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Twenty five years ago today...

The impact of the Internet and Web on Microsoft

It was 25 years ago today (well, this month - March 12, 1989) that Tim Berners-Lee introduced the idea of the World Wide Web in a proposal for an information system, although until 1995 there was limited practical commercial access. (Sorry Al Gore, you didn't invent the Web or the Internet). What became the Internet was developed in the late 1960s by the US Department of Defense as ARPANET. Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a profound impact on commerce and culture, including the Web, the advent of cloud computing, and near-instant and instant communication with email, instant messaging, VOIP telephone calls, and interactive video calls.

The Web has also had a tremendous impact in Microsoft, who first released Internet Explorer 1 as part of the OEM release for Windows 95 and Windows 95 Plus! package. Internet Explorer was actually a reworked version of Mosaic, licensed from Spyglass, Inc.

However, the first versions of Internet Explorer were more of an afterthought, as Microsoft didn't get the significance of the Internet at that time. Once they did, the company ended up "turning on a dime," integrating some type of Internet capability into just about every one of their products within three months.

If you're old enough to remember, Internet Explorer ended up being a key part of the US Department of Justice antitrust case against Microsoft, initiated in 1998, where it was argued that Microsoft's bundling of the browser restricted the market for competing web browsers. However, it wasn't only antitrust issues where the Internet has had an impact on Microsoft. Internet Explorer went from being the most widely used browser to now having about 19.6% of market share, with Chrome leading at 36.5%.

Fast forward from the late 1990s to today, where in the past few years, Microsoft has put a significant amount of effort into retooling their product lines to run in the Internet cloud and trying to leapfrog the competition, in particular Google and Amazon. This has definitely applied to their management tool line of System Center, where "the cloud" is the phrase of the day, with "on prem" used for a more private cloud implementation. Looking at the consumer market, Microsoft is dealing with the impact of Apple Inc with their iPhones and iPads and Google with their 'droids. And now we have new CEO Satya Nadella, who was previously the executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group.

So yes, the Web has been changing the world and Microsoft. This is not to forget - which most people do - potential shortcomings of the Internet and cloud computing. How does it function in rural areas without high-speed Internet connectivity? Or when you have no Internet connectivity? How will the Internet continue to evolve? Will the rush to the cloud address the low/no connectivity challenges? And will Microsoft continue to evolve - or turn on a dime - to address those changes?

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