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Old 01-20-2020, 12:23 PM
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What were the browser wars of the 1990s?


I remember hearing about browser wars and dot com companies making millions back in the 1990s. Did internet companies then care about me using Netscape or Internet Explorer?

Why? Iíve gone from Internet Explorer to Firefox to Chrome over the years with Windows PCs and laptops. I never really thought that any company cared that I use or donít use their browser. My previous job had an old software program that would only run IE and my current part time job claims I can ONLY use google chrome for their software. Not wanting to be fired, I havenít tried it on another browser, but I still donít see what the big deal is.
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Old 01-20-2020, 12:46 PM
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Web pages are more universal now than they used to be. Back in the day, companies cared what browser was used for two reasons 1) They charged companies for the software used to build the web pages; including the use of proprietary html codes only viewable through certain browswers; 2) They initially even charged for commercial use of their browsers. So, while a private user of Netscape Navigator could download the browser for free, corporations had to pay for it. And back then, companies were willing to pay, because it was viewed as any other type of software: commercial licenses cost money.
The war really got crazy when Microsoft did two things. They offered their Internet Explorer for free, even to corporations, and then they included it with every copy of Windows! Netscape sued on anti-trust grounds saying that this constituted a monopoly.
As a result of the lawsuit, Microsoft had to share it's source code. Eventually, everything changed to what we have today where web pages are universal and pretty much nobody cares what browser or computer you have, or what phone you're accessing the page from, etc.
You almost never see a web page with a "Best Viewed with Netscape Navigator 5.0" or whatever on websites anymore. Pages display basically the same no matter what (with the exception of maybe Java-based pages, but that's because it's going away due to security issues; most pages don't require it anymore and some browsers no longer support it).
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Old 01-20-2020, 01:32 PM
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The browser wars of the 1990s were the first skirmish in the Internet Platform War.

Microsoft correctly realized that the Internet was going to be huge, and that whoever controlled the user access to it would sit at a valuable crossroads, able to extract rents from users and producers. But Microsoft already had a powerful platform (Windows) that got them lots of rents. So they released a free browser to kill upstart Netscape.

The general fight is still ongoing, but it's moved beyond web browsers. App stores, search engines, mobile OSes, social networking. They're all attempts to become a middleman that can control what users see and what will be sold to them.

Although web standards keep increasing, the business plan of "embrace and extend" still exists. Google does this a lot. They support all the web standards, but they also keep adding stuff that doesn't work on anything but Chrome, because then Chrome becomes the browser that supports everything, and people start to use Chrome more. Because Google is itself developing a bunch of the products that people want to use with Chrome, they can do so much more effectively and nimbly than their competitors, who have to invest engineering time in supporting the new thing that Youtube or Gmail or Google Earth does.
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Old 01-20-2020, 01:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Bear_Nenno View Post
Pages display basically the same no matter what
True for most things, although Microsoft still has an integration to SharePoint. Some SharePoint features, like opening a library in Windows File Explorer, are available only if you are using a Microsoft browser.
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:58 AM
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The war really got crazy when Microsoft did two things. They offered their Internet Explorer for free, even to corporations, and then they included it with every copy of Windows! Netscape sued on anti-trust grounds saying that this constituted a monopoly.
IIRC, Microsoft basically did some integration work between Windows and IE 3, and then claimed that the browser was part of the operating system, which was why they were giving it away for free.

Microsoft has been fairly infamous for doing this exact thing with other software packages- they leave something out, someone else develops a third-party version, and then Microsoft swoops in, and claims that their competitive offering is "part of the OS", and drives the other guys out of business. In some cases that approach works, and in others it doesn't.
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Old 01-21-2020, 12:13 PM
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It was a big battle at the time with potentially a huge amount of money on the line. Which is why it always amazed me that Netscape and IE were both buggy pieces of absolute crap. I always thought that if either side wanted to actually win the browser war that fixing all of the major bugs would be a good start towards attracting customers. But then both sides were more interested in putting out new features than making existing features work properly.

Because of this emphasis on features and a complete lack of emphasis on bug fixing, many sites practically required one browser or the other in order to work properly, either because the site implemented a feature that wasn't present in the other browser yet or because it implemented a feature that was completely borked in the other browser due to bugs. It wasn't like today when you can visit just about any site on the internet and have it work properly regardless of what browser you are using.

Today there are formal standards that browsers must adhere to, and web sites must also follow if they expect browsers to render their site properly. Back in the IE/Netscape days, there were some basic standards that all browsers were expected to be able to render properly, but IE and Netscape both had numerous advanced features that were not part of any standard. Once a feature became adopted by both browsers, then it would later become part of the rapidly evolving "standards" for web browsers.

Regular users just wanted to be able to surf the entire net using one browser, so the big browser wars between Microsoft and Netscape resulted in a lot of backlash and a push to create industry standards that everyone adhered to, which is where we are today.

Quote:
Originally Posted by iamthewalrus(:3= View Post
Microsoft correctly realized that the Internet was going to be huge, and that whoever controlled the user access to it would sit at a valuable crossroads, able to extract rents from users and producers.
Microsoft was a bit behind the curve, actually. It wasn't until Netscape began making nice big profits that Microsoft got interested. Microsoft can be a bit clueless at times but they smell money better than a shark smells blood in the water. Microsoft ended up licensing Mosaic (the grand-daddy of browsers, who won out in an earlier and much less publicized browser battle) and used Mosaic to create IE 1.0. Microsoft then launched its now-infamous campaign to completely wipe out Netscape.
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Old 01-21-2020, 12:36 PM
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Hereís an article from the time of the anti-trust litigation, dissecting Gatesí memo to MS execs about internet strategy.

The key point from my non-techie perspective is that Gates seemed to think of the Internet as something that he could get market share on,and make money from proprietary controls on his share of the Internet, similar to AOL and Compuserve, only bigger and more Gatesian. He wasnít thinking of it as a wide-open free service that anyone could play with.

If that was his understanding, it makes sense to drive out other browsers, just like Word drove out WordStar and WordPerfect, because the browser would be the key to getting market share and monetizing that share of the internet.

https://www.theregister.co.uk/1998/1...es_discovered/
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Old 01-21-2020, 12:45 PM
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IIRC, Microsoft basically did some integration work between Windows and IE 3, and then claimed that the browser was part of the operating system, which was why they were giving it away for free.

Microsoft has been fairly infamous for doing this exact thing with other software packages- they leave something out, someone else develops a third-party version, and then Microsoft swoops in, and claims that their competitive offering is "part of the OS", and drives the other guys out of business. In some cases that approach works, and in others it doesn't.
In retrospect, history has totally vindicated Microsoft here. Can you imagine an OS shipping without a built-in web browser? It's just part of the bundle of basic software that we expect to be included in any OS these days.

And this tactic is now just normal operation for any OS maker. When a 3rd party utility proves to be useful, it very often makes its way into the default distribution of a future OS release.
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Old 01-21-2020, 12:50 PM
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Can you imagine an OS shipping without a built-in web browser? It's just part of the bundle of basic software that we expect to be included in any OS these days.
Because you need some way to download Chrome.
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:31 PM
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In retrospect, history has totally vindicated Microsoft here. Can you imagine an OS shipping without a built-in web browser? It's just part of the bundle of basic software that we expect to be included in any OS these days.

And this tactic is now just normal operation for any OS maker. When a 3rd party utility proves to be useful, it very often makes its way into the default distribution of a future OS release.
Back then a lot of people new to computers were very nervous about downloading software, and the download process was much slower (think dialup) and more complicated than it is today. The issue was Microsoft trying to discourage computer makers from including Netscape on their products.

