Home > Intellectual 'property' > Bill Gates invented the Internet?

Bill Gates invented the Internet?

February 1st, 2005

Occasional commentator on this blog, Tony Healy, puts on his thinktank hat to criticise my latest piece in the Fin (Subscription required), writing for the (anti-open source) Institute for Policy Innovation. I argued that most innovation on the Internet had not been driven by patents and copyright, but by creative collaboration of which blogs are, for me, the paradigm example. Tony’s response starts with Google, which is fair enough. Although there are lots of oddities about Google’s business model, it’s a commercial product (as are its competitors) and it’s an essential part of the Internet.

His next claim, though, strikes me as simply bizarre. He says

The Internet was an academic curiosity until the (commercial) release in the mid-90s of Windows 95 which, for the first time provided transparent access to the Internet, vastly expanding the population that could access the Internet

I’m a veteran of the Mac-PC wars, and I’m confident that of all the many claims and counterclaims I heard before 1995 “PC users can’t access the Internet” was not one of them. It’s true that setting up peripherals of all kinds has become easier over the years and that “Plug and Play” was a big Mac advantage in general before W95 (and to some extent still is), but if it was as decisive as Tony suggests here, Microsoft would have been out of business long before 1995.

I’ve seen many accounts of the Internet in which Gates played a key role, but the decision they point to is the free release of Internet Explorer, in competition with Netscape. This doesn’t suit the case Tony is making and he doesn’t mention it.

So, I should modify my claim that nothing worthwhile came out of the dotcom mania. Search engines and Google in particular benefitted from dotcom money. This raises an interesting question for my more technically qualified readers. If there were no dotcom money around, could the usual collaborative processes of the Internet have produced something like Google, or would we still be relying on favorites lists and so on?

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  1. Tony Healy
    February 1st, 2005 at 07:10 | #1

    Hi John. I know it’s a new observation, to observe that Dial Up Networking played a significant and hitherto neglected role in the uptake of the internet. It wasn’t the only factor of course, but I think it must have been significant, and it’s yet another of the contributions of Microsoft.

    I did not ignore Internet Explorer because it doesn’t fit my argument, but because I don’t think it played a key role in the uptake of the internet until at least 1997. Netscape did the early running. (By the way, on the subject of free browsers, and although this is peripheral to my main claim, Netscape was actually commercial in those early days. Corporates had to pay a fee for the browser client, and Netscape sold expensive server software.)

    As to dot.coms, I’ve mentioned before that Google has nothing to do with dot.coms. Neither does Microsoft. Dot.com was driven by non-technically capable business people like accountants and graphics people, and consisted of empty business ideas. Greedy non-technically capable investors followed them. Technically capable firms like Microsoft sailed through dot.com without being adversely affected.

    Indeed, I equate free culturist ideals and the open source mania with that same non-technically astute mania. Dot.coms were not concerned with profit, and instead were magically expected to simply do well because they had eye balls and, indeed, the type of social interest that you refer to.

    Unfortunately I can’t link to my AFR piece because the AFR is subscription driven.

  2. Mark Upcher
    February 1st, 2005 at 07:33 | #2

    I thought Al Gore invented the internet!

  3. February 1st, 2005 at 08:09 | #3

    Dial up connectivity on Windows is not an innovation. Universities have been giving SLIP access to dial up computers for years.

    Connectivity to the internet was available for Windows 3.1 through a third-party provider called Trumpet Software (which is Australian, by the way).

    While it is true that the internet as a commercial medium reached critical mass when Microsoft computers were enabled to do so without requiring add-on software (circa Windows 95 release 2), this was essentially a forced move that Microsoft had to make, after the failure of MSN to beat AOL at the ISP businesss. Enabling dial up networking was a shrewd business move to prevent AOL from diluting Window’s value.

  4. February 1st, 2005 at 09:15 | #4

    John —

    I guess I’m still struggling with your statement that nothing worthwhile came out of the dotcom mania. Of course lots of companies went bust, and even for those which didn’t, lots of investors lost money. But even for these failures, an enormous amount was created. It is now standard for organizations — both private and public — to have a web-presence. Such a presence relies on all manner of technologies developed by dotcoms. Are we to say that cookies are not worthwhile because the company which first developed them (Netscape) was subsequently bought by another company? (As an aside, I study fallacies and such an argument strikes me as an interesting and novel fallacy.)

    Likewise, the online presence of all those bricks-and-mortar firms relies on the skills of thousands of employees and contractors who once worked in dotcoms.

    Are you to say that motor cars are not worthwhile because there was a boom in the stocks of car companies in the 1890s, prior to the industry consolidation?

  5. Gaby
    February 1st, 2005 at 09:41 | #5

    I thought Bill Gates missed the whole point and potential significance of the Internet initially. Then he tried to establish a Microsoft “walled garden” in msn.net or some such. This failed.

    Apparently he then had a Damascene moment about the Internet that entailed going after Netscape.

    My source is Robert X Cringely’s “Accidental Empires”.

  6. February 1st, 2005 at 09:53 | #6

    IIRC back in the Windows 3.11 days the winsock had to be bought. The main one at the time was a Tasmanian company with Trumpet Winsock. Unfortunately I cant recall if Win95 had the BSD licensed winsock bundled in or not. I suspect it might have. Win98 certainly did.

    I do recall that the initial implementation of the tcp stack into Windows was inferior to Trumpets. I used trumpet for quite a while afterwards.

    I dont think plug and play dial up had as much to do with the uptake of the internet than the commodification of all the components toward a meaningful internet experience. The cost of netscape was zero, trumpet was $25 (the Win32 tcp stack free) and in 1994 IIRC a 14.4 baud connection was about $40 a month. Modems were also coming down in price, from $400 to again IIRC a $100 oz-modem.

