Tangled Webs
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Jul 23, 1996
Issue 1.3

Extra! Extra...Never Mind

It was over before it really got started. Microsoft in complete disregard for my publishing schedule committed perhaps their greatest affront to the Internet community to date and then reversed their decision before I could get this issue out. You probably will not hear much about this in the papers, but it might surface at future US Justice Department hearings.


In the beginning, there were Unix web-servers. And it was good. The operating system and the server software are both free and the standards are nonproprietary. If one has questions about a function or wants to make suggestions, you can often take the matter up directly with the programmers. Furthermore, Unix has achieved a stability and flexibility of which Windows and Macintosh users can only dream.

Obviously, these features make Unix web servers completely unsuitable for the corporate market. Although neither Windows or the MacOS is particularly well suited for running web servers, over the past 18 months several companies have developed solid server-software that runs on non-Unix platforms. With Netscape Communications and O'Reilly & Associates leading the pack for the Windows platform and StarNine for the MacOS.

Of course, Unix is still the dominant player with about 80% of the server market. The Macintosh comes in second with 11.7% and all Windows platforms combined weigh in with only 8%. However, smart development money is working on the Windows platform despite it's limitations. Why? Corporate America (and most of the rest of the world) have standardized on Windows. When it comes time to connect their LANs to the Internet, they will want to use the same OS, if possible. In a development that will amuse Mac owners to no end, the phrase "Just as good as Unix" is now being used to describe Windows-based web-servers.

The Prince of Light
While O'Reilly & Associates, Netscape Communications and others were figuring out how to make web-servers run properly under Windows, Bill Gates was getting ready to take on CompuServe, America Online and the entire Internet with Microsoft Network. Bill got his butt kicked, and the Microsoft Network turned out to be the biggest flop since Microsoft Bob.

To its credit, Microsoft has to be the most agile company of its size in the world. Practically overnight Microsoft announced that it was abandoning Microsoft Network and "embracing" the Internet. The Internet community was not exactly overjoyed at the news, however, since Mircosoft's embrace is similar to that of a python.

Microsoft quickly brought its Internet Explorer up from a global laughingstock to one of the best browsers on the market. They still only have about a 5% browser market share, but this will jump with their new deal to provide their browser to all America Online users.

Microsoft's web-server software IIS commands an even smaller market share, and Microsoft literally is having trouble even giving it away. Although there are some pressing security problems in IIS, I think the lack of interest is because it came so late to the market and offered so little. When MS announced that IIS would be bundled with future versions of its NT operating system, the other web-server vendors dug in for a fight. But even the most cynical Microsoft watchers didn't predict what happened next.

Microsoft quietly introduced a new limitation to beta versions of NT Workstation 4.0. The OS was to be crippled so that no more than 10 people (technically unique IP addresses) per 10-minutes could connect to it. This hack effectively prevents any web server from running on NT Workstation. There is no technical justification for this limitation, and it was not present in previous versions of NT or Windows software.

Removing this limitation, involves the purchase NT Server and IIS for an additional $700. After, and only after, you have paid the extra $700 for Microsoft's free server will you have the option of spending $200 for superior third-party web-server software.

This is where I originally suggested sending e-mail to Microsoft and burning Bill Gates in effigy to protest these strong-arm tactics. Fortunately, due to the outcry over the policy and the mountains of e-mail they did receive, on July 19th Microsoft reversed its decision. The e-mail and the burning are not really necessary, but are still an option if you are so inclined.

Adam Taylor, group product manager for Windows NT and Windows 95, claimed (with a straight face no less!) that the limitation was engineered based on customer input and that NT Workstation was not well suited to web-serving. Taylor also stated that although Microsoft will not be enforcing it, the licensing agreement for NT does have a 10 connection limit, and that running third-party web-server software might be a violation of the licensing agreement and indicated that this policy may be extended to Windows 95.

I'm not sure what legal authority Microsoft has to determine what users can and cannot do with their own computers, but Mircosoft's strong-arm tactics have been getting more and more blatant over the years. If they continue on their present course, it is only a matter of time before the US Justice Department and Fair Trade Commission break them up into applications and operating systems companies.

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