Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

What internet did MS get??

A lot of people, and journalists, cite Microsoft's "getting the internet and making a quick turnaround" as a sign of how nimble the company is and how every competing company should be afraid.

Hate to play devil's advocate, but I am not convinced Microsoft got the internet.

What did they manage to pull off? Kill Netscape? So what?

I don't think their revenues would have been too dissimilar it they had not gone for Netscape, and did not control the browser market (which by the way is worth about $0.00 in worldwide sales). The reason they did go for Netscape, was that they assumed, like everyone else that if you could get eyes and pages views onto your site, you would be coining it.

That does not seem to have happened. "Lose money on each click/sale and make it up on the volume" seems to have been a very bad business model, as many failed Dot Coms can attest.

IE has cost them money, and management effort .... they give it away for free, and it managed to draw the DoJ's attention! It is true that IE's default settings sends millions of users to MSft sites, but who cares?

How much money do they make from their sites? They paid top dollar for half of them in any case. Content they say, is king, and most of it is free.

I remember early versions of Much prefered those to the way the site is now. Who here can honestly say that the msdn stable of sites is easy to use.. certainly not me.  I mean, it is easier to search their sites via Google than it is to use their own search engines.

Whatever happened to MS Front Page? Ever looked at the html generated by Office's "Save to html" function. More holes in Exchange/Outlook/XP than a Swiss cheese when every 733t h@X0r from here to Bora Bora is online. I could go on.

That is not a sign of a company getting the internet.

Sure, they control the browser.
Sure, they have sites with muchos visitors
Sure, they are trying to take over the world with passport/.net

So what though?? At what cost did they achieve this dominance in these areas that have now turned out to be non core, and certainly not going to make the sort of money they have been making with windows and office?

I do agree that microsoft has adopted the internet ( ... download stuff of our site, activate licences online etc) in its day to day business, but so has Uncle Guber with the chip shop down the road.

I am not however convinced that their business model, or indeed practices have changed substantially.

Definitely not enough to warrant everyone and their cat shouting how much MS got the internet, and made a quick turnaround.

This emperor certainly has no clothes.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

For Microsoft the issue is all about control.

The browser was becoming an important part of the desktop, and Microsoft didn't control it.  Now they do.

Microsoft don't have to make money on every venture, they just have to protect their position on the desktop.  The Windows tax on every new PC is where there real money comes from.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

IE is the #1 browser and websites cater to it. When IE changes, the internet changes.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Microsoft went for Netscape because it threatened to make Windows irrelevant as a platform. Developers would write for Netscape rather than for Windows.

Before Microsoft "got" the Internet, they tried to lock people into using their first version of MSN, which was integrated into the Windows 95 shell. You viewed pages by opening up folders instead of using a Web browser. It was totally proprietary.

John Topley
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Prior to Windows 95, Microsoft was only vaguely interested in TCP/IP. Their idea of client server was using their own protocol on the wire. They were headed straight down the path of wider influence proprietary protocols.

Bill Gates turned the company on a dime. He got the importance of the browser, of TCP/IP in general as the transport mechanism of choice. Hardly any CEO would be willing to take such a risk, especially with a company the size of Microsoft. Had his bet been wrong, he could well have seriously damaged the company, his own personal economic situation, and the industry as a whole.

I don't know whether you get that this was a huge and important shift, and don't really care. It was, and Gates had a set of brass cajones to do it.

Brad Wilson (
Tuesday, April 29, 2003


I am not convince that in pursuing the few internet strategies that is did, that microsoft bet the farm. They merely rode the wave.

As I recall, their was a lot of talk about their TCP/IP stack having been 'borrowed' from BSD Not much in the way of innovation coming from Redmond.

Again, I'm not sure what industry you say Microsoft could have damaged if they had done it wrong.

CEOs make huge decisions all the time. IBM exited the PC market. Borland changed their name to Inprise. SUN bought StarOffice and open sourced it....

I just don't think that their grasp of the net (at least in the products/services) that I have seen warrants the kudos that they get.