    So all the industries surrounding the internet were commoditizing. Content was also improving on the internet. And the browser wars produced some odd innovations.

  7. Sean Kellett
    February 1st, 2005 at 10:08 | #7

    John and Tony,

    If you’re going to claim commercial development propelled the Internet, starting with Google is most definitely not “fair enough”!

    Without Apache (freeware), php (freeware), mysql (freeware option), Google would simply be a twinkle in the eye of its creator. Look here, they’re even trying to hire an engineer with SourceForge experience. Google is a poster child for open source development. Of course, what Google has put back into Open Source is another discussion.

    Now, regarding early versions of Microsoft Windows, you will not be surprised to learn that its TCP/IP stack was based on a freeware version (called Spider)!

    Needless to say, without the freeware TCP/IP stack, Dial-Up Networking would be useless.

    Tony, you will find that most of the software running the “Internet” these days can trace its roots to the original BSD freeware written years ago. And its not surprising, since the protocols (eg. HTTP) are well known and there are only a few way good ways to engineer the software to meet the protocol. Why re-invent the wheel over and over again?

    There is very little that Microsoft has written (as yes, they’ve written a lot from scratch), that wasn’t already in the public domain and could be used by Microsoft engineers for inspiration, if not copied wholesale.

    You may equate “free culturist ideals” (open source?) with the empty ideas of the dot com people, but I prefer the “pure science” analogy. That is, free software is like “pure science”, in and of itself uneconomic, but with the right amount of engineering and business sense can be used for economical ends.


  8. February 1st, 2005 at 10:16 | #8

    So, I should modify my claim that nothing worthwhile came out of the dotcom mania.

    I dont agree with that either. Last week I was at a government operations center, we were acceptance testing a web based interface on top of an existing system that also had a desktop GUI. It rammed home just how rich and meaningful the web UI is and how poor, stark and barren the desktop UI is. It has its place but for and more tasks the web is taking over.

    Most of the technologies that the system was based upon came out of the investor madness of the .com boom. Many of the technologies were initially commercial before the process/technology/software itself became a commodity and the company was eclipsed by an opensource alternative or by other competitors offering similar products and functionality.

    Another good thing that came out of the dot-com boom was the development and maturity of the many-to-many business model. Yahoo, Ebay, Google are the biggest examples of that.

    Many other companies modified their business and operational processes to take advantage that the communications and software technology was allowing. One company I was with ended up dominating an industry simply because they were the first to take advantage of this style of business model. Understanding the technology was a definite advantage.

    One other major plus of the dot-com boom was the manner in which it expanded the labor market and enabled those to fill it based on merit, not on academic credentials. In one company I was with, the software folks were made up of a mathematician, four engineers (of varying sorts), one self-taught fellow and two computer science majors.

    The best software developer in that company was an engineer bloke that taught himself because he was sick of chemical engineering. His talent in this area probably would have been lost if it was a static industry and there was an over-supply of CS graduates.

    Anything that creates labor scarcity in an industry and allows merit to fill that hole is a good thing IMO. The dot-com boom had that with spades.

    By the same token I saw some dreadful waste and exceedingly asset management, especially in the fiber industry. We did a project for one company that had layed so much fiber with all the money they were getting that they didnt know where they laid it. They had no idea where their pop sites were. That mob is out of business now, unsuprisingly.

  9. February 1st, 2005 at 10:34 | #9

    I use Open source software daily and extensively. And while prefer WinXP to Linux, i still manage to write java applications daily using http://www.eclipse.org (opensourced by IBM – eclipse the sun).

    Google is build on Open Source Tech exclusively.

    The new Business model seems to be provide Open Source Software under Business Friendly licence (LGPL) and provide consulting services ontop.

    Even SAP are using Open Source Software in many parts of their systems.

    Open code allows evolution and critical evaluation of systems.

    Imagine if we wrote all these books that nobody could read. The same goes for Software.

  10. February 1st, 2005 at 11:17 | #10

    Unfortunately I can’t link to my AFR piece because the AFR is subscription driven.

    As you’re an opponent of free culture, shouldn’t you say, “fortunately,” Tony?

  11. Blair
    February 1st, 2005 at 11:57 | #11

    Didn’t Microsoft attempt at first to launch MSN in 1995 as alternative to the Internet? Or was that just Marketing hype?

  12. February 1st, 2005 at 12:23 | #12

    Microsoft did indeed make their own secondary network of microsoft servers providing microsoft content. While such controlled environment may be perfect for protecting kids from the anarchic nature of the internet, it just didn’t provide the diversity that the real uncontrolled internet has.

    The internet itself is the perfect example of an uncommercial system – of open standards allowing a free and growing network, resulting in a network that, without worldwide military intervention, cannot be stopped.

  13. February 1st, 2005 at 13:39 | #13

    No-one has mentioned Amazon. Bashed for years as a dot.com smash waiting to happen, with an irrational business model, but it has come through.

  14. February 1st, 2005 at 13:40 | #14

    As has Salon, I think.

  15. Tony Healy
    February 1st, 2005 at 14:21 | #15

    A few quick comments. To Sean and others who think Google is open source, its source code is tightly guarded. It’s not “released to the community.” I don’t really care what platform it runs on, just as I don’t care what computers it runs on. (They’re custom, by the way.)

    To Chui, yes, I’m well acquainted with Trumpet. But connectivity in Windows 3.1 (and .11) was a world removed from Windows 95. Ninety five percent of the population would not have been able to connect to the internet using earlier generations of desktop platform.

