By now you are probably aware that Microsoft has released Windows 8, the latest version of the ubiquitous Windows family of Operating Systems. Windows 8 boasts many cool new features, including the ability to be loaded across a new range of hardware including tablets, and featuring touch-screen capabilities. I believe no one can deny the ‘coolness’ of the newest Windows family member. But were you aware that not everything is sunshine and roses behind the scenes?
I’m not going to fool you. This article will be a little long. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. And in the end, you will understand what the fuss is all about.
A Developing Row
Enter Gabe Newell (pictured at right), co-founder of Valve (developers of the digital distribution platform Steam), and former developer of Windows itself at Microsoft. On July 24th, at an annual videogame conference in Seattle, Gabe Newell had this to say about Windows 8 in a discussion about developing games for the Linux operating system:
“I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space.”
Wait. What? Why would he say that? It was even re-iterated in Forbes.
This was quickly echoed by other developers. Blizzard Entertainment’s Executive Vice President of Game Design for Diablo III, Rob Pardo, tweeted the following:
While Blizzard Entertainment has since confirmed there will be a release of the Blizzard products onto the Windows 8 platform, the developers blasting of Windows 8 still continues, and some developers are even refusing to have their applications certified by Microsoft.
Since then, more software developers have been more or less echoing this sentiment. Even Minecraft creator Markus Persson got in on the action when he tweeted the following:
What’s all the clamor about?
The launch of Windows 8 comes with the launch of the Microsoft Windows Store and integration with X-Box Music service. Microsoft is following the example of Apple’s success with the Apple App Store; and raising the bar by making a Microsoft Windows Store accessible across all its platforms, including X-Box, Windows Phone, Windows Desktops. So you can order your X-Box game on your phone, start up the X-Box, and it’s already there. You can order that new music on your X-Box, and it’s already on your computer or tablet or phone. Pretty cool, right?
There is nothing immoral or illegal about this activity. In fact, Microsoft is considerably justified in pursuing a strategy which has been so successful for Apple. But this new strategy pushes further into our electronic world and puts the squeeze not just on the consumer, but also on both equipment manufacturers and software developers. All applications sold through the Windows Store will give Microsoft the same 30% cut that Apple derives from apps sold on the App Store. Apple is following suit by extending its App Store onto their desktops.
When software developers are developing for one of the 3 primary platforms (Windows, Apple OS, Linux), they rely on the developer of the operating system to put out a Software Development Kit (SDK). The new Windows 8 Software Development Kit provides coding that is streamlined for using the Windows Store to market applications. Again, not surprising.
Apple has been very successful in controlling what apps are available in the Apple Store. If you want your App listed, then play by Apple’s rules when it comes to the content of the App, and give them 30% off the top. Apple has always been a closed source, proprietary system. They control the hardware AND the software. The benefits to a closed system is that the software works. Users of Apple products generally experience fewer errors and less downtime. With that comes less third-party innovation. Most of the major breakthroughs on the Apple platform have been developed solely, or in conjunction with Apple themselves.
Microsoft, on the other hand, took an open platform approach. Granted, Windows itself has always been closed. But development of software for the platform was left open, and drivers for the hardware was also open, allowing third party developers of both hardware and software to innovate to the sky, with only the limitations of the Windows platform itself. In addition, anything you developed for the Windows platform was your own. The profits…were your own. Allowing an open development platform had its drawbacks, and poorly coded applications and drivers resulted in errors. This is where the free market takes hold, and those companies who consistently wrote poorly coded software were *generally* driven out of business, and those who coded well were able to compete in the global software marketplace. Well…so long as you weren’t coding some kind of software which directly competed with Microsoft products (more on that later, as well).
Now, if you want your App or Application listed in the Microsoft Windows Store, similar rules to the Apple paradigm apply. This gives Microsoft unprecedented control of not just of Apps, designed primarily for Windows phones and tablets, but also of Applications and Games. The birth of the Microsoft Windows Store is a means for Microsoft to tighten the reigns on software developers, as well as skimming profits off the top. Anything Microsoft doesn’t agree with can be removed from the Microsoft Windows Store. The benefits to this are the same as the benefits with Apple, in that tighter control will generally mean better working applications. The problem with closing the platform is that it stifles innovation and competition.
