The Great Redmond Photocopier
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – according to Picasso, Microsoft is one of the greatest artists in the technology industry today. Here is a carefully compiled list of all Microsoft products considered to be derivatives of other works, and the research behind the facts.
This is not just another “Microsoft sucks” rant. Microsoft’s products vary across many markets and varieties, and this list is not designed to be blindly critical of Microsoft as many pro-Linux and pro-Apple blogs and other news sites are. We at The Coffee Desk hold a neutral standpoint when it comes to preferred products/platforms, and we uphold this in our attempts at presenting unbiased news and other current events in the technology industry.
Now, all that aside, let’s examine some of Microsoft’s products, both past and present, and the products surrounding them that act as “inspiration” to their overall design, presented by several of the writers of The Coffee Desk:
The .net Framework
The first product looked at here is Microsoft’s .net framework, and the C# language that popularized it among developers. A long long time ago, in a decade not too far away, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems were partners involved in Java and the Java Runtime Environment (JVM).
Sun originally licensed Java to Microsoft so Microsoft could aid in the development of the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine (MSJVM), the specially-developed Java runtime for the Windows platform. However, in a typical Microsoft fashion, Microsoft both created non-standard extensions to the language (calling it Visual J++), in addition to not supporting key features of the standard Java specification, namely the Java Native Interface (JNI) and Remote Method Invocation (RMI).
In the flurry of lawsuits against Microsoft by IBM, Netscape, Novell and friends, Sun decided to add a lawsuit of their own demanding the termination of MSJVM distribution. Microsoft stopped supporting it after the suit (with the exception of security fixes), and stopped supporting it completely in 2007, also one of the reasons Windows Millennium is shunned on their support website as it was one of the last operating systems to ship with the MSJVM.
So, what did Microsoft do with all that MSJVM code after they were told not to distribute it for Java anymore? Rename it .net, add some extensions to the core to create the additional languages J# and C# utilizing additional documented Windows API features, and bam – you have a language that replaces Java for the Windows platform (and the Windows Platform only, Until Mono came along), and looks attractive to developers as a productive language and users as a “solution” to DLL Hell (but created runtime hell). That, my readers, is how .net came to be.
Now this is a good one: A long time ago, back somewhere around 1984 when IBM and the young Microsoft were still wearing their “friends for life” necklaces, Microsoft and IBM began development on what Steve Ballmer (aka “Buy Windows 1.0 Today”) would call “Windows Plus”, aka Microsoft OS/2. OS/2 was an advanced system for the time, offering several enhancements not available to other DOS/Windows-based platforms at the time, and even Mac systems, including HPFS, one of the first filesystems to place the root at the middle of the drive rather than at the top so seek time is lower on average, in addition to supporting longer filenames and more anti-fragmentation protection.
However, around the time the Windows 3.x series was released, Microsoft started weighing the sales of non-IBM aided Windows with the issues arising with OS/2 development. Microsoft programmers hated IBM’s “lines of code” employee productivity scale, and Microsoft had a differing architectural target for OS/2, but the most surprising issue between IBM and Microsoft was Microsoft’s ironic disapproval of IBM’s restriction of OS/2 to their hardware, supporting few others in order to drive the sales of proprietary IBM hardware.
That said, IBM joined the other lawsuits against Microsoft and OS/2 was no longer developed by Microsoft (IBM developed OS/2 3 and “Warp” 4 after Microsoft left). However, Microsoft used an astonishing amount of the leftover OS/2 code in their new developmental operating system “Windows NT”, even to the point where entire subdirectories contained nothing but OS/2 code both for compatibility, and to prevent “reinventing the wheel” as far as a relatively non-DOS, advanced subsystem went.
One of the biggest things taken from OS/2, however, was the High Performance File System (HPFS), or as its called now, NTFS (New Technology File System). While many of the HPFS features remained in NTFS, NTFS did add some features not present in HPFS (therefore, making it legally “different”), although the partition identifier remained the same as HPFS’s identifier, complicating matters for future filesystem-sensitive applications. HPFS is almost completely gone today, but still lives on under the new name NTFS, with a few added features.
Not too much can be said in this section, but what was originally the codebase for MS-DOS was an operating system bought from Seattle Computing by the founding members of Microsoft so they had something to show for IBM to ship on their computers. MS-DOS as it came to be known is the basis of the early versions of Windows, and comprises a crucial part of the subsystem of the Windows 9x/Me series of Operating systems, so the fact that it was originally bought and written by somebody else is worth mentioning on this list.
Probably the biggest product line on this list, Windows came from a number of inspirations, some more obscure than others. Despite what The Pirates of Silicon Valley would lead you to believe, the original inspiration of Microsoft Windows was not entirely the Macintosh graphical user interface, although it did play an important role in the development of Windows aided by Microsoft’s close relationship with Apple at the time.
In addition to Lisa and the original Macintosh, Microsoft’s Bill Gates attended a seminar showing a demo of VisiCorp’s VisiOn, a short-lived Graphical user interface operating system made for the IBM PC in the early 1980′s. Bill Gates loved it so much, he flew in other Microsoft execs to view it as well, and shortly thereafter, Windows 1.0 was born, starting a brand of Microsoft operating systems that would come to dominate the Desktop computer market for many years to come.