    When the internet started spiking up, many of the early web developers and writers that started injecting new stuff were able to do so by virtue of simple old dial-up connections from their businesses and homes. Those people were drivers in pushing corporates onto the web.

    Robert, touche on the AFR’s restricted access. Personally I wish newspapers wouldn’t restrict their stories, but that doesn’t change my views on the value of IP.

    Also, re Trumpet, they had a good win against Ozemail early on, when Ozemail sent out Trumpet software to customers without Trumpet’s permission. Trumpet sued them and won.

  16. Tony Healy
    February 1st, 2005 at 14:23 | #16

    Also, John, the Institute for Policy Innovation is not opposed to open source. Rather it is in favour of intellectual property.

  17. John Quiggin
    February 1st, 2005 at 15:01 | #17

    Googling ‘ Institute for Policy Innovation “+ open source produces this as the first hit.

  18. February 1st, 2005 at 15:46 | #18

    Tony, the ability to assemble multiple open source systems, and then commercialize the result is an excellent example of why Open Source Works.

    When google found problems in the underlying language (python, PHP) or O/S (linux) they had the immediate ability inspect and correct.

    The open design of such systems has promoted better design in the future.

    Peer anaylsis is the biggest benifit.

  19. February 1st, 2005 at 15:48 | #19


    I also ask why are articles available for free on the IPI website?

    Should this be a user pays concept. To apply your criticisims of open source – surely private user pays IPI like advocacy groups will have superior products to your own offerings?

  20. February 1st, 2005 at 15:49 | #20


    I also ask why are articles available for free on the IPI website?

    Should this be a user pays concept. To apply your criticisims of open source – surely private user pays IPI like advocacy groups will have superior products to your own offerings?

  21. Sean Kellett
    February 1st, 2005 at 16:14 | #21

    Tony, please do not misrepresent me: I said Google uses open source software, not that it is open source. The fact is without the open license of linux, apache, or mysql Google would have never existed.

    So to use Google as an example of how great profit-driven Intellectual Property rights are is non-sensical given the basis of Google’s existance.

    You say you don’t care what platforms Google runs on – way to ignore those pesky, inconvenient externalities! If the only way to promote profit-driven Intellectual Property rights is to ignore the foundations of those rights, you’re espousing a very shaky argument indeed.

    You continue to promote the idea that Microsoft dial-up promoted Internet usage, without acknowledging that it was free software that promoted the dial-up software. Again you ignore externalities that adversely affect your argument. If you can’t incorporate these facts, perhaps you should change your argument?

  22. February 1st, 2005 at 17:23 | #22

    microsoft could have very well created their own proprietory standard – instead of TCP/IP, licenced it and prevented others from duplicating it.

    It was their very embracement of an open standard that brought about the internet.

  23. Steve
    February 1st, 2005 at 17:51 | #23

    Cameron Riley briefly mentioned at the end of a comment that “Content was also improving on the internet”

    I think this deserves more than an afterthought. I think that growth of the internet was driven though virtue of what it was – easy access to all sorts of great content.

    In particular, I’ve frequently heard the claim (never seen it substantiated though) that growth in the internet was driven by …. pornography!

  24. February 1st, 2005 at 18:59 | #24

    Healy’s disparaging description of the Internet as originally “an academic curiosity until the (commercial) release in the mid-90s of Microsoft’s Windows 95” illustrates complete ignorance of its history and original objectives.

    Nobody has yet commented on the three events that were most important in its explosive growth: first the invention of electronic mail by Ray Tomlinson in 1972, second the invention of the world-wide web by Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues in 1989 (succeeded by Marc Andreessen and colleagues’ development of the Mosaic web browser in 1993), and thirdly, and perhaps most profoundly, the decision by the US National Science Foundation in May 1995 to end its funding of the internet backbone, and open it up to commercial users.

    If this last event had not happened, Linux, Apache and Sendmail and much of the other good open source stuff might still have been developed. Page and Brin might still have built Backrub (the Google predecessor), completed their Stanford PhDs, and be teaching compsci at some modest university in the American mid-west (after all, they never planned to start a company in the first place).

    But the web would never have sprouted the eight billion pages that Google has so far indexed (and all the rest besides that it hasn’t).

    And I wouldn’t be able to look up http://chefmoz.org/Australia/NSW/Erskineville to find my nearest Thai restaurant, and read a review before I decided whether to go there.

    Not one of those developments was primarily profit-driven, even though the NSF abdication allowed the profit motive to enter in and make its contribution.

    Maybe a faith-based historian can explain though how the events that I’ve mentioned couldn’t have happened.

    Healy, in an irony that a previous poster has already pointed out, is unable to read his column as the FIN printed it. But he may recall composing the words, “The central problem with the free-culture model is that it avoids the question of payment and reward”.

    Healy must be paid by the word by his think tank for posting here (or why else would he do it according to this principle?), but nobody else is. Doesn’t this somehow undermine his fundamental point?

  25. Dave Ricardo
    February 1st, 2005 at 20:31 | #25

    I don’t mean to be cynical (all right, I do mean to be cynical) but where does the Institute for Policy Innovation gets its funding?

    Anyway, I found the following passage on the IPI website to be of interest

    “IPI is known for its economic analysis of pending and proposed changes in tax policy, with its emphasis on free markets, limited government, supply-side economics and dynamic scoring.”

    “Free markets are limited government” are not to everyone’s taste, but they are respectable beliefs. But supply side economics? That was totally discredited at least 20 years ago. Indeed, George Bush Snr was right on the money when he described it as “voodoo economics”, and that was in 1980.

    I admit, I don’t know what dynamic scoring is.

