Microsoft's roadkill on the journey to Windows 7

From the very beginning of Windows, Microsoft has copied others' ideas and moved to put many out of business. Relive the dark side of the journey to Windows 7

Since its inception, Microsoft has made a practice of folding innovation by others into its proprietary products. Windows 7 is no exception. Beginning with version 1.0, Windows has accreted features that often eclipsed third-party products, sometimes killing them in the process.

This isn't to say that Microsoft doesn't innovate on its own -- clearly it does. The question is: Why does Microsoft so frequently, and completely, vanquish third-party software by merging their capabilities into its OS? Is it for competitive advantage? Perhaps, as bundled features ultimately cost users less, although at the expense of future innovation through competition. Or could it be part of Microsoft's ongoing efforts to lock in its customer base? Frequently Microsoft's versions of third-party capabilities add proprietary code and protocols that limit their use to Windows, and Windows only.

[ See Microsoft's top technology roadkill victims in our slideshow. | InfoWorld's Randall C. Kennedy enumerates the "7 deadly sins of Windows 7." | John Rizzo shows what Apple stole from Windows and what Microsoft stole from Mac OS X. ]

Studying some of the history of Windows as it progressed to today's Windows 7 sheds light on Microsoft's motivations and the ultimate effect of its feature-grabbing to limit user software options.

Windows 7 starts out on the wrong foot
Although it's too early to fully measure the impact Windows 7 will have on the third-party market, it's already off to a bad start with its heavy-handed dismissal of third-party video codecs. Third-party codecs cooperate with video compression standards that Microsoft's own video applications, such as Media Player, were heretofore loathe to support.

But Windows 7 adds some new codecs to Microsoft's quiver, and where these collide with third-party products, you won't be surprised who comes out on top.

Windows 7 preempts third-party codecs in Microsoft's own applications, such as Media Player, by using its own embedded codecs whenever possible. This is a major change from XP and Vista operation, where users could override Microsoft codecs globally. Although users can circumvent Windows 7 codec usurpation with some effort, the process is not intuitive and decidedly less convenient than the old behavior.

Early Windows dismisses, then plays catch-up with Apple
The Windows 7 codec "roadkill" move is just the latest example of the company's behavior -- habits that started with the very first version of Windows.

[ The InfoWorld Test Center gives the final word on Windows 7's multicore prowess. | Get the full scoop on Windows 7 with InfoWorld's online Windows 7 Boot Camp class, our Windows 7 "Deep Dive" PDF report, and our online guide to Windows 7 deployment for IT pros. ]

Apple introduced the first windows-based GUI in 1983 with its Lisa system (see the figure below). Microsoft at first derided the GUI concept, using the acronym WIMP (for "windows, icon, menus, and pointing device") to describe the Lisa interface. Nevertheless, Microsoft proceeded with its own versions of a windowed OS, initially writing OS/2 for IBM, then releasing its first edition of Windows in 1985, a year after Apple's Macintosh.

The Apple Lisa UI

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Windows 1.0 was famously dinged for copying the Macintosh (as the first figure below shows). Although Apple's Steve Jobs accused Microsoft's Bill Gates of directly stealing features from the Mac's user interface, Gates claimed the similarity was because both systems copied the Xerox PARC Alto (as the second figure below shows). Partly as a result of this controversy, Windows languished for many years, considered by most to be much less usable than the Mac.

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