Microsoft, hoist by a Chrome petard

Microsoft, hoist by a Chrome petard

Summary: With the launch of the Google Chrome OS, Microsoft is shafted by the same tactic it used to neutralize competition from Netscape's browser in the mid 1990s, and invites comparisons to the Windows vs OS/2 struggle earlier in that decade.


As one Talkback commenter recalled during the discussion of my post earlier this week on free as a business model, Microsoft long ago used free as a weapon to capture the nascent Web browser market:

"Remember in 94 when Microsoft suddenly realised they had completely missed the internet boat? Netscape was THE browser, Microsoft didn't even have a browser. Solution? Freemium it! Microsoft went to Mosiac ... Then they shafted Mosaic and Netscape all in one go by giving the browser away 'free'. Mosaic, who did all the development effort for what is now IE, were shafted. Netscape were also shafted. So there you have a lesson on how 'free' is done."

Now Microsoft is shafted by the same tactic (or, in the Shakespearian idiom, 'hoist by his own petard' — a petard being a medieval word for a bomb). Google's new Chrome OS (see Techmeme discussion) will be a free-of-charge, open-source competitor to the Windows operating system, which is such a cashcow for Microsoft that its license fee is routinely described as a 'tax' on PC owners.

I'm old enough to remember when Microsoft worked with Intel and Compaq to make an end-run around IBM back in the late 1980's, sabotaging the larger vendor's abortive attempt to create a new PC operating system called OS/2 that would be a successor to the older PC-DOS developed for IBM by Microsoft. Windows triumphed over OS/2 because IBM moved too slowly and was too internally focused on its own roadmap for developing the PC to understand the importance of keeping ahead of other emerging new technologies, in particular Intel's new 386 chip. Is Microsoft making the same mistakes now with Windows Vista and its successor, Windows 7?

Perhaps Microsoft is doomed to fail simply by virtue of being the incumbent vendor, with ingrained habits and obligations to an existing customer base that prevent it making the right choices (such as looking at the world through the prism of 'software plus services' instead of reversing the polarity and thinking from a perspective of 'services plus software'). Google has none of that baggage holding it back, plus it has a huge advantage Microsoft lacked back in the 1990s — Microsoft had a fortunate windfall revenue stream from licensing PC-DOS, but the sums are peanuts compared to the billions of dollars Google generates today from its dominance of contextual Web advertising.

One thing I always ask when I see a vendor pursing a free strategy is, what's the motive? As set out here yesterday, there's a cost to free, which someone will end up paying. Often it's customers who pay the price — look at the deadening of competition in the Web browser market once Internet Explorer had crushed its rival Netscape Navigator, leaving users in limbo until Firefox emerged to introduce long-needed innovation such as tabbed browsing. In the case of Google's Chrome OS, I think there's genuine cause for optimism, since the project seems to have been born out of frustration with the limitations of present-day operating systems to support web-based applications. If Google's motivation is to unleash greater innovation and capability in cloud services and applications — which makes sense, since that is where Google's future prosperity lies — then this is one case where a free product could benefit the market as whole. Except Microsoft, of course, so let that be a lesson to us all: you reap what you sow.

Topics: Operating Systems, Browser, Google, Microsoft, Software, Windows

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • Live by free, die by free

    Microsoft was hoping that their development tools plus proprietary extensions made easily and accessible through their development tools, plus Internet Explorer being the only one supporting those - and you create the holy trinity of monopolies where ones position is secured through the reliant on Windows based technologies to access data on the internet and intranet.

    As people have demanded less and less proprietary, more and more multiplatform - the result is has been the break down of this trinity. You've now got Silverlight offered to Firefox users on Windows. Moonlight 2.0 is offering support for the *NIX world.

    Eventually it'll go full circle where Microsoft will have to compete on product quality and innovation rather than creating lockins that simply further entrench their position in the marketplace.
    • What Ive been saying about Linux and Google for a while now!!!

      Free will end, life really does cost.
      • What a spinner! Point is MS' monopoly power is failing.

        Free with set users free. Free to choose! Something MS abhors!
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • RE: Microsoft, hoist by a Chrome petard

    Everything Google, you can run from Windows. Everything
    Windows, you cannot run from Google/Chrome. Go figure.
    • Closed propietory

      Smacks of Apple doesnt it. The evilness of Google is showing.
      • Nope. I have a choice to buy Apple and their OS.

        If I buy an IBM compatible PC from Dell, HP, Lenovo then I pay for Windows. No choice. Even if I install another OS I still pay for Windows. No choice. Smack of Monopoly power doesn't it.

        Oh, and I can use Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, AOL and many other search engines. No lockin there.

        Your MS shill evilness is showing. Oh, and Google changed their mission statement. Perhaps you would like to move into 2009 instead of stayin in 1999?
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!
      • Nope, wide open Open Source.

        Chrome has already been cloned, completely free and legal. Their OS will also be open source, it is based on Linux. It's about accessing the cloud. With MS in control of the client, it's a mandatory "cost" for Google that they simply want to bypass. They can optimize it right down to the kernel register level free and clear and NOT BEHOLDEN to Microsoft.

        That's why computing completely stagnated there. Everyone was beholden to Microsoft's rules, their ideas, their patch schedule, their mandatory fees, etc. You know what, Google will probably actively offer everything inside thier OS, encourage it's use by Mandriva, Ubuntu, whoever. It is not about anything on the client, it is about making sure the client simply works flawlessly, fast, seamless and easily with their cloud offerings.

        Here's your Chrome browser, completely free of the privacy concerns for anyone to use. Amazing thing that, open source and freedom.

