Bill Gates Says Superior Products Drove Microsoft's Wins in the 1990s
In case you're convinced that Bill Gates isn't involved in Microsoft matters any longer, the company's chairman is in the news this week after testifying in a long-standing antitrust court case originally brought on by a WordPerfect founder several years ago. The issues in the case are complex, but date back to Microsoft's delivery of Windows 95, at which point WordPerfect was a leading word processor and newly under the wing of Novell. The case alleges that Microsoft tuned the Windows platform in such a way that WordPerfect was boxed out as a leading word processor. That paved the way for Microsoft Word to become the dominant word processor. During the early rise of Microsoft, this kind of battle arose frequently, but was Microsoft wrong, or was it simply in control of the dominant operating system on personal computers?
In his testimony, speaking of Microsoft Word, Gates said: "It was a ground-breaking piece of work, and it was very well received when we got it done."
"Gates argued that Novell had simply been unable to deliver a version of word processor WordPerfect that was better than Microsoft's Word in time for the launch of Windows 95. Novell claims that Microsoft refused to support WordPerfect for Win 95."
One has to wonder if Gates is delivering the whole story here. After all, there was a clear analagous situation in Microsoft's recent history in the 1990s, where another leading software maker leveled the same charges at Microsoft.
When Windows 3.1 arrived, Lotus 1-2-3 was the dominant spreadsheet by far. But Lotus couldn't deliver a version of 1-2-3 tuned for Windows as quickly as Microsoft delivered a smooth-running version of its Excel spreadsheet. Almost overnight, Lotus' stock plummeted, Wall Street and everyone else switched to Excel, and Lotus never recovered.
It's up to the courts to decide whether Microsoft's actions toward WordPerfect were anti-competitive, but these debates will always be complex ones. Both Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect were casualties, in a sense, of how quickly businesses and consumers took to the Windows platform in the early 1990s. That was a win for Microsoft, but the company has already been slapped with penalties by the government for unfairly leveraging the power of its OS platform.
One thing's for sure: That period in the 1990s, when the titans of software applications toppled, demonstrated that a successful operating system can have a wrecking ball-like effect on the whole technology scene.