  26. John Quiggin
    February 1st, 2005 at 20:36 | #26

    Dynamic scoring means never having to say you’re sorry, at least as regards tax cuts. The idea is that you adjust projections of budget deficits to take account of the supply-side incentives of tax cuts.

    To be fair to Tony Healy, although he backs the IPI line on IP issues, I don’t think from his comments on general issues that he supports this kind of voodoo (of course, he’s free to correct me if he does).

  27. February 1st, 2005 at 21:16 | #27

    Ah IPI’s funding. The official answer from IPI is You can’t prove that we are funded by Microsoft!

  28. Dave Ricardo
    February 1st, 2005 at 21:17 | #28

    “To be fair to Tony Healy”

    What could be fairer than to judge him by the company he keeps?

  29. Brendan Scott
    February 2nd, 2005 at 08:27 | #29

    From memory…

    I got a job in the big city around 93. They were a big law firm and were “still” using Wang WP (think Multimate Advantage if you never used a Wang). 386s were still a big deal then. They used Wang email. I tried to convince them about the wonders of the internet (not the WWW). They were sort of interested, but not quite ready for any change. By 1995 they were aware of the internet. I can’t say whether they had a website by then. They certainly had one by 96.

    While I think there is a correlation between the time that the internet started going, and the release of Windows 95, I think it is more a case of the Zeitgeist having caught up with the idea rather than Win95 being causative. Indeed, it may be that the internet succeeded despite Win95, rather than because of it (see comments on MSN below).

    And it is true that Microsoft launched MSN about this time (from Memory Windows 95 was autoconfigured to dial into *MSN*, not the internet – however my recollection ain’t perfect, perhaps I should dig up my old Windows 95 CD…). MSN was an online ecommerce platform that Microsoft intended to take a cut of each sale from. However, no one was interested in buying from any of the MSN providers. It failed and became ninemsn (with a totally different value proposition) in Australia. I think it would be fairer to say that Microsoft was dragged kicking and screaming to the Internet.

    I think the better thing to remember is that internetworking had been around for decades before the Internet, in walled gardens like Compusoft. People were still trying to sell me walled gardens in 1997. Walled gardens were killed by the market for the same reasons the market created open source – the market abhors monopoly.

    In my view, open source is an example of the (market driven) propertisation of copyright.



  30. Tony Healy
    February 2nd, 2005 at 08:39 | #30

    Sean, I checked your first comment and I can’t really see that you are precise about your claim. But it doesn’t matter.

    Google uses Linux as an alternative to Unix for high performance computing, as would be expected in an R&D oriented application. That’s not really the important issue.

    I’ve said many times I don’t care what platform people choose. It’s none of my business. By the same token, neither should politicians start telling IT managers what to choose or providing preferential arrangements for open source. If that’s the type of advocacy you’re interested in then it’s as dumb as trying to tell people what colour their kitchen should be.

    The issue I care about is the expectation that innovators will disclose their source code and thus their technology. On this question, Google clearly does not disclose its technology and source code.

  31. Tony Healy
    February 2nd, 2005 at 08:42 | #31

    Tim Lambert, don’t you have work to do?

  32. Tony Healy
    February 2nd, 2005 at 08:48 | #32

    If anyone’s interested, you should read the complete article in the AFR. I also condemn the creative commons licence as a con job.


    As to the comments about IPI, you know, we’re all grown-ups. Most think-tanks accommodate a diverse range of opinions. I think I am reasonably known as an advocate for worker rights and an opponent of corruption in the IT industry, of which more shortly.

    Anyway, I won’t be able to reply much to this thread.

  33. Sean Kellett
    February 2nd, 2005 at 09:07 | #33

    Tony, I agreed with you that Google does not put back into Open Source (re: my comment: “that’s another discussion”). My point is, your original claim that Google is a great example of profit-driven Intellectual rights is absurd given the basis for its rights.

    Without the freeware, Google would not exist, without Google, your argument would not exist!

    Don’t you think then that perhaps you should try to incorporate the concept of freeware into your model of “profit-driven Intellectual Property rights” as a way of accounting for this reality?

    Your comments about politicians etc is a non sequitur, so do not merit a response.

    If the issue you care about is the expectation that innovators disclose their source code, then that should have been the basis for your original article. I am challenging the false dichotomy that Intellectual property rights have driven the Internet rather than freeware.

    The fact is, both are required: Their’s is a symbiotic relationship and like (nearly) all symbiotic relationships, one without other would mean the death of both.

  34. February 2nd, 2005 at 14:05 | #34

    Brazil has just announced that 300,000 government desktops will ditch Micro$oft for Linux. Bill Gates wants to meet with the president.

    Bloody socialists!

  35. February 3rd, 2005 at 00:31 | #35

    Microsoft should be seen as delaying the advent of the internet. Introducing built in dial up networking in Win95 might have helped take up of the internet but can hardly be seen as an innovation on its part. It is a good parallel to the IE story. There were plenty of third party solutions available beforehand, WINsock and the like and MS trumped them with a free version wiht built in convenience.

    MS in fact delayed introducing proper internet to try to build MSN into an AOL like closed garden and fortunately failed.

    In this case MS is more a gatekeeper than an innovator and although there might be something to Mr. Healy’s claim that this development aided take-up of the internet, Microsoft was responding to customer pressure with its second choice solution and not in any way leading. Linux had PPP in 1993 or before — I know the guy (singular and in his spare time) who wrote it.

    The internet might be much further on if Netscape had been allowed a fair crack of the whip.

