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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Philosophy of Computing Platforms (part 4)

The End of the Beginning

Is the fundamental difference between platforms all about philosophy and human nature?

In the Mid-1990s, a company called Netscape drew its bread and butter from selling a Web Browser and Communications (Email, HTML editor and Browser) suite at a price. When Internet Explorer became freely available on Windows and came with every copy of Microsoft's world dominant operating system, and with technologies like "Channels"--- push (similar idea to what RSS is to us now) data from the Internet to your Windows desktops became a feature of Windows 98, Netscape was losing the war.

So in the process of adding value and growing their business, Microsoft not only stepped on the toes of others already in the game developing emerging web and multimedia technologies but was figuratively shoving it down their throats.

Naturally, those emerging companies cried foul.

And this arrogance, this hubris would taint Microsoft to this day. Gone was Chancellor Palpatine who everyone respected for his ability to be politically adept. When Microsoft won the war, it had become Emperor. Well-earned nomenclature or not, the world saw them the Dark Side.

Microsoft crushed Netscape when they made Internet Explorer free and part of Windows. With every PC that came out a manufacturer's door, Microsoft's Internet Explorer was right there. Ordinary people who needed to use the nascent Web naturally would use IE. It was the first thing they saw. For Netscape, a company that sold browsers, who made a living by selling a web browser and suite, how do you fight against the very attractive price of US$0.00 and which came along with your computer, no downloads, no additional install needed?

The seeds of AntiTrust, anti-monopoly, anti-Microsoft revolution begun.

Companies started to fear Microsoft's control and it became evident. They wanted the same freedom to build applications on the Windows platform as the PC but when Microsoft started making the same applications, naturally the upstarts would die.

Everyone had to dance to Microsoft tune. And when people start to feel less free, the seeds of dissent were sowed. Revolutionaries were poised to come out of the shadows and fight a guerilla campaign openly.

Eric S. Raymond wrote a paper called "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and published it online. This paper was more about software development. It was about the fundamental difference between writing software where everyone could see it and writing software behind closed ivory towers (Microsoft's way). In many ways, this paper helped legitimize and bring to mainstream an Open Architecture philosophy to software development in the same way that the IBM PC had opened up the commodity hardware business. The Cathedral and the Bazaar would be the geek version of a Declaration of Independence.

But dissent wasn't just with the geeks.

In the boardroom and the backdoors of silicon valley power--- companies who relied on the Openness of the PC were also revolting. Microsoft held a firm iron grip on them. Microsoft was slowing down innovation by the very nature of the "closeness". But no hardware manufacturer in their right mind would have dumped Microsoft. They'd have no business. It was a symbiotic relationship. The world had standardized on Windows as much as it had standardized on the PC. To dismantle more than 15 years of Microsoft rule would be like throwing stones at a rushing Jumbo Jet.

Much had change by 1998. The wheel was once more poised to turn. The Internet revolution had brought the network to early adapters and it was fast becoming mainstream. In accelerated the development and adaption of Linux, the world over. In Mountain View, Google was born. And Netscape, after reading Raymond's paper had announced it was opening up its browser and giving it away for free. The Open Source revolution went mainstream.

In Red Hat co-founder Robert Young's "Under the Radar" book about the rise of Red Hat, he wrote this about Intel:

Executives at the highest levels at the company had long recognized that proprietary operating system manufacturers were not moving their operating systems forward as quickly as Intel was advancing microprocessor technology. That is, Intel was being held hostage by those that controled the operating system. If it had new technology available at the processor level that would allow computer users to do new things, it had to wait until the Operating System supplier decided it was willing to build support for these features into the system.
With an open source operating system, Intel could enhance the operating system itself if to s desired, to support its new chip technology. It then could contribute the enhanced software back to everyone who was using Linux, for example. This represented the first time that operating system development might e able to keep up with the new hardware that Intel was brining to market.
Moreover, the though that it could itself begin to tune an operating system to take immediate advantage of any new chip technology it pleased was a very attractive one to Intel, which had been in lockstep with Microsoft for more than a decade.
In the latter half of the 19990s, arbitration began and Microsoft would be subject to Anti-trust hearings the world over.

Civil War was on. Companies disgruntled with the Microsoft Empire had revolted.

Young wrote further:
...the evidence showed that Microsoft was in a position to call all the shots, often bullying its supposed business partners to limit themselves to Microsoft-owned technology. Microsoft appeared to have gone so far as to dictate how fast other companies could bring out new products--- or if they could bring them out at all, for that matter.
Young continued:
...Intel vice president Steven McGeady would testify that Microsoft threatened to withhold critical technical support from intel if the chipmaker did not stop developing software that Microsoft believed competed with its own product strategies.

But Intel's eagerness to participate in the open source business had nothing to do with any animosity the chip giant had toward its partner Microsoft. Instead, Intel was about to embark on a strategic partnership that had everything to do with smart business.
If during the late 1990s, Linux's rebel hackers and companies like Intel were fighting to unshackle themselves from a Microsoft Empire, another unlikely Revolution was creeping from a different front. An old friend of Microsoft from the 1980s had returned to the company he founded. And boy, was he back with a vengeance.


Jenny said...

Gud effort, Got to know so many things Frm here.


Cocoy said...