Microsoft why do people keep buying their stuff? Firstly it's generally better than the competition, take M S Word as an example, the other Word Processors just don't work as well. Then there's familiarity, you use Word at work, your kids use it at school, so you may as well use it at home too! And of course, brand plays a big part in our purchasing decisions, and there can be few people left today who have not heard of Microsoft.
Just because Microsoft do have a monopoly, doesn't mean it has to be a good thing. That Bill Gates got more money than small countries, and I'm sure he adds a few million to his total every hour or so. Money breeds power, or something like that, but I wouldn't worry about good ol' Bill, he seems too nerdy to get up to any James Bond style World Domination plot!!
But really, it can't be good for one person to have so much influence and control over us mere mortals. And it really ain't fair that he gets all the money either. Of course, that's the accepted view, and for most other products that would be true, but PC's? Computers are only now getting becoming easy to use, we don't need to send it back 10 years by confusing people with new programs and the like. You have your PC, you run Windows, everything runs on Windows - it couldn't be easier really.
However, I would like to stop Microsoft using their position to influence which product people use, as they are doing with MSN Messenger. By giving their messaging program away with Internet Explorer, which in term comes with Windows, they are making sure that everyone has it, and if you already have on Instant Messaging program why would you want to go and download another? Microsoft are abusing their position of power. I also don't like their attitude towards other things, for example when the name X Box (their new console) was actually owned by another company, their plan was just to buy the other company to get the name. And their console, I would have to seriously consider letting Microsoft expand in to many more ma rkets. If they're allowed to, soon they really will control everything.
So, Microsoft, not the evil dictator scum that some people will tell you they are, but they're not necessarily sweet and innocent either.
The company we love to hate!
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Microsoft Misc System
Misc System / Developer: Microsoft
Misc System / Manufacturer of computer hardware and software. - Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational computer technology corporation with almost 80,000 employees in 102 countries and a global annual revenue of US $51.12 billion (2007).
Misc System / What are views are Microsoft monopolising the space and preventing competition? What effects will this have on the quality of choice available? Should it be forced to split up?
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