With the launch of the Microsoft Windows Store, Microsoft has taken the first step in tightening the reins. In truth, there is not a lot wrong here…yet. Software developers can opt not to use the Microsoft Windows Store, and instead continue pursuing their own software distribution methods. The fear is that the second step, where Microsoft further tightens the reins and begins limiting what can be installed outside of the store, or demanding more criteria in alignment with Microsoft’s designs, will be all too easy a step to take, with little recourse for the developers. Microsoft is treading new ground here, and seeing how far they can go. There are already negotiations going on with some governments to ensure that Microsoft will not be stifling competition.
A Little History…
Apple and Microsoft
Apple was the company which billed itself as the little company fighting the “Big Brother” establishment, as seen here in their famous commercial in 1984. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8[/youtube]
Apple has been a generally closed company, with tight controls over hardware and software. Rival upstart Microsoft, which “borrowed” technology from Apple (who “borrowed” their technology from Xerox – who never saw a dime for it – though that was Xerox’ own fault), was the company who made their operating system more open, so manufacturers could innovate and write their own drivers; and software developers could create applications; and everyone took their profits to the bank.
Now, while the Windows platforms had been left relatively open, no one can deny that Microsoft was extremely aggressive against competitors. Despite losing anti-trust cases for its part in the browser wars in the late ’90s, Microsoft and Internet Explorer still emerged the victor from those wars, driving rival Netscape out of the limelight, and sending its browser code back to Mozilla source, later to be reborn as Firefox. Microsoft accomplished this not only by tightly integrating its own browser, Internet Explorer, into the Windows Operating System, but also making it difficult for users to utilize any alternatives. Anti-Trust cases in both the United States and Europe slapped Microsoft’s hands. No No. You can’t do that.
Microsoft learned its lessons about Anti-Trust cases. So when it turned its sights to another rival, the open source Linux Operating System, Microsoft utilized completely different tactics. Why should Microsoft fight the fight when they can let another corporation be the
patsy – I mean, champion.
SCO Unix vs the World
The history of Unix predates all these corporations. It goes way back to Bell Labs and AT&T in the 1960s and 70s. Eric Steven Raymond wrote The Art of Unix Programming, and Chapter 2 History: Origins and History of Unix, 1969-1995 provides the truly incredible beginnings of these systems and the battles of the original developers with and against corporate backing and influence. A highly recommended read. At the end of this chapter, he writes:
“AT&T divested its interest in Sun in 1992; then sold its Unix Systems Laboratories to Novell in 1993; Novell handed off the Unix trademark to the X/Open standards group in 1994; AT&T and Novell joined OSF [Open Software Foundation] in 1994, finally ending the Unix wars. In 1995 SCO bought UnixWare (and the rights to the original Unix sources) from Novell.”
The SCO Group, as a developer, had worked with IBM on their proprietary Unix variant, AIX. IBM was also involved with the OSF (Open Software Foundation), with developers who worked both on the closed source AIX, but also in the open-source world of Linux. SCO sued IBM in 2003 alleging that the latter had shared proprietary code which had crept into the Linux Kernel. In fact, SCO began suing many organizations, including some organizations that were simply operating their businesses on Linux based servers, such as Autozone and DaimlerChrysler. Throughout the early part of the decade, SCO became primarily a legal organization and set out to protect its’ copyrights. The sheer number of lawsuits prompted Pamela Jones to create the website Groklaw, which kept track of the lawsuits, the allegations, and all the public documents. Groklaw has won numerous awards for its’ work.
Well, over the course of all this controversy, it turned out that Microsoft had been indirectly funding SCO Group. It made sense. The threat kept businesses feeding from Microsoft’s trough. All in all, Microsoft contributed over $100 Million to keep the lawsuits going. Yeah. Let that sink in. As a result of this heavy pressure, Linux distributors had difficulty establishing Linux as a business platform.
Part of the challenge of all these allegations was that SCO would not allow anyone to review any of the code it claimed was copyrighted except under a Non-Disclosure Agreement. This is a pattern which Microsoft pushed highly at the time, and continues to push heavily today. Open Source developers were never able to review the code to determine if there was any legitimate claim by SCO. This made the legal process drag on for years, which was good business for Microsoft.
Then out of seemingly nowhere, Novell enters the fray, and says to SCO (and I paraphrase) ‘Um … you know those Unix rights we sold you? We actually only sold you the trademarks and some Unix assets, but we retained the copyrights and intellectual properly.’ Boom.
