Microsoft myths that won’t die

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At the end of an otherwise good reflection in the WSJ on where Google can go from here, we read the following:

It would be foolish to predict that Google won’t have another business success, of course. Microsoft managed to leverage its strength in PC operating systems into a stranglehold over the word-processing and spreadsheet applications.

Stan Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis debunked this at least 10 years ago in their book Winners, Losers, and Microsoft, and probably earlier, though I can’t recall which journal article it originally appeared in. Scroll down to Figure 8.18 at Liebowitz’s website, which shows the market share of Excel and Word in the Macintosh vs. Windows markets. They conclude:

Examination of Figure 8.18 reveals that Microsoft achieved very high market shares in the Macintosh market even while it was still struggling in the PC market. On average, Microsoft’s market share was about forty to sixty percentage points higher in the Macintosh market than in the PC market in the 1988-1990 period. It wasn’t until 1996 that Microsoft was able to equal in the PC market its success in the Macintosh market. These facts can be used to discredit a claim sometime heard that Microsoft only achieved success in applications because it owned the operating system, since Apple, not Microsoft, owned the Macintosh operating system and Microsoft actually competed with Apple products in these markets.

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8 Comments

  1. I distinctly remember reading, 10 or more years ago, that Microsoft received $3 for each computer (PC) sold with its operating system installed and an undisclosed amount for each Apple computer–because Microsoft owned their system also. I can’t, of course, verify that such information was accurate nor whether “Apple” injcluded the Macintosh operating system–only that I read such published information.

  2. I’m probably more pro-Microsoft than most computer people, but I did not know that bit about their marketshare on apples. I guess I always associated apples with closed systems that other software doesn’t work on.

  3. Who was Microsoft competing with on the Apple platform? If the competition was not the same then the market share argument doesn’t necessarily work.

  4. Who was Microsoft competing with on the Apple platform? 
     
    See Figures 8.15 – 8.17 and the surrounding text in the link to Liebowitz’s webpage. The same competitors as in the PC market — Lotus’ spreadsheets, WordPerfect, etc.

  5. Jesus the first two comments were a bit misinformed. 
     
    1) Microsoft never owned, or wrote, any of Apple’s code. MS did invest a relatively tiny amount of money in Apple when Jobs came back to the business – that was merely a gesture albeit a nice one. MS, on the other hand, did get some code from Apple – or rather a licence to use the graphical elements. Apple later sued MS, in a case that deserves to be better known ( because if they won then MS would have had to shut up shop) since they were claiming copyright over the “look and feel” of the GUI based OS. MS did not have something like the Mac until 1995, before then most people booted into DOS. 
     
    2) Apple is no more a closed system than MS. It has a set of API which people can write against to write their programs, and that includes the MS application team which has being doing that since *before* the release of the original Mac. I think Word was being developed on prototypes. 
     
    As to agnostics comments, as far as I know, MS were the first to use the Mac’s api to give a WYISWIG ( as was then said) look and feel. If you ever see an old dated 1980′s computer with WordPerfect ( and my Dad had one) you will see that you had to tag WP – much as you do in these comments. You could do that only via command-keys ( or macros) – i.e boldify this word but what you saw was boldify this /b/word/bb/ ( or something of that nature). You didnt see the look and feel until you printed out the page. As for the desktop publishing, for that reason, Mac’s dominated from the 80′s. They were *actually* a decade ahead.  
     
    Word on Windows had the ability to do some WYSIWIG, but it needed users to learn a new set of commands. Secretaries already had learned off the complicated nomenclature for WP. The Mac version of Word had menus from the start Unlike WP ( which came later). So Word was better on the Mac. 
     
    It wasn’t all that better on Windows, no menus, where it was not truly typefaced, unlike the Mac ( therefore not really WSIWIG). What I mean by that is you could see boldification, but not font changes on the screen. If you were serious about publishing you owned a Mac – that was their niche at the time.  
     
    WordPerfect lost their own battle by not porting to Windows in time, possibly because of hostility to MS. They didnt get their windows version out until months after Windows 95, the first version of Windows where people did not live in DOS most of the time.  
     
    In any case none of this proves Agnostics point. Here is the money quote from the wiki article on WP. 
     
    “While WordPerfect retained a majority of the retail shelf sales of word processors, Microsoft gained market share by including Word for Windows in its Windows product on new PCs. Microsoft gave discounts for Windows to OEMs who included Word on their PCs. When new PC buyers found Word installed on their new PC, Word began to dominate market share of desktop word processing” 
     
    Its the “discounts” bit that is worrying.

  6. The WSJ does not make the false claim.  
     
    To say that Word won only because of monopology and bundling is false, but to say that they played a role is not. At least it is not immediately contradicted by any of the data you link to. I don’t find that data terribly convincing, either. The magazine ratings, user ratings, and market share don’t seem terribly related.

  7. Lotus 123 Rel. 3.0 of about 1991 remains, in important ways, more intuitive than Excel 2007 for basic business tasks such creating a monthly budget on 12 separate sheets and then summing up the annual budget on a 13th sheet. But this wasn’t widely understood at the time. 
     
    However, MS Office was always better than Lotus Symphony as an omnibus product. The move toward Windows cemented 123′s doom.

  8. Microsoft Word for DOS was a horrible, awful product. WordPerfect was much, much nicer, and even WordStar was better. It wasn’t until Word for Windows that MS had a usable word processor to sell on PCs. 
     
    Eoin – perhaps in the earliest versions of WordPerfect you had to tag your formatting; by the time I was using it, you did things like highlight and type ctrl-b to bold. The tagged markup was accessible (which was a godsend!), but you didn’t actually type in [bold] to get bold text.

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