The reason computer makers load things on to the computer before shipping it (at least back then) is that with so many hardware configurations, system test requires that the software be tested (at least opened) on the very machine going to the customer. I heard a fascinating talk by someone from Dell on this. They had (20 years ago) hundreds of thousands of possible hardware configurations.
The browser is not part of the OS, despite what Microsoft claimed, since you can get along fine without using IE or now Edge ever.
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:45 PM
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Because you need some way to download Chrome.
You just go down to Fry's and purchase the Chrome CD and install it on your computer, right?

If your tablet doesn't have a CD reader, it's obviously defective and you should exchange it for a new one.
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:46 PM
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Can you completely delete Explorer and Edge from your Windows system without affecting functionality?
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:49 PM
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Although web standards keep increasing, the business plan of "embrace and extend" still exists. Google does this a lot. They support all the web standards, but they also keep adding stuff that doesn't work on anything but Chrome, because then Chrome becomes the browser that supports everything, and people start to use Chrome more. Because Google is itself developing a bunch of the products that people want to use with Chrome, they can do so much more effectively and nimbly than their competitors, who have to invest engineering time in supporting the new thing that Youtube or Gmail or Google Earth does.
It makes sense that Google would do all this, because they are foremost a spyware operation, so having their own browser is their natural product.

Here's a report from Washington Post on Chrome:

Goodbye, Chrome: Googleís Web browser has become spy software, Geoffrey A. Fowler, Technology Columnist, Washington Post, July 21, 2019.

Quote:
Our latest privacy experiment found Chrome ushered more than 11,000 tracker cookies into our browser ó in a single week. Hereís why Firefox is better.

. . .

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker ďcookiesĒ that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.

Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan serviceís log-in pages.
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:13 PM
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In retrospect, history has totally vindicated Microsoft here. Can you imagine an OS shipping without a built-in web browser? It's just part of the bundle of basic software that we expect to be included in any OS these days.

And this tactic is now just normal operation for any OS maker. When a 3rd party utility proves to be useful, it very often makes its way into the default distribution of a future OS release.
It's a little more complex then that. The integration of "The Browser" into "The OS" gave MS an "active desktop" --- like the home screen of an iPhone or Android smartphone. And HTML email -- like the email you read in your gmail app or in your web browser. And hypertext help. And other stuff.

In retrospect they were right, but at the time, none of their users cared, and the whole "integrated into the OS" thing was seen as just a dishonest excuse for bundling the browser with the OS.

Perhaps it was just a dishonest excuse. But it's certainly interesting to see that the user interface ideas they were building in 1995 became popular in 2010.
And it's tempting to think that the reason their UI design stagnated is because (a) users didn't want an active desktop or dynamic Apps in 2000, and (b) their technology direction for providing an interactive OS and App interface was blocked by the courts.
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:38 PM
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IIRC, Microsoft basically did some integration work between Windows and IE 3, and then claimed that the browser was part of the operating system, which was why they were giving it away for free.
This was a key point MS repeatedly claimed during the antitrust trial*. But then the government brought in witnesses who showed how easy it was to remove IE completely without affecting anything.

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Today there are formal standards that browsers must adhere to, and web sites must also follow if they expect browsers to render their site properly.
Oh, hahahahaha. Wow. That's funny. Right. "Standards" that both browsers and web sites "must" adhere to. Good one.

* Thanks to that and similar trials we somehow magically got the idea that you're not a monopoly if you don't have 100% of the market. Companies used to get knocked back when they tried to grab 40% of the market. E.g., when Office Depot tried to take over Office Max the first time.
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:43 PM
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This was a key point MS repeatedly claimed during the antitrust trial*. But then the government brought in witnesses who showed how easy it was to remove IE completely without affecting anything.
That's my question, which I asked upthread: is it possible to delete Explorer and Edge entirely from current Windows? Can Windows operate without those apps?
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Old 01-21-2020, 05:07 PM
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Browsers don't put cookies onto your computer; webpages do. And any browser can be configured to change which cookies get allowed and which don't.
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Old 01-21-2020, 05:20 PM
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Back then a lot of people new to computers were very nervous about downloading software, and the download process was much slower (think dialup) and more complicated than it is today. The issue was Microsoft trying to discourage computer makers from including Netscape on their products.
I mean, yes, but you can read that as malicious (as the Justice Department did) or as benign. The benign reading is that Microsoft saw that people were going to need a browser and that including that functionality in their bundle of services would make Windows a better product that would make more people buy it.

This is really common in software, and Microsoft is basically the only one who ever got punished for it. You used to have to buy separate software to compress and decompress files. Now Windows just does it. You used to have to buy separate software to decode and play certain types of media. Now Windows just does it. You used to have to buy separate software to change the color temperature of your monitor when the sun goes down. Now iOS (and I think Android?) just include that feature.

I'm not sure I buy the argument that users don't care about these things, either. Sure, if you ask users if they want html email, many of them will have no idea what you're talking about, but almost everyone uses html email these days. Any modern OS that shipped with an email client (and, yes, every OS should ship with a built-in email client) that didn't support html email would be rightly and roundly derided.

So if you buy the idea that today an OS should ship with this kind of support and they didn't used to, it seems hard to make the argument that the specific point at which Microsoft added that support was anticompetitive and not just building the future of operating systems we know today.

Quote:
The browser is not part of the OS, despite what Microsoft claimed, since you can get along fine without using IE or now Edge ever.
I think you might be using a different definition for "part of the OS". You can get along fine without using a window manager too, but that doesn't make it not part of the OS. The OS that Microsoft sells is a massive bundle of different pieces of software, and they decided to include a browser in that bundle. Also, according to Microsoft, they made technical decisions in the design that caused code to be shared between the browser and other components of the OS.

Again, you can read those decisions as malicious: MS didn't really need to tightly tie their browser code into other code, they did it to make a fake legal argument that they couldn't pull the browser. But that kind of thing happens for non-nefarious reasons all the time in software. Once you have a bit of code that does something, it's very easy for other places where you need to do that thing to just use the code that exists. If you look at Microsofts source in general, I expect that this is common and had nothing to do with any legal arguments they might have needed to make.

Northern Piper, I expect that the answer to your question is going to rely heavily on the specific semantics of what it means to delete software entirely. Can you remove the application framework that is called "Explorer" or "Edge"? Probably pretty easily. Can you remove all the library code that actually does html rendering? Almost certainly not. If you do the former but not the latter, can someone manage to render a webpage in some unholy combination of default shipping Windows pieces? Maybe...
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:12 PM
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I mean, yes, but you can read that as malicious (as the Justice Department did) or as benign.
All this is just re-arguing the are they or aren't they question about Microsoft and monopoly abuse 25 years ago. There are a few big differences between now and then. Back then Microsoft had a monopoly in the desktop market. A few also rans, and this silly company called Apple (not worth buying any stock in them), held a few percent of the market compared to Microsoft's behemoth share.

A key factor for Microsoft was the lock they held over computer manufacturers. PCs would not sell without Windows, and don't bother arguing a few niche cases, I'm talking Circuit City, CDW, and corporate contracts. In order to get favorable pricing from Microsoft the computer sellers had to do things like pay for a Windows license for all computers they sold, whether it contained Windows or not. They also were very limited in what they could add or remove from the base Windows install. Add a bunch of bloatware crap? Absolutely, go nuts, just don't install anything that competes with a core Microsoft product. Remove something Microsoft thinks should be installed? Never.

So at this point Microsoft is already taking advantage of the monopoly status of Windows to try and keep Windows dominant in the market.

Then the Internet comes up and takes Microsoft by surprise. They buy a browser, and include it with Windows. Remember, OEMs are not allowed to remove the browser or install a competing one. All of the sudden Microsoft goes from barely acknowledging the Internet exists (trumpet winsock anyone?) to having a huge share of the browser market.

