This began as Bambi vs. Godzilla, and darn it if Bambi didn't dig in her hooves and send the big lizard to the gates of the bone yard. A young Bill Gates was having his mug shot snapped following a late 1970s traffic arrest in Albuquerque, N.M., while Unix was laying down its foundation and weaving itself into network projects including one later called the Internet.
By the 1980s, commercial versions of Unix servers and workstations were popping up including a Unix variant for 16-bit microcomputers called Xenix developed by none other than Microsoft. In 1985, Microsoft abandoned Xenix for its OS/2 project with IBM (see Windows vs. OS/2) and later dumped that partner to concentrate on Bambi, a.k.a Windows NT and the Windows desktop operating system.
Microsoft charged into the enterprise IT market like a clumsy kid running with scissors. The industry snickered at the thought of Unix's entrenched position being eroded by Microsoft. Windows went through its growing pains, but with the advent of the Win32 API everything began to change. The Wintel marriage was the turning point and the combination of Office and Windows on the PC cemented Microsoft's dominance on the desktop. In 2005, Windows Server revenue of US$17.7 billion for the first time eclipsed the revenue generated by Unix (US$17.5 billion).
Critics scoff that Microsoft's advantage is marketing and monopoly (see Microsoft vs. U.S. Justice Department) and not technical or innovative prowess.
Today, things have come full circle. Windows is the leading operating system and Unix is being clipped by one of its own derivatives, Linux, which in turn has put Microsoft into the Godzilla role.