  36. February 3rd, 2005 at 00:49 | #36

    … or what Chui Tey said. (And Sean K. and others)

    I think the win95 example is spurious. I’m not sure what borrowing the BSD TCP/IP stack has to do with IP. If anything there is case to be made that MS delayed uptake of hte internet and actively tried to poularise alternatives. Certainly if everybody had been using preconfigured Linux boxes we would have had the internet sooner and possibly wiht less dead weight spending on anti-virus software.

    In general I think the problem is that what IP should be is not well understood. Property laws for stuff as simple as land have taken centuries to work out and still do not apply in all circumstances. IP is basicaly a massive experiment. Where is the formula for working out the optimum length of a patent?

    Now that publishing costs virtually nothing, are we sure that copyright adds more to the economy than it costs? Clearly not.

  37. kyan gadac
    February 3rd, 2005 at 03:38 | #37

    Tony Healy writes
    “Google uses Linux as an alternative to Unix for high performance computing” Linux is a version of Unix – do you actually know what you are talking about?

  38. Tony Healy
    February 3rd, 2005 at 05:20 | #38

    kyan, you don’t, that’s for sure. Although it’s technically correct that Linux is a Unix, in practice Linux has had such a sigfnificant effect in the market that it’s common to refer to Unix ( Unices for the pedants) as an alternative to Linux. The distinction is based on the commercial differences and, these days, the difference in popularity.

  39. Tony Healy
    February 3rd, 2005 at 05:25 | #39

    Sean, if there was no Linux, Google would be running on Unix, no probs at all. Any modifications Google has made to Linux would have been made to a Unix, with the willing co-operation of whichever vendor was involved. One of the significant usages of Linux is simply as a more convenient replacement for Unix in high performance computing environments and universities.

    This discussion is drifting away from IP, but I discuss this issue in my original IPI paper, if you’re interested.

  40. Tony Healy
    February 3rd, 2005 at 05:37 | #40

    Jack, Dialup Networking is not Winsock. Dialup Networking is a set of modules that provides near-automatic establishment of a telephone connection to an ISP, using an installed modem. Establishment of that connection is quite different from the subsequent data exchange.

    As with all Microsoft technology, the significance is the transparency. Modems are among the most cantankerous of devices, for hardware reasons and because they’re communications devices. Getting one to talk reliably can be problematic. Getting 10,000 to do this with the click of a button, and without user intervention, which is the Microsoft achievement, is brilliant.

    The reference to MSN being pre-configured is wrong. In Windows 95, MSN was provided as one among several pre-configured dialup connections.

    However the startup procedure when a new user first used his or her computer after installing Windows 95 guided them through setting up to connect to whichever ISP the user chose. There was no attempt to direct the user to MSN. As well, Dialup Networking provided the functionality where ISP’s could provide a simple tool that automatically configured the user’s machine to connect to that ISP. These are the little details that Microsoft never boasts about.

  41. Tony Healy
    February 3rd, 2005 at 05:50 | #41

    Returning to the topic, one of my points was that commercial IP-driven sites are among the most popular on the internet and they provide basis for most of the blogging commentary.

    I also pointed out that movies and songs, created by IP studios, are among the most popular downloads.

    I said that creative commons is a fraud because it tries to pretend that simple commentary is of the same value as R&D or creative work that might take months or years of research. Academics and commentators are not giving anything away by wrapping a creative commons licence on their work.

    I also pointed out that the free culture movement implies central funding, but academics and government are not the ones who create the best software, movies or books.

  42. John Quiggin
    February 3rd, 2005 at 06:36 | #42

    “Returning to the topic, one of my points was that commercial IP-driven sites are among the most popular on the internet and they provide basis for most of the blogging commentary.”

    This is wrong, and the present post is an illustration. Because the Fin site is IP-driven, it doesn’t get linked. The vast majority of commercial sites on the Internet are advertising-driven and free-access. This has always been true of news media – the point is to be timely, not to protect yourself with copyright.

    Looking at the Win95 point, I think it’s fair to say you haven’t convinced anybody. I repeat that, at the time, the issue was being closely debated from all sides and no-one saw this as more than a piece of catchup on the part of MS, bundling some third-party stuff into the OS. A more significant catchup move was the release of IE, and it was not until this happened that MS put its force behind the Internet rather than trying to stop it or ignore it.

  43. Tony Healy
    February 3rd, 2005 at 08:25 | #43

    John, advertising-driven sites are commercial IP sites. Many of your posts here, and that of most blogs, are based on stories in those newspapers. This thread itself is based on my op-ed in the Fin Review.

    Regarding Windows 95, I might not have convinced you, but you don’t seem to know much about software. If you think Dialup Networking was some third party stuff bundled into the OS, please identify where it existed beforehand.

    John, most discussion of technology and internet issues is poorly informed, and that was certainly true in the mid 90’s. Most commentators, especially the academics that morphed into new media studies and the like, were absysmally ignorant of both technology and media, which are critical for understanding new media.

    I’m not aware of the role or significance of Dialup Networking being even known to commentators, let alone being discussed.

  44. John Quiggin
    February 3rd, 2005 at 08:45 | #44

    Tony, you’re not helping the argument with gratuitous accusations of ignorance. I followed these issues closely at the time, both as a participant and as someone fairly well-informed about software issues, certainly as they relate to personal computers – the issue at hand here. As you admitted above, no-one at the time made the claim you are now asserting, and many commentators have given good reasons for disbelieving it.

    You haven’t yet responded to the point I made in the post. If “Plug and Play” use of peripherals such as modems was as essential as you assert, Apple would have wiped the floor with Windows long before 1995. The fact is that PC users put up with inconveniences of all kinds, including clunky Internet access, in return for a lower point-of-sale cost and more compatibility. Despite their handicaps, they still outnumbered Mac users on the Internet at all times.

