How the Microsoft machine crushed Apple – Tevanian
The Apple exec's testimony provides a case study of how the Microsoft 'standards' script operates
Last year, Steve Jobs announced -- to a background of boos from loyalists -- Apple's alliance with Microsoft. This week Apple senior VP of software engineering Avie Tevanian testifies that the 'alliance' was a lie, a deal struck at gunpoint to Apple's severe disadvantage. So what's the real story? The course of today's examination of Tevanian is predictable, and the scope for Microsoft accusations of it being hearsay, out of context and rumour are considerable. But Tevanian and his testimony are both special cases. He's been with Jobs for his entire non-academic working life, and can be presumed not to be crossing his master. And while it's possible to think of his testimony as just a list of grievances, if you try to view it as a forensic examination of how the Microsoft machine operates against competition, it's dynamite. Tevanian's case centres on QuickTime, and on Microsoft's efforts to snuff it out as a standard for Windows. These, so far, seem to have been successful. They also tie in with the apparent main event, Microsoft's determination to make Internet Explorer the default browser on the Mac, and from there lead on to how the machine works in general, because it's all of a piece. QuickTime is Apple's multimedia playback system, and according to Tevanian, the company's objective in developing it was to enable multimedia content to be "created and played back on virtually any computer system". QuickTime is frequently viewed -- particularly in the Windows market -- as being just an alternative to Microsoft's media player, but the distinction is significant; if QuickTime were to succeed as an open multimedia platform, and if it were to be combined with an open browser, Microsoft's supremacy would be challenged -- you could play multimedia stuff on anything. QuickTime is intended to use simple HTTP for file transmission, so any server on the Web can transmit QuickTime files without needing extra and/or proprietary software. It also has a fully documented API, so can be extended by developers without Apple's knowledge or permission. Now contrast this with the approach Microsoft uses. Says Tevanian: "Microsoft's multimedia products must use Microsoft's proprietary and undocumented communication protocols for streaming." Microsoft gives its players away for free, but playback is dependent on the server running Microsoft NetShow on a Microsoft operating system. Because Microsoft has the numbers at the client end, it can leverage the standards at the server, and it can exclude competition. "Because Microsoft does not divulge those proprietary protocols," says Tevanian, "Apple's QuickTime movie player... cannot be configured to view a NetShow movie. "With Microsoft's multimedia products, one cannot use a Web server from one of Microsoft's competitors, such as Apache, Netscape or Sun, for streaming with Microsoft products; it is necessary to have a Microsoft NetShow server running on Microsoft's Windows NT operating system." Tevanian's allegations of how Microsoft set out to drive Apple out of the multimedia market have already been reported here (see Microsoft sabotaged QuickTime, says Apple exec), but we should note that the sections of his testimony reported above are clear, established fact, not hearsay. It is a fact that multimedia playback in the gospel according to Microsoft requires Microsoft server software and a base NT operating system, it is a fact that the protocols are proprietary to Microsoft, and it is a fact that NetShow movies won't run on other companies' software. These are not allegations -- they are a description of a process. Microsoft defines the standards, deciding which standards it's going to define, and once it has defined them, tells the existing competitors that their business is part of the operating system, so they should get out, or be driven out. Microsoft is now arguing that the problems Apple encountered in getting QuickTime to run with Microsoft software can all be laid at Apple's door, because Apple's programmers weren't good enough to hack it. But as Tevanian points out, Microsoft had decided playback was part of the OS, and that in order to hack it Apple would have to abandon its own open standard and embrace Microsoft's proprietary DirectX one, at least as far as Windows was concerned. In this light, whether or not Apple's programmers were any good isn't terribly relevant -- Apple was being forced by the processinto a position where it had to abandon its own work and start from ground zero with 'standards' that Microsoft had defined for the rest of the world. Tevanian lists threats from Microsoft, and customers for QuickTime (including Compaq) who appear to have abandoned it through fear of Microsoft rather than for technical reasons. And last year Apple was in trouble, so it gave in. In exchange for continued development of Microsoft Office for the Mac and a small investment, Apple made IE the default browser for the Mac, and settled all intellectual property disputes with Microsoft. These included the small matter of the appearance of Apple-owned code in Microsoft's Media Player. Apple also made a quite astonishing concession -- in addition to making IE the default browser on the Mac, it gave Microsoft the right to develop the default browser for any new Apple operating system produced in the following five years. This may not be terribly relevant, however, as Tevanian also blames Microsoft's lock on the market for killing off the next generation operating system, Rhapsody. Apple didn't actually say it was dead when it refocused its OS strategy earlier this year, but Tevanian's testimony makes it clear that it is. Effectively, Apple chained itself to the Microsoft proprietary view of the world and drastically limited its ability to break out again into the 'open' approach. But that was last year. Apple is stronger now, and Tevanian's testimony pulls no punches. So is he on a mission from Jobs to break the company's fetters? ® Complete Register trial coverage Click for more stories Click for story index
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