        BTW, FireFox has been cloned into SeaMonkey (light faster version), SongBird (incredible music player), it's all there, yours for the taking.

  • Google has name recognition

    but will it succeed where so many Linux' distros haven't, mass penetration from a free product? Google may make good use of their search marketshare to pimp itself. Why doesn't free always equate to succeed?
    • Free fails in the long run

      There is no real rercieved value of this. That and mainstream really does like to pay as they go. Free leaves most folks with a sense of wanting more.
      • Time for you to crawl out of your rock hole.

        Or perhaps, just stop being a hole. MS shill!
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!
        • Can both of you fanatics

          fight some post elsewhere, though you're free to fight through each and every one.
      • It's the means to an end.

        It's why so many use embedded Linux. It costs less, easier to develop, in control of their own destiny for an end goal of selling hardware. Google is going to use Chrome as a means to an end, namely cloud services. The only part the Windows enabled ecosystem has a problem with, the OS and all associated software sold was the "end". Once sold, the customer was irrelevant.

        It's the same with Android, Google is in complete control of their destiny with Open Source code. Constantly improved by developers, the simply roll in the changes and they supply their own changes. What they made wonderful for Chrome happens to make the Garmin work better. What Cisco does for routing efficiency algorithms in the IP stack controller, Google gets to enjoy to thread more efficiently. As Intel works the kernel to get another 50% less battery use by their graphics driver, the Qualcom smartbook's batter all of a sudden lasts 48 minutes longer.

        It's a consortium and momentum that really makes MS look like a tiny software team. They are, in the end, one dinky little company who will be gleefully kicked every step of the way down, despite the crying of the Windows enabled ecosystem.

        Web 2.0, internet innovations, cloud services, smartbooks, netbooks in general, nothing Microsoft is currently doing is an innovation leader. They have a new OS coming out soon, that's about it. And you know what, all the money people don't spend on software will be spent on other things, like all the new cloud services everyone will offer, and on better hardware, and more machine.

        People didn't stop spending money when the phone monopoly died, it actually energized the industry, leading to that 300 baud modem many of us cut our teeth on. What stopped happening was instead of all the money funneled into one Monopoly, making some rich, it was spread around to hundreds of companies, employing thousands more than Ma Bell ever did even at their wealthiest. It will be the same again. It can't happen soon enough.

  • RE: Microsoft, hoist by a Chrome petard

    I wouldn't want to think Chrome browser adoption has been great. Same way, though the idea is a nice one of no frills, (kind of) web only OS (are they trying to make their browser alone, the OS!) that boots fast, I believe that it could at best complement Windows, and couldn't be a competitor to MS.

    What we might see, is MS coming up with a light version of their Windows that does only specific purpose (like, browsing, media playing, etc.). They might create a OS in which you might check certain components so that when the OS boots, it enables only those. But again, as I had earlier mentioned in some other post, the software + service pursued by MS is a good strategy and for it to work, we may continue to require Windows and the software written for it!
    Arun (sreearun)
    • Already in the works...

      Been in research for going on 4 years.
      • And will be for 4 more. Even then MS won't get it right.

        Just like all other MS warez. MS only gets it 'right' if they buy the software, and even then they tend to mess it up (i.e. GreatPlains, NaVision, the whole Dynamics line!!).
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!
    • Good luck getting WGA to boot that fast

      and that would be some reeeeeel fast activation on the first boot.

      Don't know how the DRM would work out though, checking the Microsoft server 30 times per second to see what you're stealing......
      Ole Man
  • Thats odd Phill.

    Because MS and IBM worked togethor on os/2 you know, im assuming that you have proof of your claim other wise it makes you look like an anti MS troll.
    • it's history

      They worked together, but at that time MS was working on their own in their own OS platform, which quickly prevailed.
    • The history

      MS and IBM agree to work together on OS/2 1.0.

      MS realizes it can make more money with Windows and begins to stall on OS/2, making IBM shoulder the majority of the programming work for OS/2 2.0. MS promises to do the work on OS/2 3.0.
      1990 - The Schism --

      MS takes the OS/2 code that should have been 3.0 and uses it in Windows to crush IBM and OS/2.

      Microsoft "discouraged software developers from writing applications for [OS/2]."

      Note that these are all timely articles from the 90s and early 00s. There's no revision of history going on here. These links cannot make me an "anti-MS troll."

      These actions follow Microsoft's standard business model of the time, which was to partner (or promise to partner), take what information or code they could get (in code or concepts), dissolve the partnership, and create their own product, leveraging their DOS (and later Windows) monopoly. They did it to IBM over OS/2. They did it to Apple on the Mac. They did it to Spyglass (in this case promising royalties when no sales were planned). and WMP9. Sendo and phones. Corona and video. The list of 90s violations is almost endless.

      Sure, now they've cleaned up a little and tried to change the corporate culture, but MS was vile back in those early days. People don't want to remember that time, just like they don't want to remember the evil and monopolistic IBM of the 70s and 80s, but the actions were there and MS got caught numerous times. The Wall Street and business cultures of hte time saw that behavior as "aggressive" with a positive spin on that adjective. MS skirted the line. They stepped over it; sometimes they ran. If MS got away with it, great. If not, the loss was seen as a cost of doing business.

      MS screwed IBM on OS/2. IBM has never forgotten that and many of IBM's actions can only be rationalized as fingers in the eyes of MS.

      I've been using computers since MS BASIC in the 70s. I remember most of these things happening.

      Go ahead. You can call me a troll now.
      • A good reply

        Maybe the person you are replying to did not do any proper research before making their comment.