10 Technologies Microsoft 'Borrowed'

These technologies may not have been Microsoft originals, but today they bear the Redmond stamp.

Microsoft, unfairly or not, has a reputation for taking over areas others invented and then dedicating massive corporate resources to owning those markets. Here are the top 10 products or areas where Microsoft was late to market.

Windows Azure

Adrian M. Jones
First, let's be clear. We're hearing good things about Windows Azure from third parties who have their choice of cloud providers. But let's face it -- Google and Amazon.com have been in this space so long it makes the entire cloud concept seem old.



Adrian M. Jones
Search has been around for years. Before Yahoo! and Google took over, there was Alta Vista and others. Once Google turned simple search into a massively intertwined business, Microsoft wanted in -- badly. And thus was born a Microsoft ad network, enterprise search and now Bing, a fresh stab at the problem. 

Windows GUI

Adrian M. Jones
This one is almost too obvious. Bill Gates, looking for the next innovation in OSes, used Mac fundamentals as the basis of Windows 1.0. On the flip side, Gates had multitasking long before Steve Jobs!



Internet Explorer

Adrian M. Jones
Netscape wowed the world with its browser, then branched out into other areas such as mail and collaboration. Microsoft feared the browser was to some extent a platform, and that it could disrupt the Windows franchise. Microsoft bought a browser, tweaked and bundled it with Windows 95. Despite anti-trust losses, Microsoft still won this game.



SQL Server

Adrian M. Jones
Sybase in the late '80s was a rising database star, and Sybase SQL Server ran on larger systems. Microsoft wanted to bring this kind of solid relational product to a PC-based platform, so Microsoft, Sybase and Ashton-Tate formed an alliance. The code would be ported to PC servers, and Ashton-Tate would rejigger dBase to front-end SQL Server. But dBase was so fundamentally different it couldn't work with SQL, leaving only Sybase and Microsoft. When Windows NT arrived, Microsoft split from Sybase, but kept components that remain the basis of SQL Server today.



Stac Electronics built a utility that doubled the capacity of your hard drive through compression. Microsoft tried to strike a deal to embed a version of Stacker within Windows, but Stac said no, so Microsoft went ahead and wrote its own data-compression tool called DoubleSpace. Unfortunately, the Microsoft version violated Stac's patents. Can you say lawsuit? Microsoft lost, but instead of just paying Stac off the $120 million it was ordered to pay, Redmond invested in the company and paid royalties to Stac, which ultimately folded.


Adrian M. Jones
Virtualization is the hottest thing to happen to computing since Dell laptop batteries started catching fire. Microsoft was late to the market with Hyper-V and crafted a strategy eerily similar to VMware, with PC- and server-virtualization tools. However, through its partnership with Citrix, and Microsoft's own Windows Server Terminal Services, Redmond is also arguably a virtualization pioneer.


Windows Sever

Novell became a powerhouse through network OSes that mostly supported print and file services. Microsoft saw this huge market and made a move with Windows NT. IT pros loved NetWare, but Microsoft had advantages: deep relationships with CEOs and CTOs, and the fact that NT was a true partner of the Windows client, sharing an interface and many core functions. 

Microsoft Word

Adrian M. Jones
The WordPerfect word processor came out around 1980, and as the decade progressed it became as dominant as Lotus 1-2-3 and Ashton-Tate dBase were back in their day. Microsoft wanted an application and OS, and WordPerfect was an obvious target. Microsoft Word came in 1983, and subsequent versions promoted compatibility -- even keystroke compatibility -- with WordPerfect. We all know who ultimately won this war.


Adrian M. Jones
The Xbox may be the hippest console out there, but Microsoft was way late to the video game business.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 Mark Kéy-Balchin Auckland, New Zealand

@Gary Schankula I only just came across this article, so I apologise if this is late, but I’d like to respond to one of your posts. You might not see this post, but just in case you (or anyone else) comes across it: “By the time the Star came out in 1981 (which would have been the first time Jobs could view it), the Mac design was already done. Microsoft/Bill Gates are not known to have borrowed from either Xerox machine for the Windows release in 1985.” Wrong on both counts. From an interview with Byte Magazine February 1983 with Lisa engineers Wayne Rosing, Bruce Daniels, and Larry Tesler: “BYTE: Do you have a Xerox Star here that you work with? Tesler: No, we didn’t have one here. We went to the [National Computer Conference, a trade show,] when the Star was announced and looked at it. And in fact it did have an immediate impact. A few months after looking at it we made some changes to our user interface based on ideas that we got from it. For example, the desktop manager we had before was completely different; it didn’t use icons at all, and we never liked it very much. We decided to change ours to the icon base. That was probably the only thing we got from the Star, I think. Most of our Xerox inspiration was Smalltalk rather than Star.” From an article by Tandy Trower, product manager of Windows 1.0: “[…] I can recall that within my first year at Microsoft [1981], Gates had acquired a Xerox Star, and encouraged employees to try it out because he thought it exemplified the future of where the PC would be headed and this was long before Microsoft even saw a Mac or even a Lisa from Apple. Gates believed in WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get–i.e. fidelity between the screen and document output) and the value of a graphical user interface as far back as I can remember. And prototypes of Windows existed long before the first appearance of the Macintosh.”

