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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.