Imagine one day you buy a new TV antenna so that your TV reception will be better. You buy this antenna from a company called Gargantuan Resource Company (GRC) that made your old antenna and is just starting a new television channel. As you turn on your TV, the reception is clearer than ever and the colors are much more vivid, but you also notice the first channel that comes on is the new GRC channel. As you try to change the channel to what you used to love watching on ABC, you find that you can't watch these stations anymore. The antenna only lets you watch GRC stations.
To watch the old ABC stations you love, you have to go through a difficult wiring process. The executives at GRC apologize and say that the new antenna has a special interface with your TV that lets the color look so much better, but unfortunately doesn't work with the other stations, unless you do the tricky rewiring. Needless to say, you are not pleased with this situation, but because you already put up the new antenna, and because you like the new reception a lot, you realize you have only two choices. You can just watch the GRC channel, and get used to its programming, or you could do the wiring and fix the situation yourself. What a hassle!
Well, when Microsoft released Windows 95 in August of 1995, many previous Windows users who were excited about the new product faced a similar situation with regards to online services. Along with the Windows 95 rollout, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Network (MSN), a new on-line service including content and Internet connections. Windows 95 installation automatically placed an icon titled "Click Here to Connect to The Microsoft Network" on the desktop. Everyone who installed Windows 95 was able to, and with in-your-face marketing, invited to take advantage of its new online service and connectivity to the Internet.
While this already seems like a questionable use of Microsoft's operating system dominance - using Windows 95 to market MSN - when we see the rest of the picture, the monopolistic abuse come into full view. Microsoft stated that one of the main goals of Windows 95 was for it to be fully compatible with all Windows 3.1 software with few, if any, exceptions. It seems those exceptions were limited to many competitor's online service access software and web browsers.
Installation of Windows 95 automatically disables America Online, Compuserve, and Netscape Navigator for Windows 3.1. Microsoft claims that the disabling occurs because of Winsock compatibility problems. From their product support FAQ, Microsoft claims that it is the original program's fault for not complying with previous versions.
"Most of these applications install their proprietary version of WINSOCK.DLL (the file that provides Windows Sockets support) in their own application directory and work fine with Windows 95. Some applications, however, install their version of WINSOCK.DLL in the Windows directory. This can lead to conflicts with Windows 95's Windows Sockets 1.1 support (which also includes a file called WINSOCK.DLL) and their application may not function correctly."
By claiming that other programs have overwritten the Microsoft WINSOCK.DLL, Microsoft can place the blame on those companies, affirming that Windows 95 was just doing its job in reinstalling the WINSOCK.DLL which effectively disabled the other online service access products. It seems that with making backwards compatibility such an important goal of Windows 95, having the only major exception be the Internet access software is problematically coincidental with the introduction of Microsoft Network.
As the Microsoft Network quickly grew to a membership of over 500,000, many of the other online service provdiders became increasingly angry that Microsoft was using its dominance of operating systems to enter a new market. The possible repercussions of what Windows 95 installation did, in making MSN automatically available and disabling the Internet access for competing services on that computer, could still lead to some catastrophic consequences for fair competition for online service and content providers.
Fortunately, with the change in the Internet environment, making competing providers more conduits or accessors to the Internet rather than just controlling all the on-line content for their users, Microsoft has radically changed MSN so it is not the same kind of network as America Online and Compuserve; it is not in quite as direct competition. This, however, neither changes nor excuses Microsoft's original intent.
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