Mon, Jun 6, 2011 Baltimore, MD

DID ANYONE READ THE BEGINNING OF THE ARTICLE? Quote: "These technologies m a y n o t h a v e b e e n Microsoft o r i g i n a l s, but today they b e a r t h e R e d m o n d s t a m p.

Microsoft, u n f a i r l y o r n o t, has a reputation for taking over areas others invented and then dedicating massive corporate resources to owning those markets. Here are the top 10 products or areas where Microsoft w a s l a t e t o m a r k e t." The article was written by Editor in Chief of R E D M O N D Magazine, for Pete's sake! It's not Microsoft-bashing, it's a list of technologies and products, like a PowerPoint presentation without the slides. At worst I wonder if Mr. Barney was trolling. If so, he opened the floodgates. Xerox PARC (Palo ALto Research Center, not Research Triangle Park) was the home of people who were paid to come up with whiz-bang stuff as research, which others got to play with, some of which is on this list (GUI, Mice). Bit-mapped displays were also developed there. Others came from other places. The Xerox 850 and 860 Word Processers with WYSIWYG were a big deal back in the day. Cloud Computing? It was called "Compute Servers" in the original DIX (DEC [Digital Equipment Corp]-Intel-Xerox) Ethernet spec (along with Print Servers and Communications Servers). Others believe it used to be called Client-Server. Multitasking is an old mainframe technique which ran better on an Amiga than on early Windows systems. My 512K Amiga 500 could format as many floppies as it had drives and still have enough left over to play a game of Solitaire while waiting; Windows had a one-track-mind when it came to formatting a floppy. VM, both Virtual Memory and Virtual Machine, are both old IBM products. I could go on, but there is nothing new under the sun.

Sat, May 21, 2011 Gary Schankula Niagara Falls, Canada

@really: "According to both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Microsoft got 31000 dollars helping Apple setting up their first computer. Good luck have fun not 'stealing' anything as a developer inventing something new."

You're right about the $31,000. In that D5 interview I mentioned in the previous post, Gates and Jobs talked about how Steve Wozniak wrote a great BASIC (programming language) Interpreter (executes your programming code), but only in fixed-point number representation (a fixed number of decimals). But everyone in the industry wanted floating-point (any number of decimals), and Woz didn't/wouldn't do it. So Bill Gates, for only $31,000, sold a license to Apple to use Microsoft's floating-point BASIC Interpreter--which at the time was actually their only product. Hey, back then they were just starting out, so $31,000 made sense.

But there was no theft involved!

Sat, May 21, 2011 Gary Schankula Niagara Falls, Canada

@JR: "The Windows OS (and Mac OS for that matter) borrowed heavily from Xerox Star. Win did not borrow from Mac."

It was the Xerox Alto that Steve Jobs borrowed from, not the Xerox Star. By the time the Star came out in 1981 (which would have been the first time Jobs could view it), the Mac design was already done. Microsoft/Bill Gates are not known to have borrowed from either Xerox machine for the Windows release in 1985. But it is known that Gates borrowed from a Mac prototype (Alesso & Smith, 2008). Gates and Jobs were interviewed on stage at the Dow Jones' (fifth digital) D5 Conference in 2007 (the BEST interview of the two ever, http://thebigvalleyblog.blogspot.com or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5Z7eal4uXI, the video is in 11 parts), where they talked about a sort of partnership in creating the first Macintosh: Jobs didn't want to release the Macintosh computer without major software applications on it, like word processing. Microsoft had not yet ventured into the Applications business; up until then, it was mainly a BASIC interpreter; Xenix, a UNIX-based operating system; and of course the MS-DOS operating system for the IBM PC and compatibles. But Apple provided Microsoft with some Mac prototypes, which they used to develop applications for the Mac. Apple ended up releasing the first Mac with Apple's own MacWrite and MacPaint. But Microsoft did shortly finish a couple of applications for the Mac, first MultiPlan, and later, Word. But that's not the only thing they did with those prototypes. They also began working on their own GUI, Windows. Gates is known to have told his R&D people to "Make it like the Mac!" (Edstrom & Eller, 1998)*

*Edstrom, Jennifer, & Eller, Marlin. (1998). Barbarians Led by Bill Gates. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Sat, May 21, 2011 Gary Schankula Niagara Falls, Canada

@Sarmaad: "[It] is now very fashionable to bash MS."