  45. February 3rd, 2005 at 09:07 | #45

    As a matter of history, the Internet was a matter of academic curiosity until IBM released a version of OS/2 that had Internet connectivity built into it, including clients for accessing Gopher servers and the like. This was before the release of Mosaic.

    Subsequently, Mosaic was released, and was available for both OS/2 and Windows 3.1. But only diehards adopted OS/2, or the 3rd party software applications that were required to access the Internet through Windows 3.1.

    It was not until Windows 95 that Internet access became practically accessible to the masses. It was the release of Windows 95 that stimulated the mass migration away from Compuserve and to the wider Internet.

    I know. I lived through it all, and was a fanatical OS/2 partisan who mournfully watched Windows 95 displace the (then) superior OS/2.

    Tony is absolutely correct in his assertion that it was proprietary software in the form of Windows 95 that brought Internet access to the mass consumer market.

  46. Tony Healy
    February 3rd, 2005 at 10:03 | #46

    John, I apologise to you and to other posters who I might have been short with, including Tim Lambert.

    Plug’n Play was not the only technology involved in the Windows 95 user experience I’m talking about. It was a necessary enabler, but Dialup Networking was another, separate technology on top of that.

    At this point, perhaps it is time for me to say that this should go into a paper and I will work that up later.

    Also, I recognise you clearly have technical expertise. I was most impressed that you played games on mainframes.

    Just another little housekeeping observation, relating to your original op-ed, IBM’s release of 500 patents is not because they believe in open source. It’s part of a business strategy to attack Microsoft. IBM is one of if not the biggest patent holders and appliers, earning $1 billion per year from licening patents. Also, apparently most of the 500 donated to open source are pretty worthless.

  47. Darryl Rosin
    February 3rd, 2005 at 10:06 | #47

    Google has everything to do with the dot-com bubble because if it wasn’t for the bubble we wouldn’t have vast quantities of hypertext to search. PageRankâ„¢ , the algorithm that sorts the result of your search, ranks pages by the number of hyperlinks that point to them. Without hyperlinks, search gets much harder and less useful.

    Centralised searching also requires lots of capital, and the easy money of the bubble let Google get dizzying economies of scale. (Gmail, for instance, costs them about 3cents per user per year in hardware.)

    On Tony’s other claims about Microsoft and dial-up netowrking, I think he completely misreads the roles of Netscape and MS, and misses the crucial point of *why* people wanted to access “the Internet”.

    It’s important to recognise that not all dial-up networking is ‘the internet’ and not all of ‘the internet’ is the web. The ‘dot-com’ bubble was the result of the confluence of a number of factors, but the catalyst that got the whole thing going was the combination of http, html and Netscape, aka the World Wide Web. The Web was the first ‘internet’ service that the ordinary people were enthusiastic about. They weren’t lining up for ANSI terminal emulation, Usenet and ftp – they wanted the Web, because it was easy to use and pretty to look at. The Web was the key to the demand for internet access and had been since at least 1995.

    By the time of the Netscape IPO in March 95 it was obvious that there was a lot of money to be made by giving people access to the web. MS didn’t realise that until after the relase of Win 95 and MSN, a proprietary online service with it’s own dial-up points-of-presence and media standards. IE had to be purchased seperately as an extra, and I’m pretty sure tcp/ip itself was a custom install option off the WIN95 floppies.

    Once they realised their mistake they turned themselves around and pounded Netscape into the ground, but if they hadn’t, somebody else would have come along and seized the opportunity (probably IBM and OS/2, but who can say?). Windows 95 was the most popular choice for people who wanted to access the web, but that’s hadly the same thing as being responsible for the demand.


  48. Sean Kellett
    February 3rd, 2005 at 11:28 | #48

    Tony, I am sorry to be blunt, but you are wrong when you state: if there was no Linux, Google would be running on Unix, no probs at all

    Here you will see that the creators themselves say they were severely cash-strapped, couldn’t find an investor and were reduced to “haunting the department’s loading docks in hopes of tracking down newly arrived computers that they could borrow for their network.”

    They were “borrowing” University computers for their network because they were so poor! How in this environment do you suppose they could afford a “UNIX”?

    Without the free software initially, Google would still be an idea in its creator’s head.

    I am not sure how this does not reflect IP: On the contrary, my point goes to the heart of the issue. Without the freeware, the IP you are asserting would not exist.

    And so I return to my original conclusion: You need to find a way to incorporate freeware into your model of IP. Without freeware, your model doesn’t (in fact, can’t) make sense.

  49. February 3rd, 2005 at 12:18 | #49

    You might just as well argue that it was Intel with the release of the Pentium that brought the Internet to the mass market. Fact is, Microsoft tried to create their own alternative to the Internet and failed. Then they tried to embrace and extend it, but while they won the browser war, they lost the server war to Apache.
    Tony, you seem to be under the misapprehension that releasing the patents can’t be both an attack on Microsoft and support for open source. I believe that about 80% of Microsoft’s Windows revenue is profit. This is good for Microsoft and the think tanks that they fund, but it is not so good for consumers and other computer companies like IBM. So yes, IBM is promoting its own interests by supporting open sourse, but those interests happen to be aligned with that of most computer users.
    And it’s good to see Tom Giovenetti, the president of the Institute for Policy Innovation joining the discussion.

  50. February 3rd, 2005 at 12:47 | #50

    Why don’t we argue that it was the delivery of electricity that delivered the internet to the masses?

