The Top 7 Roadkill Victims on the Journey to Windows 7

Pay your respects to the technologies that pointed the way to innovation, only to be knocked out by competing follow-on Microsoft versions.


Since its inception, Microsoft has made a practice of folding innovation by others into its proprietary products. Windows is no exception. Beginning with version 1.0, Windows has accreted features that often eclipsed third-party products, sometimes killing them in the process. That hit-and-run trend continues in Windows 7 today. Join us in paying respects to the top seven roadkill products claimed by Windows.

Microsoft's roadkill on the journey to Windows 7

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1. Windows 95's Internet Explorer runs over Netscape

Marc Andreessen's Netscape was the first commercial (though free) browser for the World Wide Web. Shortly after Windows 95's release, which didn't even support TCP/IP as its default networking protocol, Microsoft issued an update that included its Internet Explorer browser based on intellectual property obtained when it purchased Spyglass. Netscape tumbled from its perch, ultimately purchased by AOL in a tax-free stock swap before fading away completely.


2. Outlook Express mows down Netscape Mail

Microsoft first shipped its Internet Mail and News as a freeware e-mail and Usenet news client, but then renamed it Outlook Express in 1997, bundling it with IE4 — and not surprisingly bringing IE into feature parity with Netscape.


3. FrontPage bears down on HTML editors

The Internet was well under way with a healthy ecosystem of third-party HTML editors and site-creation tools when Microsoft debuted its free FrontPage site editor as part of Windows NT 4.0 Server. The Windows HTML editor marketplace lost much diversity after that, never achieving the product selection of rival development platform Mac OS X.


4. Active Server Pages squashes WebBase

Expertelligence's WebBase was the first self-contained Web application platform for Windows, combining a development environment, scripting language, database access engine, and HTTP server in a single program that would run on any version of Windows. Microsoft officials visited Expertelligence in 1996, then retired to Redmond, where Microsoft eventually bundling its own scripting language, ASP, as part of its Internet Information Explorer (IIS) HTTP server. The free ASP/IIS combo rapidly eclipsed all third-party Web application products.


5. ActiveX slams into Java Applets

ActiveX is Microsoft's proprietary plug-in architecture for IE, shipping with IE3 to counter Sun's open and free Java Applet technology. ActiveX gives developers deeper access to the underlying Window OS at the expense of totally eliminating portability, because ActiveX runtime support is not available in any browser other than IE and derivative products such as Microsoft's Windows Mobile.


6. Redmond flattens AutoPatcher

AutoPatcher, a free patch aggregation and distribution tool created by system administrator Jason Kelley, let users patch multiple Windows systems without slamming their Internet connections or getting infected during the patch process. The utility was a system administration staple until Aug. 29, 2007, when Microsoft lawyers shut down the project in a single day with a cease-and-desist letter.


7. Windows 7's hit-and-run: Third-party codecs

Windows 7 beta testers noticed that third-party codecs — video decoders for specific streaming media protocols, such as MPEG-4 — that ran fine under Vista became strangely non-operational under the new OS. It turns out that Windows 7 preempts third-party codecs, favoring codecs built into the OS, and Windows 7 has more built-in codecs than any previous Windows release. Users wanting their favorite third-party codecs to work again must perform some system configuration gymnastics to get them back.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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