*Now*?! Where have you been the last 25 years? It's been fashionable to bash Microsoft since they released Windows on top of MS-DOS in November 1985. And so much of the bashing is against the technologies Microsoft has released, and most of it is very warranted. It's fashionable because it's true. In fact, Wikipedia has had to devote a whole system of pages to cover just the bare essential criticisms of Windows (starting with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Microsoft_Windows) and a separate page for criticisms of Microsoft the company (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Microsoft). Here's just the introduction to the latter:

"Criticism of Microsoft has followed various aspects of its products and business practices. Issues with ease of use, stability, and security of the company's software are common targets for critics. In the 2000s, a number of malware attacks have targeted security flaws in Microsoft Windows and other programs. Microsoft is also accused of locking vendors and consumers into their products, and of not following and complying with existing standards in its software. Total cost of ownership comparisons of Linux as well as Mac OS X to Windows are a continuous point of debate. The company has been the subject of numerous lawsuits by several governments and other companies for unlawful monopolistic practices. In 2004, the European Union found Microsoft guilty in the European Union Microsoft competition case. Additionally, EULAs for Microsoft programs are often criticized as being too restrictive."

In comparison, here's the introduction to the Criticism of Apple Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Apple_Inc.):

"Apple Inc. has received criticism for the use of sweatshop labor, environmental destruction, and unethical business practices. Additionally, it has been criticized for its litigious legal policy of suing before first gathering all the facts necessary to pursue a legitimate lawsuit."

That's a rather short list for Apple, and none of it is regarding the technology they create (not that I'm supporting any of these criticized practices, if they're true).

Sat, May 21, 2011 Gary Schankula Niagara Falls, Canada

@Robert McLaws: "Microsoft comes from behind with better products."
@Zombie Chan: "Who cares if they come out last, if they can come out with a better product."

Guys, really, "better products"? Name one.


@Robert McLaws: "It reads like an editorial, and should be labeled as such." Ah, the author, Doug Barney, is the Editor-in-Chief of Redmond magazine, so it is an editorial!

Fri, May 20, 2011 Nirvin M India

Very worst article I've ever read.

Tue, May 17, 2011


Tue, May 17, 2011

What a crap article, sorry for the environment but I am going to print it out just to wipe my *ss with. The writer surely has some personal issues with MS and the only thing to do is publicly flame it out!

Tue, May 17, 2011 Z Holland

Let's add some technologies that were also 'borrowed': * MS-DOS. It was bought. The original product was called Q-DOS which was an attempt to get a CP/M port on x86 processors. * Mice. Invented by Xerox in the 70s, and Microsoft still sells them. * Keyboards. The layout is derived from typewriters which exist over a century. * Printing. It's a medieval technology! What's it doing in a modern OS?

Tue, May 17, 2011 BobC

Sorry for the duplicate post, but when I first hit submit, it replied that I did not "correctly' type the "captcha" and gave me a new "captcha" to enter (and apparently took the first one).