Multiple lawsuits spring up between SCO and Novell. Claims and counter claims. These lawsuits also took years. And Novell simply didn’t have the deep pockets to get into another long legal battle. They were currently involved in another long, drawn out anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft. So, they sought funding by an unlikely partner: Microsoft. Novell and Microsoft entered into a Patent Agreement with the stated intention of expanding the interoperability of Windows and Linux. The terms of the patent agreement were bound by a Non Disclosure Agreement. So Microsoft, which had very deep pockets, put their fingers in both SCO Group and Novell’s pies. And continued to keep pressure and threats of lawsuits against companies that distribute, and companies that use Unix. Yeah. Let that sink in.
In 2007, a ruling came down that Novell did in fact retain the rights to Unix and Unixware. A week later, Novell made a promise to the open source community at large that it will not sue users of Unix and Linux. The open source community rejoiced.
But it’s not over. Oh no. Appeals were filed. More claims and counter claims. On August 30, 2011, the appeals court affirmed the original trials decisions. Here is the transcript. This effectively killed SCO’s case against IBM and most of the other lawsuits. It was finally over.
The Death of Novell
Now we get back to Novell’s anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft over Office Suites. Novell had alleged that back in the mid-1990s, Microsoft deliberately withheld elements of the Windows 95 operating system to thwart development of WordPerfect and QuatroPro for that operating system, and thus giving Microsoft Office a significant head start in penetrating the business market. In 1990, WordPerfect claimed 50% of the market. By 1996, they were reduced to only 10%. The claim was for $1.3 Billion Dollars. Microsoft’s defense was that there was no deliberate withholding of the code, but rather it was “Incompetent Management” that caused the delay in the release of the code. Yeah. Let that sink in. In the end, Microsoft won dismissal of the case.
Even prior to the final completion of these cases, and the funding from Microsoft with the patent agreement, Novell’s finances were strained. Novell had no choice but to find a buyer. And it was actually at the end of 2010 that Novell sold itself to Attachmate. But Attachmate didn’t get everything. There was also a Patent Purchase Agreement between Novell and CPTN Holdings LLC. Get ready for the bombshell.
Patent Purchase Agreement
Also on November 21, 2010, Novell entered into a Patent Purchase Agreement (the “Patent Purchase Agreement”) with CPTN Holdings LLC, a Delaware limited liability company and consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft Corporation (“CPTN”). The Patent Purchase Agreement provides that, upon the terms and subject to the conditions set forth in the Patent Purchase Agreement, Novell will sell to CPTN all of Novell’s right, title and interest in 882 patents (the “Assigned Patents”) for $450 million in cash (the “Patent Sale”).
Yeah. Let that sink in.
Now, before you think all hope is lost .. a small glimmer of light. Enter the U.S. Department of Justice.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Microsoft will sell back to Attachmate all of the Novell patents that Microsoft would have otherwise acquired, but will continue to receive a license for the use of those patents, the patents acquired by the other three participants and any patents retained by Novell;
All of the Novell patents will be acquired subject to the GNU General Public License, Version 2, a widely adopted open-source license, and the Open Invention Network (OIN) License, a significant license for the Linux System;
So, effectively, Novell still owns UnixWare under the corporate umbrella of Attachmate.
Meanwhile, back in Cupertino…
Apple’s history is one of artistic design and innovation. At one point in its history, Steve Jobs was compelled to leave. And Apple sunk to new lows. Then, in 1997 Steve Jobs returned with a new investor: Microsoft. Microsoft was sold non-voting stock, and it helped keep Apple afloat while Steve Jobs worked his magic. Several years later, most of the stock purchased by Microsoft has been sold.
Thirty years after the commercial displaying the little company fighting the “Big Brother” establishment, Apple now IS the establishment. iTunes, the iPod and the iPhone have catapulted Apple virtually into a class by themselves. With a net-worth which dwarfs all rivals, and even surpassed ExxonMobile this year, few companies have the truly deep pockets that Apple has. It even blew away Microsoft’s old records. They regularly WOW Wall Street with their earnings, and the release of a new iPhone, as depicted this year in the image to the left, is always a media event. Apple is currently worth more than Microsoft and Google combined.