The next step is to attempt to leverage this share of the browser market into Windows lock-in for the Internet. This brought about lots of Internet Explorer specific html extensions and ActiveX (how did we get this far in the thread without mentioning ActiveX?).

Back then JavaScript was not nearly as powerful as today, HTML5 was decades away, and dynamic websites required things like Java, Flash, Shockwave, and ActiveX. Microsoft's dream was that the web wouldn't be OS independent, as it is (mostly) today, but rather someplace that required Windows and Internet Explorer to visit. They even came out with Internet Explorer for the Mac, to suck up that last few percent of the commercial desktop space.

Those of us who used alternative OSes back then can remember a time of pain when any given website might not work properly anywhere except Internet Explorer. Sometimes it was just bling and doodads that broke, but often it was core functionality. I changed banks just to get to one with a website that didn't require Internet Explorer; back when online banking was rare and special.

The trial ended with a slap on the wrist for Microsoft, but it scared them enough that they backed off most of the worst of these plans. Other things happened, like standards became more important, java applets and ActiveX died out, while flash hung on for a decade or so, mostly because it was necessary to watch youtube and Homestarrunner.

Since that time, and even back then, Microsoft integrated many other things into the default install of Windows, such as the mentioned media playback and compression. Some of that isn't a big deal, because the danger to open computing is not nearly as severe as a closed web would have been. For example, it might be bad if you make WinZip, but not a problem for everybody else. Also, monopoly enforcement has gotten even more relaxed since then, so a behavior that might have triggered an investigation in 1995 is good for investors today.
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Old 01-21-2020, 08:02 PM
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All this is just re-arguing the are they or aren't they question about Microsoft and monopoly abuse 25 years ago.
Yeah, exactly. I'm saying with the benefit of hindsight, it's not obvious to me that Microsoft was in the wrong here. Again, you can read their actions as malicious, but you can also say that Microsoft saw that people wanted web browsers and decided to bundle one in with the rest of their product. Because it makes Windows better.

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Back then Microsoft had a monopoly in the desktop market. A few also rans, and this silly company called Apple (not worth buying any stock in them), held a few percent of the market compared to Microsoft's behemoth share.
Shouldn't the takeaway from the way that history turned out indicate that Microsoft didn't actually have the stranglehold that people thought they did? Apple beat them despite it (and, for what it's worth, Apple's dominant OS comes with a browser pre-installed and you're not allowed to install other ones ) Google beat them despite OS and browser dominance. Amazon(!) beat them, despite being a bookstore at the time (?).

I also think it's notable that no one pays for web browsers these days. For a long time Opera was paid software, but I can't figure out how to buy anything from them these days. Are there any paid web browsers left? One interpretation of this is that Microsoft so crushed Netflix that they changed the course of software history, but I think that's wrong. I think the conclusion that we should draw is that browsers were inevitably going to become part of the basic bundled functionality included by operating systems. The arc of software development is long, but it bends toward free.

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A key factor for Microsoft was the lock they held over computer manufacturers. PCs would not sell without Windows, and don't bother arguing a few niche cases, I'm talking Circuit City, CDW, and corporate contracts. In order to get favorable pricing from Microsoft the computer sellers had to do things like pay for a Windows license for all computers they sold, whether it contained Windows or not.
Aren't those statements kind of contradictory? I mean, if computers won't sell without Windows, then having to pay a license for all computers seems more like a way of keeping OEMs from not actually paying for all the windows licenses they used (which was a real problem in those days) than it was of nefarious actions.

Quote:
They also were very limited in what they could add or remove from the base Windows install. Add a bunch of bloatware crap? Absolutely, go nuts, just don't install anything that competes with a core Microsoft product. Remove something Microsoft thinks should be installed? Never.
I read the Federal Complaint, and it doesn't say that OEMs couldn't install other stuff. It just said they couldn't alter the standard boot sequence or desktop appearance. Again, the non-malicious interpretation of this isn't hard to see. Microsoft wants there to be a uniform look to Windows computers because they want anyone who's booted up and started using a Windows computer to be familiar with them. Ask anyone who did tech support in the 90s, and it's pretty important that a random user with very limited technical skills just had to know "double click on the blue e to get internets". That makes the Windows experience better. It's bad for Netscape, but in many ways I think that it's probably net better for most people. Just like every time Apple releases a new iOS feature that used to be a paid app it's bad for the developers of the app, but it's great for me and the legions of other iPhone users, who now get a cool new feature for free.

And the tumultuous history of all the companies that outcompeted Microsoft despite their alleged market dominance makes me suspect that their alleged power to abuse their monopoly wasn't nearly as big as anyone thought. I mean, I owned a Windows phone, one of the pre-iPhone fullscreen ones. They had those for years before the iPhone! And total desktop dominance! They were surely going to own that market too. But they lost to Apple because they sucked. Just like Internet Explorer lost to Firefox and Chrome despite all its advantages. It sucked and the market responded.

ETA: I typed "Netflix" instead of "Netscape" like a dozen times. I think I caught them all, but if not: I meant Netscape.

Last edited by iamthewalrus(:3=; 01-21-2020 at 08:04 PM.
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Old 01-21-2020, 08:26 PM
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You really need to have been there at the time.

As mentioned above, it wasn't about the browser, it was about control of the ecosystem. Fast forward to today and you can see where Microsoft wanted to get to - they are called Facebook and Google. One of the other land-grabs was single sign on. Microsoft pushed hard on that one. Nowadays how many sites give you the option to sign on with Google or Facebook? MS lost that one too.

There was a feeling back then (and I shared it) that the browser paradigm was more important than just the Web, and that the core idea had the potential to take over the desktop paradigm and application interface paradigms. I'm sure MS though there was legs in this. It is still true, but it has taken until HTML5 to get the tools into any sort of shape. Which is why adding the core libraries to the OS does make sense. (Folders and desktop is so 1970's)

Netscape felt they were in danger of being wiped out, and that would have left the Unix world in serious trouble. This was a long game play by MS. They viewed control of the browser market as leverage towards control of much more. Removing this control, even if IE remained the dominant browser was the key part of the war.
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Old 01-21-2020, 09:43 PM
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You really need to have been there at the time.
I was there at the time. I was on the internet before the web. I have run every major version of Windows since 3.1 (except, I think, ME). And I generally agreed at the time. But now I don't. Because we have more information now and we should use that information to reexamine our previous beliefs.

What I'm saying is that looking how technology played out, I think I was wrong. Because Microsoft didn't manage to parlay their desktop dominance into all those new markets. Yeah, IE was the top browser for a while because heavy-handedness. But, honestly, not for very long. And it lost out to better browsers. Google beat Microsoft at search because it was better. Apple beat Microsoft at phones because they were better. Most cases where a tech giant tries to squash a competitor through sheer force of leaning on their existing dominant market fail, and they do so at fairly ruinous expense to the tech giant (See: Bing, Google+, Windows phone (the not-as-sucky one post iPhone)) and the conclusion I draw from that is that it's a lot harder to turn market dominance in one area into dominance in another one in tech. That wasn't obvious in the 90s, but it is now.
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:26 PM
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In retrospect, history has totally vindicated Microsoft here. Can you imagine an OS shipping without a built-in web browser?
I used chameleon so yes, yes I can.
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:48 PM
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Originally Posted by iamthewalrus(:3= View Post
Aren't those statements kind of contradictory? I mean, if computers won't sell without Windows, then having to pay a license for all computers seems more like a way of keeping OEMs from not actually paying for all the windows licenses they used (which was a real problem in those days) than it was of nefarious actions.
The object was to prevent OEMs from even taking a risk on alternative operating systems. No OEM could afford to alienate Microsoft; pay the full price for Windows; or sell computers without Windows, but that they'd still paid for a Windows license on. So if you wanted to run OS/2 on a store bought (or mail order) computer the only choice was to get it with Windows, then buy OS/2 and install it yourself. (Yes, there were a few exceptions, but saying that something is only 95% of the market pretty much confirms it's a monopoly.)

