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November 2011The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Dominating the Market

Back in the early days of computers where the only computers that existed were huge mainframes, IBM dominated the computer market. While there were a number of alternative brands around, IBM was the brand that was best known. They even produced the first major innovation in computers with their 360 series of computers where the newer generations of computers could run the same operating system as prior computers (before that each brand and type of computer required its own custom written operating system and software).

The second half of the 1970s saw the introduction of what were then known as microcomputers. During those first few years no one really dominated that market although many of the different computers did end up standardising on Digital Research's CP/M operating system and Microsoft's BASIC programming language which meant that programs written for one computer were mostly able to run on others with only minor modifications.

This meant that there was a market sector that IBM did not dominate and once it grew large enough, IBM decided that to maintain their market dominance they needed to dominate that sector as well. They did this by introducing their own range of microcomputers starting with the IBM-PC. That their microcomputers came to dominate the microcomputer market in the early 1980s is clearly demonstrated by the fact that most microcomputers these days are referred to as PCs and microcomputer has fallen out of use.

IBM decided on a slightly different approach to this market than they used with their mainframe computers. Instead of designing everything themselves they decided to just design the main chip that controls how the computer works and to use standard parts that were already available for everything else. They approached Microsoft and got permission to use their BASIC programming language on their computers and approached Digital Research to try to get permission to use CP/M as their operating system. As Digital Research refused the deal IBM went back to Microsoft and asked them if they could obtain an alternative operating system. Microsoft was able to purchase full rights to QDOS for $50,000 and a modified version of that became the first PC-DOS and was also sold in competition with CP/M as MS-DOS.

IBM decided on a slightly different approach to this market than they used with their mainframe computers. Instead of designing everything themselves they decided to just design the main chip that controls how the computer works and to use standard parts that were already available for everything else. They approached Microsoft and got permission to use their BASIC programming language on their computers and approached Digital Research to try to get permission to use CP/M as their operating system. As Digital Research refused the deal IBM went back to Microsoft and asked them if they could obtain an alternative operating system. Microsoft was able to purchase full rights to QDOS for $50,000 and a modified version of that became the first PC-DOS and was also sold in competition with CP/M as MS-DOS.

Unfortunately these decisions by IBM turned out to be a mistake. A few years later Compaq managed to reverse engineer the processing that the IBM main chip performed and produced their own chip that could perform the same functions as the IBM chip. The IBM compatible computer was born. By the time IBM had gone from the IBM-PC to the IBM-XT to the IBM-AT to the IBM-ET compatibles had come to dominate the hardware portion of the market and computers started to be referenced by which Intel processing chip they contained (80386) rather than by their IBM computer equivalent (ET). As a result of this Microsoft was making huge amounts of money selling their operating system for these compatibles and no longer needed IBM. They parted company at the end of the 80s and both companies went their own way with developing new versions of the last operating system that they had jointly written OS/2 v1.3.

Neither company had much success trying to get their second generation of this operating system adopted by mainstream computer users. IBM OS/2 v2.0 and MS Windows 3.1 NT were both only adopted by a minority of users despite Microsoft's attempt to cash in on the popularity of the latest version of their graphical interface for DOS called Windows 3.1.

In 1995 Microsoft took decisive action to try to take over as the dominant player in the computer market. Instead of calling the next version of their graphical interface for DOS Windows 4, they integrated DOS into it and called it Windows 95. They then launched it with one of the biggest advertising campaigns in the history of computers. One purpose in doing this was to end IBM's dominance of the computer market completely. Both OS/2 v2.0 and Digital Research's DR-DOS (which had been introduced as an alternative to MS-DOS) were effectively killed off by this move (although IBM's OS/2 renamed eComStation is still used as the operating system for kiosk based computer systems).

It still took several more renaming efforts with MS-OS/2 before Microsoft was finally able to abandon their DOS based operating systems for the more powerful multitasking alternative. Renaming the fourth version from Windows NT 5 to Windows 2000 didn't do it and it was only when they brought out the fifth version as Windows XP that they finally moved everyone off of an operating system they originally purchased and rewrote onto one that they wrote themselves.

At the same time as Microsoft was taking over the dominant position in the market from IBM, the market itself changed significantly with the internet being made available to the public for the first time (before that it had only been available to the US military and to universities). Microsoft was so busy taking control of the operating system portion of the market that they left this new portion of the market for someone else to dominate. By the time that accessing web pages on the internet gained in popularity a new company called Netscape had gained dominance of the web browser market. The first version of this web browser was actually the second browser most of those working on it had written as they had written another called Mosaic while at university which the university retained ownership of (they were very careful to not use any of the code they'd written previously in their new browser to avoid any copyright issues with the university). The university sold their browser to a company called Spyglass and once Microsoft decided to enter the browser market it was this Spyglass Mosaic browser that they obtained to use as the basis for Internet Explorer 1.

It was only when these browsers reached their fourth generation and the people at Netscape decided that they had pushed the limits of modifying their original code and needed to start over with new code that Microsoft claimed dominance in this market by pressing on with patches to their browser (despite theirs being even more in need of a complete rewrite).

This decision to claim dominance by not rewriting their browser was a mistake on Microsoft's part. While it gave them almost total dominance of the browser market for several years that dominance was eventually challenged when the new version of the Netscape browser (originally called Phoenix then Firebird, and eventually Firefox) was released.

One of the main issues with using the web is how to find the pages with the information you are looking for. Search engines were developed to try to resolve this. As with the other aspects of computers this area too had lots of different competing players in the early years with AltaVista perhaps being slightly more popular than the others. This particular portion of the market came to be dominated by Google.

The dominance that Google achieved in the area of search became so great that they decided to expand into some of the other areas of the web marked. While the Firefox browser claimed a portion of the browser market from Internet Explorer, Microsoft still dominated until Google's offering which they call Chrome (after the technical term for the part of the browser that isn't the viewport) was introduced. Between them Firefox and Chrome have ended Microsoft's dominance of the web browser market.

Google have also introduced their own operating system as well as web based versions of many of the applications that people use on computers. If the computer market moves further toward what is now known as cloud based computing then Google have positioned themselves to take over the dominant market position from Microsoft completely. In a few year's time Microsoft may no longer be the dominant player just as IBM ceased to be the dominant player in 1995.

Unfortunately this move into all these other areas of computers means that Google has started to slide with the area they first dominated - search. Search results are only useful if the pages at the top of the results contain what the person is looking for and from what I have seen the actual articles explaining the answers to questions that I search for are ending up further and further down the results page with the top positions being filled with forum posts made by people asking the same question. If this continues then Google may come to dominate all of the computer market with the exception of web search. Just which search engine will replace the neglected Google search remains to be seen and there is still time for Google to recover in this area as the move away from Google search to other search engines that might provide better results is only just beginning.
 

On Site

As promised a couple of months ago, I am starting to put more JavaScript pages on the site. I am still adding a significant number of additional pages to my new JavaScript site at javascriptexample.net but that site is intended to teach modern JavaScript by example and not to cover any other aspects of javaScript so unlike when I was writing JavaScript content for about.com there are plenty of things that are JavaScript related (eg. complete scripts that just need to be attached to your page)that can be added here. In fact writing the extra examples for the new site is giving me ideas for updated replacements for some of the scripts I uploaded to about.com several years ago and of course the new versions can be found on www.felgall.com as they are not just examples. I have also commenced rewriting some of the older pages on the site that have always been popular starting with the one on validating radio buttons.
 

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