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How Google became Microsoft: A decade of hits, misses and gaffes

The Noughties weren't always nice

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Biggest folly of the decade: SCO's prosecution of Linux

In 2003, Darl McBride was named as CEO at SCO, daddy to the UNIX world. Over the next six years, he would destroy the company's revered name - not to mention the Linux goodwill engendered by Caldera, the Linux outfit that had morphed into SCO. McBride turned both into something so despised that the Western showman claimed he had to carry a gun for his own protection.

McBride - apparently irked by IBM's withdrawal from the completely pointless build-another-Unix effort known as Project Monterey - claimed SCO owned the copyright on Unix and took IBM to court, alleging the giant had contributed SCO's intellectual property to the increasingly popular Linux without its authorization.

SCO also demanded payments from users of Linux. To fight his case, McBride hired the law firm of David Boies, who had just dragged Microsoft through court on behalf of the US Department of Justice - and who SCO would pay at least $9m in cash and stock.

Claims and counterclaims followed, with Red Hat, Novell and customers sucked in. Far from being a swift fight leading to victory, the case got lost in legal procedures, with only the lawyers getting fat.

Along the way, SCO lost its claim to be the owner of Unix. It was forced to restructure, and in 2007, it filed for US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As a result, it was delisted from Nasdaq, and McBride was eventually ejected, his CEO position "eliminated" in late 2009.

Eight years after McBride initiated the Linux prosecution, Linux is more successful than ever, and IBM had built a multibillion-dollar server, software, and services business around the open-source OS. Meanwhile, SCO languishes in Chapter 11 looking for money, a pariah of the Linux world.

Biggest tactical blunder of the decade: Microsoft halts Internet Explorer work

Fresh from crushing Netscape and building a 90-plus per cent market share, Microsoft decided there was nothing to be gained from developing IE as a standalone browser. So it said it was stopping. Never mind that it had just been found guilty of breaking US antitrust law by bundling IE with Windows. Also snuffed was IE on Mac, but hey, who cared about that minute market segment?

This was just before RSS and tabs hit the computing mainstream, and the decision - had it stood - would have left people saddled with the standards basket case that is IE 6. As far as Microsoft was concerned, it didn't get more advanced than firing up a completely new instance of IE for each site you wanted to visit, even though that slowly killed your machine.

Microsoft didn't know it, but its decision had just opened the door to a little known open-source browser called Firefox from Mozilla, which has grown consistently during The Noughties while IE has slipped. Firefox now stands at nearly 25 per cent market share, while IE's share has slid to 63.5 per cent - an all-time low, even in the wake of the recent launch of IE 8. Now IE faces the uncertainty of dealing with a brand new rival: Google Chrome and its accompanying "operating system".

Microsoft reversed its browser decision in February 2005, saying customers and partners had been asking the company "with increasing urgency" what its plans were. That produced IE 7, which introduced - among other things - tabbed browsing. IE 8 followed this year, and now even Microsoft is pleading with users to uninstall IE 6 and upgrade.

Longest suicide note of the decade: Sun Microsystems

Sun, like most tech companies, entered The Noughties boisterously. The decade ended with management hawking the 27-year-old systems giant around Silicon Valley until founder and former CEO Scott McNealy's chum at Oracle, CEO Larry Ellison, did everybody a favor and said he'd buy Sun.

How did it come to this? In 2000 and 2001, Sun was the "dot-in-dot-com". It was acquiring smaller companies. And it stewarded Java 2 Enterprise Edition 1.3 at the head of an expectant enterprise-Java industry.

But Sun spent the next decade treading water, crippled by that dot-com past, frittering away the value of acquisitions, resisting and then embracing Linux and open source. Its management preferred to play with pretty theories on growth rather than take hard cost-cutting decisions.

In the end, shareholders at Southeastern Asset Management had had enough. They increased their stake, expanded the board and got an agreement to sell Sun out from under the management in order get some kind of return on their investment.

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