Tue, May 17, 2011 BobC

Mr. T has it fairly close. It was 1970 when Xerox (PARC) first did windowing (GUI and mouse). Back then S/W could not be patented (why the S/W patent system is an atrocious joke - see later in my comment). It wasn't even allowed to be copyrighted then. While there were a few S/W sellers in the 60s, most mainframe S/W was "free" (used loosely as the cost was embedded in the H/W cost). BTW, while Xerox was credited by many for "Windowing", there were published papers published prior to Xerox's implementation. As for SQL, it was another idea from the academic world and ran with by Ted Codd (IBM). IBM had DB/2 running on OS/2 long before MS had SQL Server. Likewise with VM systems. This was sprung from the Cambridge Multics project - IBM actually produced the CP/CMS version (later renamed VM) and gave it away with the H/W. ATT split from the Multics project and developed Unix (and C). Most everything out there today was done on mainframes many years ago. IBM had PROFS, which could be considered the forerunner to MS Office. Back when S/W was considered to be mathematical algorithms, it was not allowed to be patented. It wasn't until the 80s that S/W could be patented and then only in certain specific instances. See an interesting piece in bitlaw for many details (http://www.bitlaw.com/software-patent/history.html). Likewise, S/W Copyright wasn't established until 1980 by Congress. Another site to see is 'Timeline results for "software copyright history"' (http://www.google.com/search?q=%22software+copyright+history%22&hl=en&biw=1440&bih=688&prmd=ivns&tbs=tl:1&tbo=u&ei=2iLSTYLqEcjagQeH3LHcCw&sa=X&oi=timeline_result&ct=title&resnum=4&sqi=2&ved=0CCsQ5wIwAw). Keep in mind, just because a piece of S/W is written in C, VB, Python, Assembler or whatever, is irrelevant. It boils down to what it can make a computer do. To be patentable, it must be novel, useful and non-obvious - which is where 99.99% of S/W patents should be rejected as they are "obvious" solutions, even if they are useful. Back when I was developing S/W (after it became patentable), we would file an "invention disclosure" as a form of protection against a competitor "borrowing" an idea and then filing a patent.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Mr. T. Colorado

Interesting. Lots of M$ zealots here with an expected skewed view of history. I, like another poster stated, have been at this from the beginning. Likely started before most of you were born. Yes, Apple "borrowed" heavily from XEROX PARC. Dummies there didn't copyright or patent anything. They were almost single-handedly responsible for the GUI, mouse, pointers, etc. that we use today. Windows NT was built on the OS/2 core that M$ and IBM were working on together. In fact, much of the source code for NT came from that joint project. Windows NT and, I think 2000 were coded and developed on OS/2. NT used "cooperative" multitasking while OS/2 used "pre-emptive" multitasking. Bet you don't know which model is used today by M$ and everyone else.... There was a PBS documentary about M$ back in the early or mid-80s. They had video of Ballmer conducting a new employee orientation where he instructed his new troops to hang around their tech friends at other companies and bring any interesting ideas they heard about other companies doing back to M$. Innovation my backside.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Steve Hong Kong

I think this is a good article (content is not so valid) because it brings along with valid discussion/arguement !

Mon, May 16, 2011 Bob Wall Bozeman, MT

A lot of these readers appear to be functionally illiterate. Sure this was a fluff piece. But it never said that Microsoft is the only one who ever swiped technology from someone else and had success with it. It never said that Microsoft bought or stole the XBox from someone else. It never said that Apple originated the GUI. It just said that in these areas, Microsoft was late to market. Try to read and _understand_, people, before firing up the flame throwers.

Mon, May 16, 2011 James Nairobi

Chief! You are either an amature or (less likely) and MS hater. If you want to grill an techie company for 'borrowing' then write an article on Apple (BSD, GCC, VNC..shit man the list is endless). Also.... borrowed is the wrong term coz almost all of "Redmonds" products/tools are codded from scratch. I think you should pro-up before you write another article.

Mon, May 16, 2011 rei

Doug seriously needs a history lesson. GUIs? Borrowed from Apple?? Typical Mac zealot. Xerox would like to have a word with you.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Ricardo Santos Orlando, Fl

Since when a Corporation should be original, specially a big corporation? Innovation comes from individuals, never from companies. What a company does is: A. Buy the technology. B. Buy the person that makes the technology. (Aka offers them work) C. Copy the technology using smart people that they already bough (err, employed).

Mon, May 16, 2011 CapeJag New England

I too feel this article is WAY overboard in its criticism of MS & Co. Sort of beat up the leader approach to journalism - to say nothing of the inaccurate portral of competition. I have LIVED thru all of the mentioned products from WordStar & VisiCalc to open source for everything and anything from document management to operating systems... Why didn't Mr. Blarney Barney attack these 'thefts' of technology the same way he did Microsoft? Several mentioned SPARC and others as source of windowing technology - why isn't Wang Labs given credit for it's early word processing or Software Arts credit for VisiCalc the FIRST spreadsheet (I taught accounting staff at Honeywell HQ formal courses on VisiCalc in 1980!). I'm sorry to see rants like this make it thru to the 'Insider' without some basic fact checking.