Google was created in 1997 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford University students, and incorporated in California in 1998. Google quickly made a name for itself as the search engine of choice on the internet, quickly eclipsing Yahoo and other major search providers. As of 2011, Google boasts over 1 billion visitors per month. The founders adopted as their informal corporate motto the “Don’t Be Evil” manifesto:
“Our goal is to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible. In pursuing this goal, we may do things that we believe have a positive impact on the world, even if the near term financial returns are not obvious…
“Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company…”
Over the years, many have questioned whether Google has been successful or not in adhering to this motto. And certainly a lot of the criticism comes from the question of its’ privacy policies, which have changed considerably over the years. While Google insists that the data it collects is not sold or shared with third parties, it does share that data across an entire spectrum of its own services. Google’s privacy policies are currently under heavy scrutiny in the EU, which has some of the most stringent privacy laws in the world. Certainly, no one can deny that Google is pushing the fringes of what is private and what isn’t. But to its credit, when major privacy issues are brought up, they do generally scramble to address them. One could also argue that when privacy issues are brought up, the stock drops, and when the issues are addressed the stock rebounds. Either way, it’s up to us to keep Google in check when it comes to privacy. For example, It has one of the most sophisticated and mature maps application, and enhanced it with a product called Street View, in which it sent cars with equipped cameras around the world, driving around and taking pictures. While privacy advocates cry foul, thus far, there have been no significant court cases documenting specific privacy violations. There were EU hearings on the matter, but Google brought itself in alignment with EU rules. Either they are incredibly good at hiding their tracks (they do control the world’s foremost search engine), or they are thus far keeping the data internal.
Google also tries to be all things for all people. Google has pushed out a wildly popular email service, GMail, completely free of charge. It directly competes with social networking giant, Facebook, with it’s own offering, Google+, again free of charge. It provides online office applications, admittedly not as powerful as their desktop competitors, but they do the job – completely free of charge. On the web browser front, Google Chrome is rapidly catching up to competitor’s Internet Explorer and Firefox. In fact, there are so many different applications Google offers free of charge, they have basically made corporate enemies of virtually all other software providers.. Except for the privacy concerns, It’s kind of hard not to like Google. Until they started moving into the realm of hardware, everything they made they gave to the world for free. And best of all, they kept a sense of humor about it all, from the easter eggs, to the april fool’s jokes. They even produced a tongue-in-cheek video about Google Buzz with Comedy.com where they act like the stereotypical evil corporate entity some make them out to be. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGwYrZLvvJU[/youtube]
Google is also a major advocate for Open Software, regularly sponsoring open source coding events, providing means for developers to contribute to existing open source projects, and even hosting the Google Summer of Code. Their biggest commercial project, however, absolutely must be Android, a linux based operating system designed with smart phones and tablets in mind.
By showing the world that an Android phone can be a direct competitor to the iPhone, Google attracted the ire Apple. Lawsuits were quickly filed against the cell phone manufacturers producing Android based phones. Steve Jobs had much to say about Google to his biographer:
“I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this,” he told Isaacson of the patent lawsuit Apple filed against cell phone manufacturer HTC. “Our lawsuit is saying, ‘Google you f***ing ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off,'” Jobs said, according to Isaacson. “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product.”
And apparently Microsoft agrees. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer did an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2010 and was asked about competing with Google’s model of giving away Android for free:
Mr. Ballmer: Android has a patent fee. It’s not like Android’s free. You do have to license patents. HTC’s signed a license with us and you’re going to see license fees clearly for Android as well as for Windows.
“For the past couple of years, Microsoft has been on a tear of signing up Android and Chrome OS device makers to license publicly unspecified Microsoft patents that Microsoft claims are infringed upon by Google’s operating systems.” according to ZDnet. It has been suggested that Android alone could be Microsoft’s next big $1 Billion a year business, banking as much as $5 for every Android activation. And the non-disclosure agreements to which all these companies are bound drives the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) campaign Microsoft has been pushing for so many years against the entire open source community at large. Time and time again, Ballmer is quoted saying to the world that Linux users must pay.
Where is Google?
With so many enemies, Google is stretched pretty thin. Yes, Google is working with its Android manufacturers to help defend against all the Apple lawsuits, especially Apple vs Samsung. The following video does a pretty decent job summarizing these actions.[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/49621440[/vimeo]
Google recently bought Motorola’s mobile manufacturing division, and will soon be in much more control of developing phones. Personally, I won’t be happy until I see Google actually put their name on the phone, and declare to the world that THIS is truly a Google phone. However, this also puts Google directly in Apple’s crosshairs. A very bold step. It almost like Google is stepping up to the plate and challenging Apple directly. Bring it.
