Microsoft's "Master Plan"
June 1999

There's a method to the madness that seemingly goes on daily at Microsoft.

By "madness," I mean the seemingly "random" crashes, bugs, and inconsistencies of MS OS's that drive us "experienced" people up the wall. We who have used other products, and who used MS products back in the "good old days" before Windows, well, we remember when computers were predictable, reliable, and repeatable. The machine worked the same way day after day. The same inputs produced the same outputs. You didn't get an annoying "blue screen of death" unless a particular app was really, really bad. In which case you dumped it, because *** any DOS app could run on any PC ***.

Yes, that was what really bothered the men in Redmond. The idea that you could always dump what they offered and move to something else stuck like a piece of dry bread crust in the throats of the bitmeisters at Microsoft. So they set out to do something about it.

Why, in fact, did MS need to take away freedom of choice and monopolize spreadsheet, word processing, and other application markets? Because the MS plan to simply write better apps was a huge flop. In March of 1990, a "Top 100" software list showed Microsoft soundly beaten in every category. Windows/286 and Windows/386 apps were essentially no-shows. The top 3 spots were held by DOS versions of WordPerfect, Lotus123, and Harvard Graphics. MS products were in 4th position (Word), and then way on down the list.

What Microsoft calls the "Network Effect" in their 1999 DOJ court arguments did not exist at that time. That is to say, just because one company owned the OS platform, that did not guarantee them a monopoly on the applications themselves. The reason for this is that DOS was and is a more or less "open" platform. There were little or no "API" (Application Program Interface) specifications that tied people to one particular platform. There were little or no "API" specs that gave an "insider" the coding advantage. The market was relatively open, and the best packages were winning.

So Microsoft invented the idea of the API. Just leave all the graphics coding, the device drivers, and the file formats to MS. You just code up a few thousand lines of instructions to massage some data, and leave everything else to MS. Sounds easy, right?

Well, how did that turn out? Just 4 years later, in the middle of 1994, Microsoft had displaced the top application sellers in all 3 of the major application categories (word processing, spreadsheet, and graphics). The plan worked like a charm. MS could now leverage its Office Suite monopoly and keep adding more stuff to the suite, gobbling up the database market, the contact manager market, and so on: a new market to be absorbed with every new release of the Office Suite.

Therefore, it is most interesting that Microsoft's DOJ troubles ignore completely the issue of application suites. MS can safely lose the DOJ trial and then simply bundle browsers, applications, etc. into the Office Suite for the next ten years. Microsoft's plan is thus to lose the Operating System battle, but win the Application war. They have no reason to fix the operating system if they own the market for applications. The so-called "Network Effect" that MS claims is an automatic result of owning the operating system platform, is nothing more than a Microsoft-invented ploy. It just did not exist in the days of DOS. The "Network Effect" is simply the closed, proprietary set of Windows APIs that Microsoft owns.

Most recent revision: June 25, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.