Let me give you an example. If today, we  used Office over a browser, and paid per keystroke/page/month whatever, then I would agree that they totally turned the company around.

As it turns, they added a few open protocols to their  OS. Added a save to html in the office suite, bought a few websites, bought some more software companies put up some docs on the corporate site, and put in a bit of money in creating their own country(passport). Oh yeah, one more thing, they created great tools for developers.

Sounds like business as usual. Nothing earth shattering there.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

should have been

then I would agree that they totally turned the company around <added> on it's head and that they did indeed bet the farm to try and get there.</added>

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

"I don't think their revenues would have been too dissimilar it they had not gone for Netscape, and did not control the browser market "

It is all about perception.  If MS was lagging behind, people would begin to question whether they had what it took to be the leader.  Whether we would look to them as the future or the past.  Picture the impact of the 90s on Microsoft if they were "just a desktop" company. 

Consider what the discussion around Linux, Enterprise Servers, apache, JAVA and operating systems would be if MS was a "legacy player." 

It may not have mattered in IE versus NetScape, as you point out, that was $0 revenue.  Where it mattered was whether you would buy your DB software from MS or Oracle.  Whether ASP, or JAVA.  One hundred little cuts that eventually bleed you out.

Mike Gamerland
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

It is fundamentally wrong to assume that you get your copy of ms explorer for _free_.

Development of Explorer is being funded by revenue from other products.

So, believe me, you paid for it when you bought your copy of ms windows and/or ms office.

PS Just out of curiosity - does anyone remember how much did Windows 95 retail version cost?

Pavel Levin
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Microsoft only want to control how you get there, where you go and get a cut of the transaction.  So you need a browser, you need to own some sites and you need passport.  You are correct they don't understand the internet, they just want you to use them to do anything with it.

"Created great tools for developers"

That is all you have to do to get developers.  Most only want the easiest tools.  Most developers could give two shits whether Satan made the tools as long as they are EZ.

That's why so much software sucks.  The tools are too EZ.  You should have to have 10 years of VI and command line prior to being allowed to use something like  That way you might have a fucking clue as to what programming is about, rather than tools that make it EZ

Crusty Admin
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The original version of Windows 95 was $99, and it did NOT ship with Internet Explorer. To get Internet Explorer 1.0, you had to buy the Plus! Pack for Windows 95 for an additional sum (I think it was $30 or $35).

Brad Wilson (
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Microsoft "gets" the internet as much as any other big company.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003


Who said anything about innovation.

Microsoft's strategies were impressive in business terms.  Redmond is a huge company, yet they behaved like a small outfit.  Companies the size of Microsoft just aren't supposed to be that agile.

In terms of technical innovation, I'd agree with you.  There was nothing special there. 

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

"Companies the size of Microsoft just aren't supposed to be that agile."

The main reason that Microsoft can do this is because they have the one factor that allows them to be this agile - they still have the dynamic founder leading them. 

Look at most large companies, their founders aren't there anymore and their management is more concerned with keeping the shareholders sated rather then actually leading hte company.

I worked for McDonalds once - about a decade after Ray Kroc died. They company was still coasting on his legacy ('What Would Ray Do') and, as recent events have proven, they aren't innovating - they're just trying to keep it going.

Disney was the same way for many years, but they found another dynamic leader who was able to energize the company (at least for a while).

Will this happen to Microsoft after Bill is no longer around? It depends - Balmer looks like he might be able to keep it going but I don't know if he could shift the company they way Bill did. After Balmer, they're just like IBM or GE trying to find the right CEO to run the company.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

"The main reason that Microsoft can do this is because they have the one factor that allows them to be this agile - they still have the dynamic founder leading them. "

Well, that and their monopoly

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Outlook.  I kid you not, it is the killer busniess app.  CEOs, CFOs, IT departments all agree on one thing: Outlook and Office.  Most executive's notion of a file repository is Outlook.  And evertthing else.  Version control too.  Outlook + attachments.  Silly and abused, but it is the killer app of MSFT's internet strateegery.