Starting off our line of Vista rips is the Windows Sidebar. We won’t go into too much detail about Sidebar, since its history is pretty cut and dry: There was Dashboard, there was the Yahoo! Widgets engine, and then there was Sidebar. However, it is worth noting that Microsoft did actually create what could be the first (engine/API independent) gadget/widget known to GUIs, the Windows NT clock. If you have an old copy of Windows NT 4 hanging around, fire it up, open up the clock program, set it analog and double click it – instantly the window frame visibly disappears, leaving a simple round clock for you to drag around, a la what we now know as a widget or gadget, depending on whom you ask.
Also known as the netscape-killer, Internet Explorer is the most popular web browser on the internet thanks to its ties to Windows (see above) being pre-installed on the majority of desktop computers, cornering the majority of the market share. Internet Explorer is on the list because it was originally based on the code for Spyglass Mosaic (contrary to the popular belief that it was based off NCSA Mosaic, although Spyglass’s Mosaic was, in fact, based off of NCSA’s mosaic).
The fact that Internet Explorer is based off of Mosaic is confirmed in all of the Internet Explorer “about” dialog boxes, at least up to Internet Explorer 6 as far as I know. As far as being standards-compliant goes (oh yes, here it comes) – most web browsers and rendering engines are busy trying to pass the Acid3 test, while Internet Explorer 8 beta made news fairly recently regarding finally passing Acid2. Internet Explorer has come a long ways since its days of being a graduated Mosaic browser, but it still is behind in the face of other browsers and its proprietary extensions makes it one of the worst products for Microsoft to have as a predominately used application, although the Mozilla Firefox browser (based partly on Netscape) is trying to fix this.
User Account Control
After Windows has had the worst time in the history of operating systems with viruses, UAC attempts to remedy this by asking the user’s permission (over and over and over…) to run an application utilizing privileged instructions. With the administrator account in all Windows versions lower than Vista an utter joke to users, Windows obviously inherited its security from other systems.
Mac OS X has had a decent graphical front end to ye olde Unix-style permissions ever since it came out, and has kept a fairly low virus rate despite its low desktop usage compared to Windows. Between the Mac OS X password prompt and the gksu executable in Linux, Microsoft had plenty of inspiration for their UAC protection suite, which did little more than piss off Windows users, whom are used to having an insecure system.
A popular story a few weeks ago, Microsoft’s new ‘M’ programming for its new Oslo application modeling suite received early press, but not without some observations as par its “originality”. Some say its a carbon copy of an earlier D language, while some say its the recycled version of Microsoft’s failed version of D. Others claim its a copy of MUMPS, an older language used in the health care industry and not really general purpose. Whatever the case, its been here before, and Microsoft is trying to reinvent it as a new approach to object oriented programming with its .net framework and Oslo strategy.
Google – the name itself is enough to make Steve Ballmer hurl a chair across the room, a beautiful sight to some. Google has dominated the search engine and ad market share for quite a while, and Microsoft has set out to change that with Live search, the web search engine that integrates with their Live services for Windows suite, also offering ads. While Live has yet to catch on as far as search engines go compared to Google and even Yahoo!, Microsoft has still put it out there, hoping for the best, with usage primarily driven by Live search being the default search provider in modern Internet Explorer versions. Live is primarily based off the MSN search engine, with some crawler and search enhancements made to it in the Live revamp in order to compete with Google, Yahoo!, and Ask.com to a lesser extent.
One of Microsoft’s most unsuccessful promoted products is the “cross-platform” (meaning it works on Vista AND Xp) Flash duplicate, Silverlight. The “inspiration” here is pretty obvious, as Adobe Flash is used all across the internet and has been for the last decade. Microsoft is attempting to use only products with their name in it on their websites and services here, and heavy promotion has been put in to the product – from asking users to download it on their website, to the release of Jackass 2.5 exclusively for Silverlight (prompting virus writers to write a fake plugin prompt almost immediately on copycat sites).
I personally was an early silverlight adopter, and I went through the notions of learning the horrible, horrible language known as the eXtensible Mrkup Language (XAML, somehow or another). The new Silverlight has attempted to rope in more veteran developers with its ties to the .net framework, and undoubtebly many will take it up. But Adobe has Microsoft beat on releasing the Flash player for ALL platforms, instead of relying on a parter to build a half-assed plugin (moonlight) in order to play on Linux. A product with little potential compared to Flash, its “inspiration”, and another example of Microsoft venturing into areas where they would best stay out of, or at least copy/emulate better.
While not all of Microsoft’s products are blatant feature copiers of other applications, they do continue to develop a fairly decent product list that currently spans a wide variety of technology categories. We can’t knock Microsoft completely for their products, because how many of us or other companies have ever copied a feature we liked from another product? We’re all guilty here, and really even the original authors had inspiration from somewhere.
With that, I leave you with a word from Apple’s Bertrand Serlet on some of Apple’s original features found in Microsoft products. Enjoy.