  51. Bill O’Slatter
    February 3rd, 2005 at 14:30 | #51

    As with all Microsoft technology, the significance is the transparency. Modems are among the most cantankerous of devices, for hardware reasons and because they’re communications devices. Getting one to talk reliably can be problematic. Getting 10,000 to do this with the click of a button, and without user intervention, which is the Microsoft achievement, is brilliant.
    The more you write the stupider you get Tony. Microsoft has absolutely nothing to do with the way modems talk to each other other than sending them an initialisation string. the rest of what you write is rubbish and just Microsoft advertising. Give it up for chrissakes and stop writing about technology of which you know nothing

  52. February 3rd, 2005 at 15:42 | #52

    Tony H, free models of anything don’t imply dentral funding, merely resources independent of – orthogonal to – whatever it is that they are free of, i.e. not constrained by.

    It’s a common unexamined assumption that the state is the alternative to whatever is being contemplated. This is at the heart of socialist ideas, and wasn’t there in the early days when people really were examining these things. There are non-state ways of resourcing these models even today now that its ground cover plant has taken over so much.

  53. Tony Healy
    February 3rd, 2005 at 18:32 | #53

    Bill O’Slatter, I am a software engineer and have developed significant R&D technology. Modem connections fail in a horribly large number of ways and applications must respond intelligently. The diversity of equipment makers complicates this, even though they nominally conform to a hardware API.

    Darryl, dot.com is not precisely defined, but generally refers to inflated valuations of web companies roughly in the period 1996 to 2000. That’s the way I’m using it. The growth of content on the web was independent of those web companies, which were mostly useless attempts to migrate business services online. Thus I would contend the new content you refer to was not part of or dependent on dot.com at all.

    Secondly, Google was always a solid technology company rather than a dumb web idea. It would have attracted venture funding anyway. The early backers were experienced technology entrepreneurs, not the inexperienced business hacks that fuelled dot.com. The success of its recent IPO confirms this.

    Thirdly, it is perfectly true that dialup networking doesn’t constitute the whole internet, and that the web is different from the internet. Your comments about the role of Netscape and Microsoft in the mid 90’s are interesting and no doubt there is a good discussion in there.

    For the purpose of discussing the role of Windows 95 in internet uptake, MSN is irrelevant. In John’s op-ed, he correctly pointed out that walled gardens like MSN failed. I pointed out that professional media sites thrived. Thus MSN’s demise was not due to it being commercial, but to it being run by media amateurs. Commercial media sites prospered.

    On the subject of tcp/ip in Windows 95, it was present in the normal installation. Out of the box, Windows 95 provided complete and simple connectivity, which was my point. In 1995 Microsoft had an early version of IE, but it was not as good as the Netscape of the time.

    Sean, I appreciate the input. However I would have thought that if the Googlers were prepared to borrow department computers in the early days, they would also have borrowed operating systems? However your point is different from the one I thought you were making.

    Tim, would you be interested in dropping this think-tank funding thing? Your original claim was picked from thin air and you shouldn’t do that.

    You claim that, in assigning responsibility for internet uptake, I’m overlooking the contribution of computer makers. That’s legitimate, but you could say the same about the claim that the internet uptake occurred simply because academics built it. alphacoward makes a similar observation about electricity, for which my response is the same.

    Your reference to MSN is a separate issue, which I discussed above. MSN failed because Microsoft didn’t understand media. Sites operated by professional media have done well on the internet.

    My reference to IBM’s patent activity was to John’s claim in his op-ed. He adduced the release of patents as evidence of IBM’s commitment to free culture ideals. That’s a naive interpretation of what’s occurring. I know it serves IBM’s interests well.

    Tom Giovanetti’s a good bloke.

    PM Lawrence gets back into the cultural side of the issue which could probably be an interesting debate.

    In summary, John presented an interpretation of Lessig’s free culture model which I disagree with. I presented some opposing points. For anyone interested, there are tons of papers on these subjects, mostly pretty boring.

  54. February 4th, 2005 at 00:43 | #54

    1. I did not pluck the funding issue from thin air. My original post is here. I invite anyone to read it and see how wide of the mark your “thin air” claim is.
    2. Your comments about modems are incorrect. Software can and did treat them all the same — an initialization string and ATDT to dial the number.
    3. At the risk of repeating myself, yes IBM is acting in its own interests, but that does not mean they aren’t supporting Opne Source.

  55. February 4th, 2005 at 02:25 | #55

    I’ve refrained from addressing Tim Lambert’s charges about funding for IPI, for several reasons. Oddly, I’m choosing this oblique forum to make comments. Don’t ask me why. I’ll admit it’s odd of me.

    Tim, if you only knew how far off-the-mark you are.

    You’d be shocked to know how many of us in the policy world do what we do out of genuine belief, passion, and conviction. You and your ilk have invented this conspiracy, assuming that the only reason why people do what they do is that they are paid to do it. You’re simply wrong.

    Several points:

    1. We keep our information private because we choose to keep it private. Not because we have something to hide. It’s called a presumption of innocence, and I’m sure you value privacy in your life as well. What if I accused you of using your personal financial accounts to launder money for drug-running terrorists, and if you refuse to disclose to me all your bank account statements, that’s because you must have something to hide? That would be illogical and rhetorically dishonest of me to do to you. Yet that’s exactly what you have done to IPI. Worse yet, you have made your baseless charges publically, in writing. You have mastered the art of implying guilt by association without any evidence. It’s shameful and dishonest. It’s a form of gossip, at the very least, and perhaps a form of slander. It’s unprofessional, and you should be ashamed. But no, we will not be provoked by your shameful acts into violating our own internal, carefully thought-out policy.

