Windows: The Next Killer Application on the Internet

Tl;dr: J Allard sent a memo in 1994 at Microsoft on how to position themselves for the internet which they were later criticised for as being a plan to take over the internet

J Allard sent this memo on 25 January 1994 to Microsoft colleagues explaining what the Internet is all about, how it works, and ends with the echoing conclusion:

Today it is probably fair to consider Internet connectivity a competitive advantage in the software industry. Tomorrow it will be a measurable disadvantage if we’re not wired.

It’s interesting for context to know the next version of Windows with code name ‘Chicago’ was fully underway and due out in the summer (It didn’t make this deadline for this reason).

Bill Gates stated in his book ‘The Road Ahead’ a year later that he humbly hoped  Microsoft would be able to make the transition to the connected world, which is ironic as the plan seems to have been to devour the entire connected world.

  1. They were going to replace the DNS with their own proprietary technology.
  2. They were going to replace electronic mail with their own proprietary technology.
  3. They were going to replace the world wide web with their own proprietary technology.

According to Wikipedia, the strategy and phrase “embrace and extend” were first described outside Microsoft in a 1996 article in The New York Times titled “Tomorrow, the World Wide Web! Microsoft, the PC King, Wants to Reign Over the Internet”, in which writer John Markoff said, “Rather than merely embrace and extend the Internet, the company’s critics now fear, Microsoft intends to engulf it.” The phrase “embrace and extend” also appears in a facetious motivational song by an anonymous Microsoft employee,[6] and in an interview of Steve Ballmer by The New York Times.

A variant of the phrase, “embrace, extend then innovate”, is used in this memo! The memo starts with a background on the Internet in general, and then proposes a strategy on how to turn Windows into the next “killer app” for the Internet:

In order to build the necessary respect and win the mindshare of the Internet community, I recommend a recipe not unlike the one we’ve used with our TCP/IP efforts: embrace, extend, then innovate. Phase 1 (Embrace): all participants need to establish a solid understanding of the infostructure and the community—determine the needs and the trends of the user base. Only then can we effectively enable Microsoft system products to be great Internet systems. Phase 2 (Extend): establish relationships with the appropriate organizations and corporations with goals similar to ours. Offer well-integrated tools and services compatible with established and popular standards that have been developed in the Internet community. Phase 3 (Innovate): move into a leadership role with new Internet standards as appropriate, enable standard off-the-shelf titles with Internet awareness. Change the rules: Windows become the next-generation Internet tool of the future.

The strategy’s three phases are:

  1. Embrace: Development of software substantially compatible with a competing product, or implementing a public standard.
  2. Extend: Addition and promotion of features not supported by the competing product or part of the standard, creating interoperability problems for customers who try to use the “simple” standard.
  3. Extinguish: When extensions become a de facto standard because of their dominant market share, they marginalize competitors that do not or cannot support the new extensions.

Microsoft has claimed that the original strategy is not anti-competitive, but rather an exercise of its discretion to implement features it believes customers want.

Enjoy reading!

Windows: The Next Killer Application on the Internet

Windows The Next Killer Application on the Internet


You can read the rest of the memo collection here.

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