Nat Ersoz
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

I'm in agreement that Microsoft "bet the farm". 

Once Bill wrote the "Tidal Wave" memo, Microsoft completely shifted.  It's not just what they did.  The other interesting part of the story is all the things that Microsoft *stopped* doing.  Essentially, they stopped all product development efforts on proprietary network technology.  Efforts pursued at the time included interactive TV, CD-ROM multimedia, and a non-internet based MSN.  All of these efforts were doomed to irrelevance, and it took a brave CEO to realize this.

On a different note, don't forget the impact of IIS.  Some Internet servers were selling for $20,000 when Microsoft brought out IIS for free.  Setting up a Windows NT server with IIS became a cheap and easy way of launching a small departmental web site.  The result was the explosion of the corporate intranet phenomenon.

The Voice of Rationality
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Voice of Rationality - interesting points. thanks for the insight.
Thursday, May 01, 2003

[That's why so much software sucks.  The tools are too EZ.  You should have to have 10 years of VI and command line prior to being allowed to use something like  That way you might have a fucking clue as to what programming is about, rather than tools that make it EZ ]

Yes, lets cut productivity in the name of bravado! Good idea sir.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

vi? Ha! Real men code in binary using sheets of grid paper, hen enter their program using toggle switches. Any one who does it any other way is not fit to rode. vi has made the new generation soft around the edges.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, May 01, 2003

In regards to Netscape, MS tried to kill Netscape not to control the web browser but because MS was concerned that Netscape might become a computing platform. And, at the time, Andresen and Clark were talking this aspect up. Talking about computers that would simply boot into Netscape and work off the web. In MS's somewhat paranoid view, this was a clear threat to Windows and Office.

In regards to the "dime turn" on the internet. That wasn't about capturing profits directly off the 'net like a dot-com company (ie. sales of 'net related products or slice of transactions).

It was about integrating internet technologies into their existing and upcoming product line. Like TCP/UDP/IP stack in windows, DNS support, SMTP/POP in outlook, FTP support in explorer, etc. Rather than trying to create their own all-new technologies/protocols.

But, that said, the turn around is probably over-rated. There's plenty of evidence that MS was already looking at including internet technologies before the famed memo.

Bill Tomlinson
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Microsoft lost the browser way.

Yeah, you heard me right. They lost it.

The fear with Netscape was that people would start getting their work done via the web, rather than via Windows-only applications. And that's exactly what happened.

If Microsoft had won the war:

To use Hotmail, you would download the Hotmail client binary, which would be a Win32 application running on your own computer. It would communicate via a proprietary protocol with the Hotmail servers, which would then pass on the mail.

To track a package, you would download the package tracking utility from It too would be a Win32 application.

To order a book, you would use the Amazon client application.

If this sounds far fetched, it's because your memory is foggy. I used to have one application to send alphanumeric pages to a particular network's subscribers, another to connect to a chat system, and i used Prodigy to buy stuff. All non-portable from DOS and Windows.

Nowadays i run Linux and do almost everything through my web browser. The only holdout is MS Office (on an unrelated note, thank goodness for Codeweaver's excellent Crossover tools which let me run it nearly perfectly under Linux)

Mike Schiraldi
Thursday, May 01, 2003

Stupid typo in the most important part of my post. They lost the browser waR.

I read Joel's explanation on why there's no "Preview" button, but i don't think he's right on this one.

Mike Schiraldi
Thursday, May 01, 2003

I disagree that they lost the browser war. I disagree that it's over.

For a long period of time, they definitely won the war. The browsers were under-powered enough that people would seek out proprietary solutions such as using a non-standard DOM or ActiveX controls. That meant locking the clients into IE on Windows, even when the application was web based.

Now, browsers are getting better, because the standards have gotten better. To me, it feels like another round is brewing, and even if Microsoft holds majority browser market, if people move to standards, then the web experience becomes a lot less frustrating for non-Windows users.

Brad Wilson (
Thursday, May 01, 2003

the one inside their firewall.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home