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Did Microsoft ruin the Web?

Microsoft has an unfair advantage over other companies involved with internet software, because it produces the Windows operating system which a majority of computers in the world rely on. Microsoft has allegedly exploited this, using its power to limit the ability of competitors to produce new products which might be good for the public but bad for Microsoft.

Microsoft's sudden decision to make the Web a priority in the mid-1990s meant that it went out of its way to pummel the competition for Web browsers -- as the judge concluded in his 'Findings of Fact' (November 1999) for the Microsoft trial (in which the US Department of Justice has taken Microsoft to court over its alleged unfair practices).

Up to that point, the world had been perfectly happy with Netscape's effective, and free, Web browser Navigator. But Bill was not happy about that, because he didn't own it, and Microsoft not only set about making its own browser, which would be fair enough, but also used its dominance to force companies to say they would distribute Microsoft's browser (Internet Explorer) instead of Netscape's.

Perhaps more disturbingly, Microsoft has stomped on the nice ethos of the Web that there would be agreed standards which mean that no one company can gain controlling power over the Web. Now that lots of people are using Microsoft products to browse and create Web materials, Microsoft have started adding bits to the Webpage language HTML, and to other web-based technologies such as Java -- things which were meant to run on any computer with any browsing software, which is undeniably a good idea -- so that other people have to be running Microsoft products to make sense of them. Microsoft says that these things "add value" to their products, but by adding bits to agreed standards they knowingly spoil the whole universal ethos of the Web.

Microsoft is an innovative company which comes up with great software and puts it out to people. People love it and use it. Microsoft has invested a lot in developing this good stuff for everybody, and now the government comes along and punishes them for being successful.



The software that we will never see, by Jason Cranford Teague in The Independent (15 Nov 99): "If you consider the history of the Web and the promise that browsers had in the mid-Ninties, you will see that Netscape had a very different picture of the future of the Web than the shopping mall mentality that pervades it today. Instead, Netscape was working on initiatives that would have radically altered the way that we interact with computers. Would this have improved the way we use computers? We will never know because Netscape's plans could have potentially endangered the need for the Windows operating system. Microsoft acted decisively to head off this threat and its actions have for ever denied what could have been and stifled true innovation."


Neil McIntosh in The Guardian (11 Nov 99): "In Judge Jackson's findings there is example after example of the bullying tactics Microsoft has employed".


Jack Schofield in The Guardian (11 Nov 99): "It's a typical case of somebody walking onto a bloody battlefield and bayoneting the winners". (You have to scroll down to "The merits of having a monopoly," where this piece starts).


Judge Jackson's Findings of Fact: Released in November 1999, this is but the first stage in the resolution of the trial which has seen Microsoft put in the dock by the US Government. It's 60,000 words long and is surprisingly frank and gossipy... but it no longer has the status of mere gossip -- it's got the weight of the US Judiciary behind it.

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