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Originally Posted by iamthewalrus(:3= View Post
I was there at the time. I was on the internet before the web. I have run every major version of Windows since 3.1 (except, I think, ME). And I generally agreed at the time. But now I don't. Because we have more information now and we should use that information to reexamine our previous beliefs.

What I'm saying is that looking how technology played out, I think I was wrong. Because Microsoft didn't manage to parlay their desktop dominance into all those new markets. Yeah, IE was the top browser for a while because heavy-handedness. But, honestly, not for very long. And it lost out to better browsers. Google beat Microsoft at search because it was better. Apple beat Microsoft at phones because they were better. Most cases where a tech giant tries to squash a competitor through sheer force of leaning on their existing dominant market fail, and they do so at fairly ruinous expense to the tech giant (See: Bing, Google+, Windows phone (the not-as-sucky one post iPhone)) and the conclusion I draw from that is that it's a lot harder to turn market dominance in one area into dominance in another one in tech. That wasn't obvious in the 90s, but it is now.
I see a key difference, I was there at the time, too, and I was not running any version of Windows. I was running every alternative OS to Windows I could find, from OS/2 to commercial Unixes, Pre-X MacOS, and finally Linux.

Saying in hindsight that none of the dire predictions about Microsoft came true, is a bit like saying that none of the Y2K predictions came true. In Y2K lots of people worked very hard to prevent the predictions from coming true. In Microsoft's case, we only have the world in which they moderated their behavior as a result of the trial. Perhaps if they'd been left to run at full tilt under the direction of a competent monopolist, Bill Gates, the world would look very different than it does today. Earlier that decade Gates had managed to crush WordPerfect and Lotus 123 by parlaying Windows dominance into application dominance.

Google didn't beat Microsoft in search, Google beat Digital's Alta Vista. Microsoft was busy messing around with MSN to take out AOL. Apple is not a monopoly, so the rules are different. Yes, smart phones are a duopoly at the moment, but there is an alternative to Apple.
  #25  
Old 01-22-2020, 02:19 AM
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Because you need some way to download Chrome.
Yes. It's called wget.
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Old 01-22-2020, 02:29 AM
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I mean, yes, but you can read that as malicious (as the Justice Department did) or as benign. The benign reading is that Microsoft saw that people were going to need a browser and that including that functionality in their bundle of services would make Windows a better product that would make more people buy it.

This is really common in software, and Microsoft is basically the only one who ever got punished for it. You used to have to buy separate software to compress and decompress files. Now Windows just does it. You used to have to buy separate software to decode and play certain types of media. Now Windows just does it. You used to have to buy separate software to change the color temperature of your monitor when the sun goes down. Now iOS (and I think Android?) just include that feature.
For the most part, people don't buy Windows, Computer OEMs buy Windows. Unless you build your own machine, if you want to run Linux you do it on a machine that ships with Windows.
You are right about the auxiliary programs. Microsoft destroyed a whole bunch of companies trying to make a living on this kind of stuff. They could do it thanks to their monopoly power. Now you can usually either use what is shipped or download open source equivalents, all free. (To the end user.)

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I'm not sure I buy the argument that users don't care about these things, either. Sure, if you ask users if they want html email, many of them will have no idea what you're talking about, but almost everyone uses html email these days. Any modern OS that shipped with an email client (and, yes, every OS should ship with a built-in email client) that didn't support html email would be rightly and roundly derided.

So if you buy the idea that today an OS should ship with this kind of support and they didn't used to, it seems hard to make the argument that the specific point at which Microsoft added that support was anticompetitive and not just building the future of operating systems we know today.
I never said that users didn't care about these things. Back then there was a large perceived hurdle to them getting software not included with the computer. I know - I installed tons of packages for people too nervous to do it themselves. I don't think that's too common today.
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I think you might be using a different definition for "part of the OS". You can get along fine without using a window manager too, but that doesn't make it not part of the OS. The OS that Microsoft sells is a massive bundle of different pieces of software, and they decided to include a browser in that bundle. Also, according to Microsoft, they made technical decisions in the design that caused code to be shared between the browser and other components of the OS.
I taught operating systems, (long before there was a Windows) so I might have a more rigorous definition of operating system. Throwing stuff into the distribution doesn't make it a part of the OS. Windows used to ship with solitaire - was solitaire part of the OS.
By browser I mean the internet surfing part which Netscape made. IE adapted to be a file manager is a part of the OS, but reusing some code from program X in the OS doesn't make the entire program a part of the OS.
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Again, you can read those decisions as malicious: MS didn't really need to tightly tie their browser code into other code, they did it to make a fake legal argument that they couldn't pull the browser. But that kind of thing happens for non-nefarious reasons all the time in software. Once you have a bit of code that does something, it's very easy for other places where you need to do that thing to just use the code that exists. If you look at Microsofts source in general, I expect that this is common and had nothing to do with any legal arguments they might have needed to make.
See above. I read a rather large book on the case. Nefarious, malicious yes. Illegal, maybe.
Good for the industry. Probably. There was a story in Analog, before Windows and the de facto PC standard, which gave a world with cars that couldn't drive on all roads or fill up at all gas stations as an analogy to the fragmented computer environment before the IBM PC.
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Old 01-22-2020, 02:36 AM
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I did web design for a couple of local political campaigns in the early 2000's and it was a major PITA making sure everything I did was compatible with both Internet Explorer and Netscape. No browser check/autoswitch/alternate layout allowed since that may lead to "What are you trying to hide with two versions of the webpage?". I also had to make sure that the page loaded as quickly as possible on even the slowest dialup. I used a program that you could dial in simulated latency down to 14.4K for testing.

Even worse was when I had to make a webpage for a public elementary school. Full ADA compliance required. The site didn't look great, but hey, it was compliant.
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Old 01-22-2020, 02:39 AM
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I also think it's notable that no one pays for web browsers these days. For a long time Opera was paid software, but I can't figure out how to buy anything from them these days. Are there any paid web browsers left? One interpretation of this is that Microsoft so crushed Netflix that they changed the course of software history, but I think that's wrong. I think the conclusion that we should draw is that browsers were inevitably going to become part of the basic bundled functionality included by operating systems. The arc of software development is long, but it bends toward free.
The reason browsers are free it that enough of them are made by companies that have good business reasons to make them free or are open source that any competitor that isn't free would soon die unless it had some tremendous advantage.
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Aren't those statements kind of contradictory? I mean, if computers won't sell without Windows, then having to pay a license for all computers seems more like a way of keeping OEMs from not actually paying for all the windows licenses they used (which was a real problem in those days) than it was of nefarious actions.
What if an OEM wanted to try to sell an OS/2 machine or a Linux machine? They basically couldn't effectively since they would be paying for Windows licenses they wouldn't be using. Lots of machines can be ordered with Office, but the OEMs don't have to buy licenses for all machines. Microsoft can track this just fine.
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Old 01-22-2020, 02:41 AM
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I did web design for a couple of local political campaigns in the early 2000's and it was a major PITA making sure everything I did was compatible with both Internet Explorer and Netscape. No browser check/autoswitch/alternate layout allowed since that may lead to "What are you trying to hide with two versions of the webpage?". I also had to make sure that the page loaded as quickly as possible on even the slowest dialup. I used a program that you could dial in simulated latency down to 14.4K for testing.

