Feeds

'Microsoft was caught stealing secrets from Borland'

Reader, I was there

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Database Myths and Legends "Microsoft was caught stealing secrets from Borland.".

Or was it? Of course, this all happened way, way back in 1992; but then myths are supposed to be old; that’s the whole point. And this one just won't lie down and die.

Every so often someone tells me that, before Access was released, somewhere in a secret desert location, some Microsoft developers were caught stealing Borland’s database code. Sometimes I’m told that the code was later incorporated into Access. In another variant the Microsoft guys were arrested and Bill Gates himself had to fly down to get them out of jail.

You can find references to various versions of this story on the web. See, for example, here:

"In 1993, Borland, the leader in PC databases, hired a private detective to watch for spies at its Palm Desert, Calif., developers conference. It took the unusual action after a product manager for Microsoft Access, a rival database, was discovered snooping around at the event and allegedly trying to access a PC loaded with secret Borland plans in an empty conference room, according to former Borland employees. Asked about the incident at the time, the product manager, Tod Nielsen, said the incident was an innocent misunderstanding."

(The date was actually 1992, not 1993 as this article suggests. The 1993 Borland conference was held in San Diego). Remember that at that time, Borland owned a very successful PC database system and Microsoft didn’t even have a product.

It sounds highly unlikely but, rather unnervingly for a myth, there is contemporary documentation to support it. On June 14th 1992 Gina Smith, billed as "one of the best-known science and technology journalists in America today", published a story in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner headed "Operation Desert Sneak", and sub-headed "Microsoft infiltrates database rival Borland’s retreat in Palm Desert". Her article reports that Borland held a database conference in Palm Desert (May 31st. to June 6th.) and that three Microsoft employees had registered for the conference.

"The real point of contention is an incident that occurred late one night in a Borland makeshift lab that was supposed to be closed for the night. According to Borland an official walked in and found the three registered employees [from Microsoft] in front of PCs. Borland insiders claim that the three were trying to copy on paper details of new computer screens for an unannounced product Borland was showing customers."

A Microsoft spokesperson is then quoted in the article, defending the actions of the employees. "They were making notes, that's what people do at conferences", said Microsoft’s Sidnam. "The room wasn’t locked and there wasn’t anyone there. One Microsoft guy even went out looking for a Borland official because they didn’t think they should be unsupervised."

OK, so you now have the contemporary evidence (which is far more than most people who repeat the myth have in their possession). What do you believe? Doesn’t that Microsoft defence sound more like an admission of guilt? They were clearly in the room and, surrounded by Borland’s secrets they decided to go out and look for a Borland person to watch them. Yeah, that sounds plausible.

Well, this myth has lasted long enough. The public has a right to know the truth about what really happened that fateful night in 1992. But who is telling the truth? How can I be sure that I can ever get to the truth after all this time? Simple. I was in the room at the time.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Business is back, baby! Hasta la VISTA, Win 8... Oh, yeah, Windows 9
Forget touchscreen millennials, Microsoft goes for mouse crowd
Microsoft WINDOWS 10: Seven ATE Nine. Or Eight did really
Windows NEIN skipped, tech preview due out on Wednesday
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Apple: SO sorry for the iOS 8.0.1 UPDATE BUNGLE HORROR
Apple kills 'upgrade'. Hey, Microsoft. You sure you want to be like these guys?
ARM gives Internet of Things a piece of its mind – the Cortex-M7
32-bit core packs some DSP for VIP IoT CPU LOL
Microsoft on the Threshold of a new name for Windows next week
Rebranded OS reportedly set to be flung open by Redmond
Lotus Notes inventor Ozzie invents app to talk to people on your phone
Imagine that. Startup floats with voice collab app for Win iPhone
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.