Mon, May 16, 2011 BrainiacV US

I saw the article as dead on. Maybe because I've been in the industry from the beginning and saw all these events unfold with my own eyes. I suspect those who disagree with this article are not old enough to have seen history unfold and have only read about it.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Will D. Colebrook, CT

Yeah, MS copied Apple's Mac GUI but as most people know, Apple copied it from Xerox after Jobs got a tour of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Everything is derrivative hence Issac Newton's "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." And yeah, this was a vapid fluff piece.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Dave

Windows GUI ripped off on Mac OS? The Apple stole it's GUI from the Xerox Alto which in turn borrowed from Doug Engelbart's NLS GUI. Bing? Don't you mean MSN rebranded. MSN has been around since the very early days. Way before Google.

Mon, May 16, 2011

This article is a steaming pile of crap. Xbox 360 is not a technology that Microsoft just "took from someone else". It took them millions of man hours to design, develop, test, and maintain. Please save us all some brain cells and get a new job. This is definitely not a website I will be intentionally visiting ever again.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Phillip Ansteron UK

What a poor article. As another commentor says, this could be said about any company. Where are the facts. The author Doug Barney is an Editor in Chief of a magazine! Is just anyone able to be editor these days.

Mon, May 16, 2011 really

According to both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Microsoft got 31000 dollars helping Apple setting up their first computer. Good luck have fun not "stealing" anything as a developer inventing something new. Terrible blog post

Mon, May 16, 2011 Mr.M

Dog, make a article about Google or Apple.. I bet doggy doesn't want to do that.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Zombie Chan MN

Who cares if they come out last, if they can come out with a better product. Take a look at the iPhone. It was not the first smart phone, but it is one of the most popular smart phone out there.

Mon, May 16, 2011 HENRIN NICE, FR

Windows GUI. Not only Apple had the technology before MS, but also Geoworks - PC/GEOS (Berkeley Softworks) in thye early 90th. That was objet oriented / multitasking / OSF-MOTIF looking... Some capabilities of Geoworks are still not reached by Windows.

Mon, May 16, 2011

I've developed using Microsoft crap for 25 years. Need I say more.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Roger Hampson Coventry UK

I believe the original work on the windows GUI was undertaken by Xerox at Research Triangle Park before the first Apple was produced

Mon, May 16, 2011 TheLinuxGuru UK

"it could have been an awesome piece about how Microsoft comes from behind with better products" LMAO! That'd be hilarious! :-) In a parallel, fictional universe maybe, but not in ours... C'mon, anyone who is *really* I.T. savvy already knows that MS are carrying way too much legacy bloat to be used for anything other than desktop software. As for MS stealing the GUI/mouse ideas from Apple, I thought Apple stole the whole thing from parc Xerox anyway?

Mon, May 16, 2011 JR Indiana

Whomever wrote this article has a personal issue with Microsoft. For example the Windows OS (and Mac OS for that matter) borrowed heavily from Xerox Star. Win did not borrow from Mac... This should be an opinion piece...not cloaked as something that implies journalism.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Bertie Magoo Stockport

Have to agree with some of the comments on here, article isnt brilliant, very bitter if anything.

Mon, May 16, 2011 jhn w. miescher geneva - switzerland

what about Excel which came after visi-calc, the first killer application that brought the PC (then apple II) into the office to begin with?

Mon, May 16, 2011 Christian Sciberras Malta

Where did the "GUI from Mac" com from?? It's the NeXT that did the difference, the Mac UI doesn't have one thing in common with Windows'.

Mon, May 16, 2011 Sarmaad Sydney

This article is nothing but trying to catch the wave to get some readership rating, since is now very fashionable to bash MS... Agreeing with both above comments, I am getting tired of reading this stuff! Who is next? Google/Apple when they fall out of favour!

Mon, May 16, 2011 aks

Dont forget .NET

Mon, May 16, 2011 Corneliu Tusnea Sydney

Oh pathetic. Take every other company and you can write the same pathetic "not invented here syndrome" that they copied. Google: Search (they didn't invent it, MSN and Live Search was older, Google just did it better). GMail - a million clones, Google Docs, Adwords. None are new, but most are better. Same goes for Apple, IBM, HTC, Skype and everyone else. It's called evolution. Companies learn and move and build better products.

Thu, May 12, 2011 Robert McLaws Tallahassee, FL

This article is terrible. Where are the links and facts to back it up? it could have been an awesome piece about how Microsoft comes from behind with better products, but instead it's over-generalized, over-simplified nonsense. For starters, Hyper-V was not "late to market". Hyper-V was co-designed with VMWare to make the drivers interoperable with Xen and Linux. The design was based off of VMWare and VirtualPC, the latter of which was an acquisition that worked out well for Microsoft. These are a few among MANY issues. It reads like an editorial, and should be labelled as such. I can't even get away with this kind of frivolity on my blog. Please try harder next time.

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