Even worse was when I had to make a webpage for a public elementary school. Full ADA compliance required. The site didn't look great, but hey, it was compliant.
I have a somewhat old HTML book, and for each tag there are standard options and IE options. I used to run into many website that broke for anything but IE - that was the only reason I ever used it.
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Old 01-22-2020, 09:08 AM
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In retrospect, history has totally vindicated Microsoft here. Can you imagine an OS shipping without a built-in web browser? It's just part of the bundle of basic software that we expect to be included in any OS these days.

And this tactic is now just normal operation for any OS maker. When a 3rd party utility proves to be useful, it very often makes its way into the default distribution of a future OS release.
Chicken or egg?

I'd argue that today, on PCs at least, nobody actually expects to use IE or the execrable Edge, and assumes they'll be installing Chrome or Firefox, which is sort of the reanimated corpse of Netscape. On smartphones, sure. But that's not quite the same equation.

Just because OS makers do that, it doesn't make it right. In some cases, they're absolutely right- the old stuff that was third-party in the DOS/Win 3 days like memory managers, caching software, TCP/IP stacks, etc... SHOULD have been part of the OS from the beginning, as they're core OS functionality and that was an oversight on Microsoft's part with DOS (and was mostly rectified with Windows 95).

But others are clearly applications and NOT operating system components- browsers, editors, etc... and I've always though it particularly shitty of Microsoft to essentially wreck those markets instead of actually you know, competing with those companies.

Where do you draw that line? Why is it ok to call IE/Edge "part of the OS" and not the Office tools? I suspect the line is where MS thinks they can make more money vs. where they think they can't.
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Old 01-22-2020, 11:34 AM
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I remember hearing about browser wars and dot com companies making millions back in the 1990s. Did internet companies then care about me using Netscape or Internet Explorer?
Microsoft & Netscape certainly did.

Also, a lot of web pages were thrown together by people who were trying things out (and copying and pasting stuff they'd seen) and not looking at or using standards. And because of different levels of fault tolerance in the different browsers or features added to one browser and not the other, it was very easy to add a line of html that would display fine in one browser and look like a garbled mess in another (often because it wasn't standard html or was less than perfect html in the wrong way.) Designers would also exploit bad html to get a specific effect on a specific browser. (Frames. You could do so many beautiful and horrible things with frames - both intentionally and unintentionally)



A couple of other things to remember - IE wasn't the dominant browser in the 1990s, it only got the highest market share in the 2000s and more importantly after the anti-trust suit. And it only stayed there for a few years, it was pretty quickly overtaken.
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Old 01-22-2020, 12:55 PM
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Saying in hindsight that none of the dire predictions about Microsoft came true, is a bit like saying that none of the Y2K predictions came true. In Y2K lots of people worked very hard to prevent the predictions from coming true. In Microsoft's case, we only have the world in which they moderated their behavior as a result of the trial. Perhaps if they'd been left to run at full tilt under the direction of a competent monopolist, Bill Gates, the world would look very different than it does today. Earlier that decade Gates had managed to crush WordPerfect and Lotus 123 by parlaying Windows dominance into application dominance.
Sure, but we have more than just Microsoft to look at. Google tried to use their search dominance to beat Facebook in social networking. Didn't work. Weirdly enough, lots of companies have tried to unseat Office with free alternatives, but Office continues to be huge! Which is at least some evidence that Office is actually pretty good software (I don't have enough personal experience with it back then to say, but I will say that modern Excel is way better than any alternatives I've used).

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Google didn't beat Microsoft in search, Google beat Digital's Alta Vista.
I think that's a distinction without relevance. My point is that lots of companies made it past the Microsoft juggernaut. The fact that Microsoft wasn't even focused on the ways in which they were being outcompeted until it was too late supports my point.

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I never said that users didn't care about these things.
No, you didn't. That was sloppy formatting by me. Someone else said it and I was responding to them without direct quoting.

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I taught operating systems, (long before there was a Windows) so I might have a more rigorous definition of operating system. Throwing stuff into the distribution doesn't make it a part of the OS. Windows used to ship with solitaire - was solitaire part of the OS.
I'm a software developer, so I also know what the technical definition of an OS is, but that's not how most people see it. Most people see everything, including Solitaire, that's part of the standard distribution as part of the OS. Solitaire's obviously not an essential part of the OS in the sense that the computer will fall over and fail to boot if it's not there, but it might be an essential thing to some customer. Bundles are good.

Speaking of Solitaire, do you think that the justice department should have forced Microsoft to remove it so that rival computer game companies would have a better market for their programs? Why or why not?

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The reason browsers are free it that enough of them are made by companies that have good business reasons to make them free or are open source that any competitor that isn't free would soon die unless it had some tremendous advantage.
Right, I understand that. Do you think that in a parallel universe where Microsoft didn't give IE away for free, we'd still be paying for browsers? Or would basically the same thing have happened, and lots of other companies and open source groups would be giving them away? I think it'd be the latter. I think maybe Netscape would have lasted a little longer, but something as basic and necessary to the modern use of a computer as a browser would not exist as paid software for very long.

So from our vantage point now, where we saw that browsers are basically destined to be free software, it's really hard for me to look at Microsoft, who first gave them away, as a bad guy. Netscape was doomed no matter what. It happened a little bit faster than it might have and we didn't have to waste our money on browser licenses. Win/win!

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Just because OS makers do that, it doesn't make it right. In some cases, they're absolutely right- the old stuff that was third-party in the DOS/Win 3 days like memory managers, caching software, TCP/IP stacks, etc... SHOULD have been part of the OS from the beginning, as they're core OS functionality and that was an oversight on Microsoft's part with DOS (and was mostly rectified with Windows 95).

But others are clearly applications and NOT operating system components- browsers, editors, etc... and I've always though it particularly shitty of Microsoft to essentially wreck those markets instead of actually you know, competing with those companies.

Where do you draw that line? Why is it ok to call IE/Edge "part of the OS" and not the Office tools? I suspect the line is where MS thinks they can make more money vs. where they think they can't.
I think that you draw the line wherever the software seller wants to draw it. Because there's no solid technical place to draw the line. Again, there are OSes that ship without window managers. Clearly a GUI isn't a core part of the OS. But it would be just as absurd to force Microsoft to ship a text-only OS and offer a variety of window managers for people to choose from as it is to force them not to ship a browser.

And if Microsoft wants to ship a free first person shooter, industrial database, or streaming subscription for free in the next version of Windows, that's bad for Epic, Oracle, or Netflix (this time I actually mean Netflix), but good for us.

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  #33  
Old 01-22-2020, 01:44 PM
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I saw this interesting video recently that is basically a graph as it moves through time showing the popularity of the internet browsers from 1996 to mid-2019. I just hunted it down again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc9Oy_zdEwc

Fascinating to see Internet Explorer had 96.8% of the market in Q2 of 2004. What a powerful position they held. It's less than 5% now.

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  #34  
Old 01-22-2020, 02:12 PM
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I saw this interesting video recently that is basically a graph as it moves through time showing the popularity of the internet browsers from 1996 to mid-2019. I just hunted it down again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc9Oy_zdEwc

Fascinating to see Internet Explorer had 96.8% of the market in Q2 of 2004. What a powerful position they held. It's less than 5% now.
That is a fascinating video, and interesting to see how new technologies can really take over old, established technologies that quickly. I'm also a bit surprised at how many people use Opera. I used it for a spell back when it was 0.2% of the market back in 2000.