    2. Others on this forum have assumed a direct relationship between intellectual property protection and the sale of products, and I need to point out that there is no direct relationship. Plenty of people and companies are willing to give their stuff away for free, or for a substantial discount, yet they maintain their right to ownership of their property, and this is perfectly legitimate. It is perfectly legitimate, for instance, for IPI to give its studies away for free, while copyrighting them. It is perfectly legitimate, for instance, for pharmaceutical companies to give AIDS drugs away for free in Africa, yet aggressively defend their intellectual property. If I own something, I may very well choose to give it away for free, yet fight you from stealing it. If I own it, I may charge for it or give it away for free, yet it remains my patented or copywrighten property. If I own a patent on a drug, I may out of humanitarian reasons give my drug away for free. But I’ll still defend my patent and keep you from ripping off my product.

  56. February 4th, 2005 at 08:22 | #56

    Tom, if you accused me of laundering money for terrorists, I would answer “No, that isn’t true”. I would not have to disclose my financial records to deny the charge.
    And I haven’t accused you of being funded by Microsoft. I asked you if you were and you have refused to answer.
    Other think tanks did answer the question and disclosed the potential conflict of interest.

  57. February 4th, 2005 at 12:58 | #57

    Tom G, I would rather have people with limited selfish ends running things than idealists with unlimited ends. I think C.S.Lewis had something to say on this point, though I don’t recall the reference offhand. Perhaps someone else can remind me?

    Anyway, I am not at all surprised at idealism in high places – I fear it, just as I would if Gough Whitlam rose again.

  58. Bill O’Slatter
    February 4th, 2005 at 13:41 | #58

    In an effort to be fair to Tony” Microsoft Certified SOftware Engineer” Healy I googled for references to Microsoft’s ( unlikely) infleunce on modem design.
    As mentioned by myself and Tim Lambert big deal abut the software interaction. Have you heard of the seven layer OSI network model ? The modem is at the transport layer .this is not genrally what Microosft is interested in. It is also not interested in standards e.g. from the ITU on v.92
    see Wikipedia . If you can prove me wrong feel free to provide evidence : I couldn’t find any.
    I would still fart in your general direction.

  59. Bill O’Slatter
    February 4th, 2005 at 13:59 | #59

    Errata : in the OSI model the modem is at the physical layer not the transport( TCP/IP stack) layer – see Wikipedia .

  60. Tony Healy
    February 4th, 2005 at 15:39 | #60

    Bill, I detest MCSE’s and assorted industry certifications.

  61. February 7th, 2005 at 10:14 | #61

    The central contention of this thread seems to have been decided by the following field evidence.

    Sun Microsystems has anounced that it will open source its Solaris operating system. This is being done because Sun is losing big time to Linux and has decided that the open source model is the future. Either way Solaris is a dead OS walking you’d think.

    Sun Solaris runs thousands of the biggest corporate applications globally.

    Propagandists dissing the open source model are involved in a rearguard action to protect the business interests of the last standing opponent of Linux.

    Microsoft with Windows can certainly delay the day, and in the process earn a few more well-deserved fortunes but they know as well as everybody else that it is a question of time.

    One of the core taks for computing in business is communicating. Communication is highly susceptible to breakdown in systems incorporating closed-source components. The open source debate has little to do with the philosophy of IP, social equity etc etc – it has to do with the mechanics of IT based communication. The internet demands an open source approach. Technically.

  62. Tony Healy
    February 7th, 2005 at 12:05 | #62

    No wbb. It was a rebuttal of the claims of the free culturist movement. My observation about the role of Windows 95 was only one of many. I pointed out that IP thrives on the internet. That newspaper sites are the most successful sites. That Google is a child of IP. I don’t believe anyone has disputed those points.

    If you open source fruitcakes would like to stop and think for a minute, you might ask yourself why I would be enthusiastic for Google, which poses a more significant threat to Microsoft than does public software (open source to you.)

  63. February 7th, 2005 at 15:36 | #63

    Sorry, Tony. I hadn’t actually read your article. Was more responding to content in this thread.

    About Google, sure they have some IP loosely defined in their search algorithms, db design, load balancing. Their sucess is more due to their business ability than any software they’ve written. Writing a search engine is 101 computing. Investing and maintaining in sufficient plant and staff to run a globally capable engine is where the sheep are separated from the goats. Google don’t sell anybody their computing software. They sell services and applications. Much like IBM in part does.

    But the actual products they use to build with have large open source basis. It’s neither one nor the other. OS and DB software is becoming commoditised and thus will end up open source and generic.

    The biggest player in open source today is IBM. For the simple reason that they expect to make money with it. They have announced they are no longer ogin to port their middleware software to x86 Solaris for example. Their customers don’t want it . They want Linux. The reaons that the free culturalists may be spurious but the thing they advocate is becoming a reality thru traditional market forces.

    Newspapers are users of software – whether open source or not. Their IP (news, ads) is irrelevant, I suggest, to software development debate.

    To measure what percentage of business useful software was developed as open source and what part was developed while IP protected would be impossible and not that helpful. What matters to business is to choose the software that will not hinder them down the track from further integration with and complying with evolving standards of what is a public utility in all but name.

    In the Operating System space, linux is the only viable choice long-term. Nonetheless Microsoft customers need not feel silly if their view is less than a decade hence and they do not have high requirement for integration with the wider world. However for larger companies with high infrastructure and staff costs it is about time to finally make the shift from old-fashioned proprietary software. For one thing graduates will be less productive if you put them on anything other than open source. ie what they know, own and learned on.

    Traditionally of course IP only lasts for x number of years. There was a reason for that. After a time IP is obsolete or doesn’t serve its purpose of rewarding the creator. With software this lifecycle is much shorter even in some cases to zero. An idea can be brought to market by about ten people at the same time. By the time any one of them has managed to get IP recognised legally the product has either been incorporated by everybody or the product is even obsolete.

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