Networking's greatest debates in Software

Classic debates include Open source vs. commercial software, Software-as-a-service vs. packaged applications,and Novell NetWare vs. Microsoft networking

Windows vs. OS/2

Dr. Phil might tell you that no one wins an argument, but spare us the hugs and psychology. IBM no longer ships (R.I.P. 2005) or supports (R.I.P. 2006) OS/2, which is now sold under the name eComStation by Serenity Systems. Try getting that factory installed on a Dell laptop.

The history on Windows is a bit richer (in many ways) and proves the good doctor wrong.

Of course, the irony is that IBM and Microsoft teamed up in 1985 to develop OS/2. Two years later they had a product. Three years after that, Microsoft had Windows 3.0 shipping on many PCs and was on its way toward NT while OS/2 was gathering dust on computer super store shelves as a standalone product that lacked a full complement of device drivers. The IBM/Microsoft relationship continued to sour and by the time the last version of OS/2 - the Warp 4 version - shipped in 1996, IBM was on its own.

Today, OS/2, with the dubious distinction of being the first OS to have a fan club, can be found in small pockets of the computer landscape such as bank automated teller machines and the French national railway's ticket machines.

Windows? We won't bother rebooting that story here. -John Fontana

Microsoft vs. U.S. Justice Department

Someone scored a victory here, although history is unsure who it was. Of course, the loser was Netscape, the former Internet wunderkind that Microsoft felt needed a cut in its air supply.

Microsoft was found to have abused its monopoly power in the PC operating system market by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who at times was seen nodding off during the lengthy and mostly dry trial testimony.

The passion play continued as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Jackson's ruling but upheld his "Finding of Facts" in the case. When it was finally all boiled down, efforts to split the company in two gave way to Microsoft agreeing to share APIs with third-party companies and to appoint a compliance oversight committee.

Reviews of the "punishment" were predictably mixed and heated, especially from open source corners. Some say the real contest may have been lead Department of Justice prosecutor Joel Klein against Microsoft chief Bill Gates. Pundits say that outside the documented legal issues the case was personal on many levels for those two. No word on the victor there either. -John Fontana

Microsoft IE vs. Netscape Navigator

Late on the night of September 30, 1997, a group of Microsoft employees strategically placed a large metal likeness of the Internet Explorer logo on the front lawn at Netscape Communications - a signal that the browser war was fully ignited.

Earlier that evening in San Francisco as Microsoft celebrated IE 4.0's release, Netscape's Navigator was enjoying a 72% share of the browser market. Chris Holten, Netscape's spokeswoman at the time, likened the logo stunt to a fraternity prank. "It's something you'd expect from a start-up, not the largest software company in the world." But just five years later, Netscape's share was 4%, having been drained faster than a beer keg at a Delta Tau Chi party, and what little was left of Navigator included an open-source skunkworks project called Phoenix.

Fast-forward to 2005, and the second round of the browser wars was burning hot. Phoenix had morphed into Firefox and captured 2% market share and IE (89%) was fighting developmental lethargy and security bugs. Those bugs were the bait Firefox used to troll for users, and the upstart browser began to win converts just as Web-based applications started to take off.

Today, Microsoft is working on Version 8 of IE, which has nearly 78% of the market, a number down from an all-time high of 95%. Firefox in September 2007 hit its highest mark ever at 14.88%, according to data from Market Share. -John Fontana

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