What was it about Firefox that so quickly propelled it up to the second most-used browser a year after its introduction? Before it enters the fray, we have IE, Netscape Navigator, Opera, and Mosaic (people were still using Mosaic) in 2001 Q4. By 2002 Q1, Firefox jumps in and is already above everyone but IE and Netscape, and by 2003 Q1, it's in second position. It looks like it's on a (slow) trajectory to overtake IE in about ten years, but then Chrome pops in and starts sucking up IE and Firefox users.

Was it just marketing or something more going on here? There's a fantastic business study in there somewhere, which I'm sure somebody must have done. As a user, I can't really say I've found that much a difference between browsers. I enjoyed Opera for a spell because it had "gestures" the other ones didn't have, but I stopped using it -- you know, I don't even know why I stopped using it. I guess I just got used to using other browsers. I currently use Chrome, and I'm not even sure why I use it over my native Safari browser. I think there were some plug-ins I liked and then I just stuck with Chrome.
  #35  
Old 01-22-2020, 02:16 PM
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Sure, but we have more than just Microsoft to look at. Google tried to use their search dominance to beat Facebook in social networking. Didn't work. Weirdly enough, lots of companies have tried to unseat Office with free alternatives, but Office continues to be huge! Which is at least some evidence that Office is actually pretty good software (I don't haI think that you draw the line wherever the software seller wants to draw it. Because there's no solid technical place to draw the line. Again, there are OSes that ship without window managers. Clearly a GUI isn't a core part of the OS. But it would be just as absurd to force Microsoft to ship a text-only OS and offer a variety of window managers for people to choose from as it is to force them not to ship a browser.

And if Microsoft wants to ship a free first person shooter, industrial database, or streaming subscription for free in the next version of Windows, that's bad for Epic, Oracle, or Netflix (this time I actually mean Netflix), but good for us.
The point is that the rules are different for monopolies. Something that might be perfectly fine for one company to do is not fine for another company with a monopoly to do. The important questions are: Did Microsoft have a monopoly? Where they using (or attempting to use) that monopoly to stifle competition in other areas?

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Old 01-22-2020, 02:51 PM
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What was it about Firefox that so quickly propelled it up to the second most-used browser a year after its introduction? Before it enters the fray, we have IE, Netscape Navigator, Opera, and Mosaic (people were still using Mosaic) in 2001 Q4. By 2002 Q1, Firefox jumps in and is already above everyone but IE and Netscape, and by 2003 Q1, it's in second position. It looks like it's on a (slow) trajectory to overtake IE in about ten years, but then Chrome pops in and starts sucking up IE and Firefox users.
As I remember it isn't that firefox was so great (and 2nd place at that time wasn't a huge share, it's 2%, because Microsoft was at 95%) it's that Netscape died. (Confirmation - Time Warner AOL bought it out in 1999 and killed it in 2003.)

It is also interesting to look at that video and remember what was happening, e.g., Firefox starts to take off at around the time that smartphones become more standard - that feels like there might be a correlation.
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Old 01-22-2020, 03:08 PM
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The point is that the rules are different for monopolies. Something that might be perfectly fine for one company to do is not fine for another company with a monopoly to do. The important questions are: Did Microsoft have a monopoly? Where they using (or attempting to use) that monopoly to stifle competition in other areas?
Totally.

And, reiterating my point about time providing a new vantage point, I thought that the answers to those questions were "yes" and "yes" in the 1990s. I'm definitely not saying that this was obviously wrong at the time.

But now I think the answer to the first was "no", because "a monopoly in desktop computers" turned out to be mostly irrelevant, since it was in fact possible to make money shipping computing devices that didn't run Windows, it just wasn't possible to do so in the specific form factor that Microsoft focused on. And the answer to the second one, even if you still think the first is a "yes", is also mostly a "no", because we now know that no one was ever going to make any money selling a web browser for very long so it mostly didn't matter.

amarinth, my recollection is that Firefox actually was that good in comparison, mostly because IE 5 and 6 were truly awful. Like, just incredibly bad. I was mostly an Opera user at the time, which in my opinion really was the technically best browser for a while in the early 2000s, but was eventually eclipsed by Chrome.

I think the correlation between Firefox and smartphones is just "the internet became more important".
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Old 01-22-2020, 03:12 PM
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Right, I understand that. Do you think that in a parallel universe where Microsoft didn't give IE away for free, we'd still be paying for browsers? Or would basically the same thing have happened, and lots of other companies and open source groups would be giving them away? I think it'd be the latter. I think maybe Netscape would have lasted a little longer, but something as basic and necessary to the modern use of a computer as a browser would not exist as paid software for very long.
We're still paying for the OS itself, which is even more necessary. Granted, maybe every computer would be bundled with the browser, same as the OS. Or maybe the browser would have become the OS as its features grew.

But I do think the landscape changes dramatically if Microsoft didn't bundle IE. Netscape has no reason to turn to open source and make Mozilla. KDE has less reason to make a browser for its OS, and no impetus from open source Mozilla. Without KDE, Apple doesn't use open source to make Webkit, though I can't see them not integrating a browser like they chose to integrate other programs, due to the initial low amount of third party support.

From there maybe we get Macs becoming dominant and becoming the impetus for a Mozilla-like project which takes off. Or Microsoft is forced to give IE away for the OS. But it so completely changes everything that I'm not sure open source enters the picture. Open source was a convenience for Apple.

What is your proposed timeline for all this with free Internet Explorer, or the bundling with the OS that makes it feel like an essential part?
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Old 01-22-2020, 03:49 PM
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Yes. It's called wget.
Oooh, you had wget? Lucky dog. I've set up things starting with Lynx to download stuff that wget couldn't grab due to website nonsense. Once just within the last 2 years.
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Old 01-22-2020, 04:09 PM
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But now I think the answer to the first was "no", because "a monopoly in desktop computers" turned out to be mostly irrelevant, since it was in fact possible to make money shipping computing devices that didn't run Windows, it just wasn't possible to do so in the specific form factor that Microsoft focused on. And the answer to the second one, even if you still think the first is a "yes", is also mostly a "no", because we now know that no one was ever going to make any money selling a web browser for very long so it mostly didn't matter.
Not talking about the details of the actual trial, but the impact on technology and the world: It was never about selling browsers, it was about controlling the entire ecosystem of websites. The dream is that to use any website of any complexity you need to have ActiveX, and the only way to get that is by using a Microsoft browser running on a Microsoft OS. They probably would still have come up with Internet Explorer for the Mac, as they did have Office for the Mac, because nobody at the time took Apple too seriously.

The best way to run a Microsoft enhanced website is on IIS, which also only runs on Microsoft OSes, and requires a Microsoft OS on the desktop to manage the servers, and to develop the web pages. The battle isn't about just the browser.

Would the iPhone have been successful if it couldn't use most websites? Maybe, but it was a big deal that iPhones had trouble with Flash and Java applets. At the time of the iPhone's initial release those were still pretty important, but only on some websites, not most sites.

I'm not saying all of that is what would have happened if the trial hadn't occurred, but that is what the fight was about, not about whether companies needed to pay $50/seat for Netscape or get IE as part of Windows.
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Old 01-22-2020, 04:13 PM
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Sure, but we have more than just Microsoft to look at. Google tried to use their search dominance to beat Facebook in social networking. Didn't work. Weirdly enough, lots of companies have tried to unseat Office with free alternatives, but Office continues to be huge! Which is at least some evidence that Office is actually pretty good software (I don't have enough personal experience with it back then to say, but I will say that modern Excel is way better than any alternatives I've used).
We actually talked about Office in business school; it actually got where it is by dint of being superior software and hammering Word Perfect and Lotus 123 into the ground. And at some point, their share of the productivity app world became large enough (tipping point) where to do business, you HAVE to have Word these days, or something very close to it.