Google is also working with their manufacturers in defending against Microsoft’s patent licensing attacks, or to help defray the costs. It is also busy addressing privacy concerns with the EU. And most recently, it has been involved in a US Justice Department investigation regarding it’s search results. Competitors are saying the Google’s search is unfairly listing Google’s alternatives much higher in the list than it’s competitors. The chief investigator, a Washington lawyer named Thomas Barnett, is calling for Anti-Trust charges to be brought up against Google, and has even mentioned the possibility of breaking Google up. Thomas Barnett also happens to be funded by a new coalition named Fairsearch.org. Guess who is one of the founding members of Fairsearch.org? Wait for it…. Microsoft. Yeah. Let that sink in.
The Big, Big Picture
We live in a world of consumers and producers. When it comes to the digital information age, there are really only 3 major platforms on which to present media for consumption: Windows, Apple OS and Linux. Apple OS, generally the most closed of these platforms, is controlled by Apple. Windows, what was previous much more open development controlled by Microsoft. And Linux…. yeah…. Linux. I’d like to say that Linux truly is the open source platform controlled by the open source community. Really, Linux is under Microsoft’s foot. These are the platforms.
Sure, there is the smart phone market, too. Apple, Microsoft and Google have been making their forays deeply into that market. Then there is the TV market. We haven’t seen that war yet. Apple TV vs. Google TV vs Microsoft TV. (Yes, Microsoft TV.) There is the video console market, but really, here in the US, the big one is X-Box, controlled my Microsoft. And all these platforms will be fed by the Apple App Store, the Microsoft Windows Store, and Google Play.
And now Microsoft, with the launch of Windows 8, gives us the release of the Microsoft Windows Store, and gets to start putting the crunch on software developers. Yes, software developers can, at least for now, opt out of marketing their software through the Microsoft Windows Store, and continue their own distribution channels, and keep their own profits. But if anyone thinks for a second that Microsoft will have any fear, any hesitation about taking the next step, think again. With all these corporate giants, they can afford to push just a little too far, to see how far they can go. It’s just a matter of inching further, and further in, until some government somewhere says “No No, you can’t do that.”
Now, to be very clear, thus far, there is NOTHING illegal about any of this. Any thing that was previously illegal has previously been addressed by courts and governments. What Microsoft is doing is following a very successful paradigm. Quite frankly, if I am an investor in Microsoft, then they are my white knight. They are one of the most aggressive companies around in terms of defending their marketplace, and in finding new ways to make profit. And as an investor, they are defending my investment better than any other company in the world could. This is the free market. If I am an investor in Apple, they too are aggressive in terms of defending their marketplace. And again, I am happy knowing that my investment is sitting with a company that has the drive and the deep pockets to protect my investment.
This is the world we consumers helped to create.
The Windows 8 ‘Catastrophe’ Controversy
We’ve come full circle. So let’s go back for a second and take Gabe Newell’s comments in full context. Full Quote:
On Valve’s interest in Linux
“The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don’t realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.
Gabe, meet me over at camera 3…
Hey, how ya doing? I agree, the lack of a killer Game, and a killer Application for that matter, have helped keep Linux back. So has Microsoft. And they will continue to do so. Linux is in many ways a superior product, which is why Apple converted their OS to a Linux base; and it’s why Microsoft have felt so threatened as to spend so much of their money on controlling it.
I hope my article shows that your statement about Windows 8 being a catastrophe – I totally get it. While Windows 8 may itself be totally cool, with many new features that consumers crave; the philosophy and business practices of Microsoft is a catastrophe initially for developers, and potentially for consumers in the long run. And we’re seeing that echo though the tweets of developers all over the world.
But the decision to develop for Linux as a strategy to hedge against destroyed margins and control over software development? Really?
Granted, Linux/Unix is arguably the most powerful OS the world has known. It’s potential may never truly be realized. Linux could be so much more than it is right now. And don’t get me wrong, I’m elated that Valve is interested in Linux, and will be developing software for it. Really decent, first rate games is something that Linux has sorely lacked since it’s inception. Sure, there is WINE, upon which we can get some of those games to run, but usually with limited functionality. So, a game developed for Linux natively? I am 100% behind you there. And I applaud your determination in bringing to the platform that which it so sorely lacks, and potentially bringing a new wave of Linux users into the fold.
But as a means of hedging against Microsoft specifically, and Apple potentially? Do you really think that developing for Linux is the way to cover the spread? It’s nice thinking. And I even think that if you can get a good MMO that is cross platform, and F2P, selling the in-game additions might yield some profit. Enough to cover the spread? Well, the strategy is better than nothing. But I wouldn’t brand it a great strategy.
What might be a better strategy in the long run? You know anyone that knows how to write a kernel?
No? BOOM: STEAM SALE!!! 😉