Saluting 25 Years of Microsoft 'Innovation'

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - From: BillgTo: Our great innovatorsSubj: A pioneering historyI'm sure most of you are outraged about government interference with our great business. Some of you may have heard whiny, baseless accusations that Microsoft Corp. basically takes others' ideas and moves them to new platforms, or simply buys them, and that we're not the innovative and visionary force we claim to be.

Well, just because we didn't invent the word processor or the spreadsheet or the graphical user interface or the mouse or BASIC or any of our other historic profit centers doesn't mean we're not innovative. I've decided to provide some historical perspective on our proud 25 years in business to help you see precisely what kind of company you work for.

1975: Microsoft Basic. Sure, we borrowed the feature set and syntax from a version for a DEC machine. But we changed the default prompt from READY to OK.

1980: Xenix. Many of you may not realize this port of AT&T Unix was our company's very first operating system. True, Xenix was expensive, didn't run all that great, and wasn't open-source, but otherwise, it was everything Linux could be if only that Finnish guy weren't so doggone altruistic.

1981: MS-DOS. Sure, we bought this knockoff of CP/M. But to copy a file, DOS used the word "copy" instead of "pip." We recognize innovation when we see it!

1985: Windows. Some of you may think it resembles the Macintosh OS. Nothing could be further from the truth. True, we did sign a contract with Apple admitting Windows was one of our "derivative works of the visual displays generated by Apple's Lisa and Macintosh." Yes, one of our chief Mac programmers did much of the early Windows development. But don't forget we also hired guys from Xerox PARC, which developed the first GUIs.

1987: PowerPoint. We bought the company that invented it. That's innovative, right? Who else did that?

1987: Excel 2.0 for Windows. This was the first Windows version, but we're not hung up with mundane details. This product was so innovative that we had to pair it with a special version of Windows to make it work--at a time when we were telling other developers that our systems guys and apps guys were totally separate!

1989: Word for Windows. Sure, we touted it for years before it shipped--an innovation in product scheduling! And how could anybody say it derived from Xerox's Bravo, just because that was designed by the guy who was our chief software architect before I swiped the title?

1995: Microsoft Bob. What can I say but "one of a kind"? Nothing like Bob was ever seen before--or since!

1995: MSN. Innovation isn't about being first or being best. Innovation is about extending the Windows interface to everything!

1997: Office 97. We introduce the Office Assistants, those cute cartoon characters derived directly from Bob. Wow!

1997: Hotmail. Yeah, we bought this one, too. You got a problem with that?

1998: Windows 98. Thanks to Windows Scripting Host, Outlook lets viruses send themselves to your entire address book. Can any other program (besides Outlook Express) do that?

1999: Office 2000. Its menus are supposed to adjust to the way you work. Kind of irritating, if you ask me, but the guy who sold me on it insists several people actually like the feature. When that kind of innovation comes calling, I'm big enough to answer the doorbell!

1999: Microsoft TaxSaver. We introduce a TurboTax knockoff so innovative it refuses to compute state income taxes. Whatever's good enough for income-tax-free Washington State is good enough for us!

Our vision is far from complete. Big challenges lie ahead. We must come up with great new slogans as MSN innovates the most popular features of AOL, Yahoo, and RealNetworks. We'll move forward as Windows innovates our concept of quality to everything from phones to cars and we innovate neutral terms for "crash." And all the while, you can be sure I'll credit your kind of innovation--and mine--as the source of our success.

PC World Contributing Editor Stephen Manes is a cohost of Digital Duo, a series appearing on public television stations nationwide. For program information, see

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