But the fact of the matter was the fact that Microsoft had a de-facto monopoly on personal computing operating systems at the time (Apple was a piddly also-ran at that point, and Linux was something that was more of a technical curiosity in 1998).

I can remember discussing it with my boss (the CIO of a small/medium sized business) in 1998- whether our "standard" browser would be Netscape or IE. Basically I advocated for Netscape- faster, and generally better overall, but with a nominal cost. I got overruled by my boss, as IE was free, and his position (which turned out to be correct) was that being free, everyone else would effectively do the same thing we were, and that in short order, websites would be written for IE primarily, with Netscape compatibility an afterthought.

Now was it part of the OS? No. But Microsoft basically used bundling it with the OS as a crowbar to get it on millions of PCs whose owners would never have considered it unless it was free, already present and good enough. That's basically the definition of using your monopolistic power.

Last edited by bump; 01-22-2020 at 04:14 PM.
  #42  
Old 01-22-2020, 05:02 PM
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
What was it about Firefox that so quickly propelled it up to the second most-used browser a year after its introduction? Before it enters the fray, we have IE, Netscape Navigator, Opera, and Mosaic (people were still using Mosaic) in 2001 Q4. By 2002 Q1, Firefox jumps in and is already above everyone but IE and Netscape, and by 2003 Q1, it's in second position. It looks like it's on a (slow) trajectory to overtake IE in about ten years, but then Chrome pops in and starts sucking up IE and Firefox users.

Was it just marketing or something more going on here? There's a fantastic business study in there somewhere, which I'm sure somebody must have done. As a user, I can't really say I've found that much a difference between browsers.
I will give you my POV, from someone who was actively using the Internet from just before the "browser wars" even began... I began life online it in the days of Unix based email, USENET, FTP, and Gopher, and for some time thought the whole graphic webpage thing was annoyingly slow and eye candy content for people who couldn't be bothered to type like a human, but just wanted to move a mouse around.

Hitting a web page for static information, like a directory listing of people at a company or academic department, wasn't all that different from getting the same information as plain text, except that it often took a lot longer to load and present, because rendering fonts and loading/displaying graphical images took a lot of CPU cycles, while plain ASCII text was very fast.

I would say using a "web browser" first began to be interesting when plug-ins became a thing, around 1995. Suddenly, there was information updating itself, instead of staying up until I reloaded it! Or highly compressed digital audio streams, like with RealPlayer, which is where Mark Cuban made his big fortune.

The main problem back then was connection speed. Except at an office or school computer with a wired ethernet connection, most people used the Internet over dial-up modems. If the plug-in got too fancy, it became unusably slow. I could get a stock price ticker or sports scores updates in a plug-in that worked well, but anything that tried to do much more quickly bogged my computer down (CPU/memory use) at the same time as the stream of data could only accommodate tiny, tiny videos, medium resolution images (low res, by today's standards), or choppy, monaural audio.

So IE taking over from Netscape was mostly a distribution thing. Microsoft was able to win that war solely on the basis of bundling it with Windows, instead of requiring someone to go download and install a browser as an application, and there was no beating that. And they did that for the reasons cited already - to control the portal was to control the delivery.

Then, Mozilla Firefox fought back in the early 2000s. It quickly leapfrogged IE for a number of reason, the biggest I can remember being that it supported TABBING out of the box.

I can't tell you how awesome it was to discover the use of browser tabs. I have at least 8-10 tabs on my browsers right now. Now, think about if you could only bookmark pages and flip back and forth between them. That was IE.

Yes, there was an aftermarket plug-in to IE to support tabbing as well, but most people using IE used it exactly because it was the default one in Windows, if they could find and configure and install programs they might not be using IE in the first place.

And Firefox was lighter weight and much faster than IE. Noticeably faster. And it supported plug-ins like AdBlocker, and other fun ones, that IE didn't (until they played catchup).

When did Chrome unseat Firefox? I'd say the move for me happened when Firefox started bogging down... But more importantly, when using Google online apps like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Maps, etc., became a thing, and Chrome linked all of them seamlessly. Not to mention blurring the boundary between the desktop browser and mobile phone app use. And syncing my bookmarks and browser history across devices - phone, tablet, and desktop.

It'd be hard pressed for me now to move off of Chrome. I do have some friends who are doing just that, though, going back to the latest incarnation of Firefox out of privacy concerns.
  #43  
Old 01-22-2020, 05:07 PM
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We're still paying for the OS itself, which is even more necessary. Granted, maybe every computer would be bundled with the browser, same as the OS. Or maybe the browser would have become the OS as its features grew.

But I do think the landscape changes dramatically if Microsoft didn't bundle IE. Netscape has no reason to turn to open source and make Mozilla. KDE has less reason to make a browser for its OS, and no impetus from open source Mozilla. Without KDE, Apple doesn't use open source to make Webkit, though I can't see them not integrating a browser like they chose to integrate other programs, due to the initial low amount of third party support.

From there maybe we get Macs becoming dominant and becoming the impetus for a Mozilla-like project which takes off. Or Microsoft is forced to give IE away for the OS. But it so completely changes everything that I'm not sure open source enters the picture. Open source was a convenience for Apple.

What is your proposed timeline for all this with free Internet Explorer, or the bundling with the OS that makes it feel like an essential part?
I'm not 100% sure I'm parsing this question correctly, so apologies if this isn't what you're asking, but it's obviously hard to speculate on the specifics of that parallel universe. But one thing that's abundantly clear is that over time lots of software tends towards free for basic economics reasons. It only takes one person to write an open source implementation once and then you have to compete against the free version that keeps getting better. Think about all the other software that either no longer exists as commercial software at all or has a a very good open source implementation. Things we used to pay for and basically no one does any more: web browsers, email clients, operating system updates, dvd decoding, development environments, video calls...

Amazingly, even industries like AAA gaming are trending that way! It's more profitable to give your multi-million-dollar budget game away and sell cosmetic features. Any software with a sufficiently large market trends towards free.

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Originally Posted by echoreply View Post
Not talking about the details of the actual trial, but the impact on technology and the world: It was never about selling browsers, it was about controlling the entire ecosystem of websites. The dream is that to use any website of any complexity you need to have ActiveX, and the only way to get that is by using a Microsoft browser running on a Microsoft OS. They probably would still have come up with Internet Explorer for the Mac, as they did have Office for the Mac, because nobody at the time took Apple too seriously.

The best way to run a Microsoft enhanced website is on IIS, which also only runs on Microsoft OSes, and requires a Microsoft OS on the desktop to manage the servers, and to develop the web pages. The battle isn't about just the browser.
Right, and at that time that made sense, but now the important thing to realize is that they very likely wouldn't have succeeded in this any way. Because they actually got the vast majority of browser share and it melted away because IE sucked. Because plenty of other companies tried plays like this and they all failed. It's notable that Apple, which currently owns the most important computing platform in the world, also tries to do exactly this. You can only develop for iOS on Macs. But despite an empire many times larger than Microsoft's in the 1990s, this has had at best minor effects on Mac sales.

The lesson we should learn from history is not that the antitrust action successfully chastened Microsoft's plans on total domination, it's that total domination is really hard, that it's incredibly difficult to take a completely dominant position in one product and force it into another product area, and that the antitrust thing was mostly irrelevant.

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Would the iPhone have been successful if it couldn't use most websites? Maybe, but it was a big deal that iPhones had trouble with Flash and Java applets. At the time of the iPhone's initial release those were still pretty important, but only on some websites, not most sites.
I think yes. For one, there was a lot of noise about iPhones not supporting flash or applets, but it turned out it wasn't actually a big deal and no one ever managed to ship a phone that supported that stuff well because they were crufty bad technology. And Apple added an app store because the web on an iPhone kind of sucks. It sucks less now because more sites have a version optimized for small screens, but it still kind of sucks.
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Old 01-22-2020, 05:23 PM
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Guys, can we turn "html email" to "HTMaiL"? No? OK.

