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Code Blue

That Microsoft Corporation of Redmond Washington have attempted to corrupt the electronic world shall have escaped no one.

Every move the company have made since the early 1990s has had one purpose and one purpose alone: undermine established technology and replace it with technology of their own.

Microsoft are the world's richest and most powerful software company, and if there were any reason to corrupt world standards, at least one would expect the new products to be good. But they're not. They're terrible.

Microsoft products are all built not only with a lock-in but a lock-out: they're designed to force people out of using products that do not emanate from Microsoft.

One hundred nineteen corporations signed the Java agreement; all abided by it but one - and that 'one' went about deliberately undermining the Java standard.

The Microsoft development environment with the awful title 'Visual J++' silently moved APIs out of the Java virtual machine and into Microsoft proprietary shared libraries. Developers were not told of this. Any company publishing Microsoft Java software would inadvertently be forcing site visitors to either migrate to Windows or not see the content.

Sun Microsystems, owners of Java, became aware of this and called Microsoft to task. Microsoft denied everything vehemently.

Then a middle echelon Microsoft executive emerged and spilled the beans. Yes, Microsoft had corrupted the Java standard, he told the world press, and it was no accident either.

Windows NT offered users the ability to connect to Unix databases at a fraction of the usual cost. The key here was a technology known as Open Database Connectivity or ODBC. Unix clients migrated en masse to the new platform to cut costs.

And then the World Wide Web emerged and changed everything.

In his book The Road Ahead Bill Gates talks humbly of his desire to be in on the coming Internet revolution. What no one perhaps knew at the time was that Bill Gates was already in the process of slowing that revolution and trying to make it his own.

Well aware that most people couldn't give a hoot about his crappy Windows and that Windows wasn't even needed to connect to the net, Gates began forcing the hands of the clock back. No third party software that circumvented Microsoft would be allowed to enter the PC market.

Gates had the heads of Mosaic/Netscape, AOL, and other giants of the time up to his offices to give them the lowdown. None obeyed; all were punished.

The advent of the original Internet Explorer web browser, distributed on a single 1.44 MB diskette and dumped as a freebie by the millions into huge bins at computer stores everywhere on this planet, was not an attempt to eclipse the then Netscape standard by creating something better. It was an attempt to provide an alternative when the marketing machine had destroyed Netscape Corporation.

Hand in hand with the OEM and ISP Netscape lock-outs went the 'embrace and extend' campaign. For those not familiar with the term, it involves officially pledging adherence to standards but covertly undermining those same standards.

The benefits of such a campaign are obvious. The authority of ruling bodies such as the W3C is undermined. Microsoft continue to spread, and in so doing establish a new de facto standard deliberately at odds with the rest of the world. Domination becomes a fait accompli.

Even in the world of web servers Microsoft gave the world a run for its money. Having absolutely no good reason not to stand behind the excellent and still market dominant Apache web server, the clowns of Redmond set about writing their own. The results are in; the world has seen where that led.

Microsoft blew it: their Internet Information Server (IIS) got clobbered by the Code Red worm and the US federal government immediately proclaimed IIS unfit for government consumption.

Once hovering just above a 30% market share, IIS has been on a steady decline ever since. Today only a fool would run IIS.

The time has come for Internet Explorer to share the same fate. Riddled with ridiculous code, the browser left standing once Microsoft had destroyed Netscape Corporation is so vulnerable that even the US Department of Homeland Security are telling people to run for their lives.

And people are - home users that is. For the first time in five years, the IE market share has decreased. It's a hard battle to reach each and every Harry and Harriet Homeowner, but the tide has turned.

It's not so easy for corporations however. Here the 'lock-in' and 'lock-out' strategies played so deftly by Gates rear their ugly heads. Network administrators intent on securing their networks by eliminating IE are faced with a number of nasty roadblocks:

  • Client-side scripting. Client-side scripting has never been a good idea, not even with JavaScript, but Microsoft took it to new nadirs by corrupting their Java virtual machine to allow access to local hardware, by offering even more dangerous scripting of their own, and through the horrendously failed ActiveX, phoenix of the even more ridiculous OLE2.

  • 'This site requires Internet Explorer.' Countless are the companies lured or forced into lock-in and lock-out, today running internal portals dependent on IE technology. Some of these companies even forbid web designers to download alternative browsers and adapt their sites to them.

  • IE is part of the operating system. Because of the threat in the DOJ trial, Microsoft began silently migrating operating system APIs to IE-specific shared libraries in a (failed) attempt to convince judge TP Jackson that IE was an integral part of the OS. Companies can today prevent the use of the IE application but they cannot remove the IE technology entirely.

But these 'roadblocks' are not so much a defence for maintaining IE as they are an indication of how deep down in the swamp the world is stuck.

They're a fuel for renewed efforts to extricate users from Microsoft's irresponsible technology, not further embrace it.

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