Like Hillary Clinton's email server, news and reaction to Micro$oft*'s actions in the browser market were completely overblown to the actual seriousness of the accusations. Even then I was wondering... can't I just use IE to download another browser and use that?... and since I could, I couldn't figure out why people thought that bundling a browser into Windows was an antitrust violation. Lord knows I argued enough about this in 1998, but since I can't even remember what my actual at-the-time position was**, in retrospect, the DOJ case against M$* looks pretty weak. All that effort over this. Good going, guys.

*Post 43? The first "Micro$oft" reference? Really?
**Pretty sure pro-Microsoft. I was reading Ayn Rand at the time, ladies and gents, but as to the exact nature of my arguments... who is John Galt?
  #45  
Old 01-22-2020, 06:07 PM
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Like Hillary Clinton's email server, news and reaction to Micro$oft*'s actions in the browser market were completely overblown to the actual seriousness of the accusations. Even then I was wondering... can't I just use IE to download another browser and use that?... and since I could, I couldn't figure out why people thought that bundling a browser into Windows was an antitrust violation. Lord knows I argued enough about this in 1998, but since I can't even remember what my actual at-the-time position was**, in retrospect, the DOJ case against M$* looks pretty weak. All that effort over this. Good going, guys.
It's been 20 years since I've had to argue about this stuff, so I guess I have a lot of saved up stuff to say.

I've explained above, bundling the browser into Windows was an antitrust violation because Windows was a monopoly. If IBM had decided to bundle a browser into OS/2 (maybe they did at some point?) it would not have been an antitrust violation. Microsoft already had a history of abusing their marketplace position. They had previously run out competitors to MS-DOS, and had overtaken the leading office applications of the day in part by their own office applications getting special status from their OS. So this wasn't just some technicality, but justified worry that they were going to do it again.

As I've said, the grab was for way more than just the browser, but for the entire web. Was this always doomed to fail? Possibly, but one of the big reasons it never succeeded was that as a result of the trial Microsoft began focusing on compliance with open standards and backed away from proprietary standards for web programing.

If the only way to view a web page was with IE, then it wouldn't matter how good Mozilla or Konqueror ever became, because they would be useless for most websites.

I think the biggest thing that has changed in 20 years is the continued decline in the importance of antitrust laws, and the view that monopolies are either taken by the deserved winner, or that there is really no such thing as a monopoly. Any abuse caused by monopolies is just spoils to the winner. Quite whining and build something better. I think that the antitrust moves then were deserved, and more are called for now against other companies.

Today I do find it ironic that of the Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft group of juggernaut technology companies, Microsoft is probably the least evil (perhaps Apple is least evil, but it depends on if I'm valuing privacy (Apple) or openness (MS) that day).

Last edited by echoreply; 01-22-2020 at 06:08 PM.
  #46  
Old 01-22-2020, 07:49 PM
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Originally Posted by iamthewalrus(:3= View Post

I'm a software developer, so I also know what the technical definition of an OS is, but that's not how most people see it. Most people see everything, including Solitaire, that's part of the standard distribution as part of the OS. Solitaire's obviously not an essential part of the OS in the sense that the computer will fall over and fail to boot if it's not there, but it might be an essential thing to some customer. Bundles are good.
People are dumb, can't argue with that. Bundles may or may not be good, depending on what they do to competition and innovation. IBM was pretty good at bundling also.
Quote:
Speaking of Solitaire, do you think that the justice department should have forced Microsoft to remove it so that rival computer game companies would have a better market for their programs? Why or why not?
Well, no for the basic solitaire MS included. But say other companies sold fancier versions, advertising backed or offering upgrades (MS does exactly this today) and Microsoft kept beefing up its bundled solitaire to stomp on them. That gets into being a problem, though no one would probably care and the solitaire companies would just fold up.
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Right, I understand that. Do you think that in a parallel universe where Microsoft didn't give IE away for free, we'd still be paying for browsers? Or would basically the same thing have happened, and lots of other companies and open source groups would be giving them away? I think it'd be the latter. I think maybe Netscape would have lasted a little longer, but something as basic and necessary to the modern use of a computer as a browser would not exist as paid software for very long.

So from our vantage point now, where we saw that browsers are basically destined to be free software, it's really hard for me to look at Microsoft, who first gave them away, as a bad guy. Netscape was doomed no matter what. It happened a little bit faster than it might have and we didn't have to waste our money on browser licenses. Win/win!
They'd be free, but in a monopoly situation the browsers would be used to drive users to moneymaking situations. Like the portals they desired, but if you typed a url, how about them suggesting other ones.
We've got an analog today in search. It is free, but Google has been able to monetize it quite well.
  #47  
Old 01-23-2020, 02:09 AM
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Well, no for the basic solitaire MS included. But say other companies sold fancier versions, advertising backed or offering upgrades (MS does exactly this today) and Microsoft kept beefing up its bundled solitaire to stomp on them. That gets into being a problem, though no one would probably care and the solitaire companies would just fold up.
My problem with this is that you're essentially damning all the "nonessential" components that ship with whichever OS is dominant to barely adequate mediocrity. Which means that, by definition, the vast majority of users will have to deal with shitty default software. Software sucks enough without adding legal restrictions on making it better. And you better hope that whichever regulator is applying the penalties agrees with you on which components are essential.
  #48  
Old 01-23-2020, 04:10 AM
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what people forget is too once bush jrs DOJ took over they pretty much softened the penalties from the trial into wrist slaps .. because one reason was MS was too big to divide up .....

I remember when the first browsers were whatever provider you were paying for used ie aol's webcrawler.... also people forget that net neutrality kept the browsers honest i mean if it wasn't for that wed be subscribing to 3 or 4 web browsers to run edge google et "exclusive" sites which of course people would be paying to be listed as
  #49  
Old 01-23-2020, 12:51 PM
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It's been 20 years since I've had to argue about this stuff, so I guess I have a lot of saved up stuff to say.
Me too, apparently. Who knew?

Quote:
I think the biggest thing that has changed in 20 years is the continued decline in the importance of antitrust laws, and the view that monopolies are either taken by the deserved winner, or that there is really no such thing as a monopoly. Any abuse caused by monopolies is just spoils to the winner. Quite whining and build something better. I think that the antitrust moves then were deserved, and more are called for now against other companies.
I think this is an astute observation, and I agree that my thinking has changed in some ways along those lines. But the nuance is not quite right.

It's not that I don't think that there's such a thing as a monopoly, or that monopoly spoils are deserved. It's that I think that monopolies are a lot harder to maintain in such a fast-changing environment and that many of the proposed solutions make most people's lives worse. I'm 100% on board with saying that Microsoft shouldn't be able to prevent OEMs from pre-loading software that competes with them. But when people start saying that Microsoft shouldn't be able to make and distribute free software (or maybe that they can only make and give away software that is bad enough that it doesn't really compete)... that sounds horrible. That's right down the path of saying Amazon shouldn't be able to offer free shipping because it's unfair competition with local stores, or that machine looms are unfair competition to hand weavers.

The fact that software has zero marginal cost is a tremendous boon to humanity, and forcing even large companies to not give away things for free is a solution worse than the problem its attempting to address.
  #50  
Old 01-23-2020, 01:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
That's my question, which I asked upthread: is it possible to delete Explorer and Edge entirely from current Windows? Can Windows operate without those apps?
You could at one point. IE is no longer listed with programs that can be uninstalled.
I think it was uninstallable after the legal argument mentioned above, that IE was part of the OS.
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