History of Microsoft’s Website

Microsoft, like many big tech companies, has
had a history of ups, downs, and major transitions. And I think one of the best ways to understand
a company’s history is through the lens of their website. I recently made a video called history of
Apple’s website, and I realized that a lot of their history intertwines with Microsoft,
especially in the early days. And that realization is what inspired me to
make this video pointing out those critical moments in Microsoft’s history, as represented
by their website. This is Greg with Apple Explained, and I want
to thank Squarespace for sponsoring this video. If you want to help decide which video topics
I cover, make sure you’re subscribed and polls like this one will show up in your mobile
activity feed. Now let’s begin by discussing how Microsoft
got their big break in 1980, which had everything to do with IBM. You see, by 1980, the personal computer market
was dominated by three companies: Commodore, Tandy, and Apple. IBM dominated the mainframe market, and quickly
recognized the importance of personal computers. They wanted to make a model of their own,
but didn’t have the operating system necessary to make it happen. That’s where Microsoft came in, they promised
IBM a disk operating system, or DOS for short, similar to what Apple had provided for the
Apple II in 1978. IBM accepted the offer and gave Microsoft
a contract to develop what would become IBM PC DOS, included in the 1981 IBM Personal
Computer. Now I say all of that not because it has anything
to do with Microsoft’s website, but because it kicked off a decade of legal battles with
the US government that would not only effect the company’s website, but also the future
of Apple. You see, in 1990 the Federal Trade Commission
investigated Microsoft for possible collusion with IBM to manipulate the software market. And although Microsoft eventually settled
the antitrust charges in 1994, the company continued to be heavily monitored by the Justice
Department for any signs of anticompetitive behavior. And this is where Microsoft’s website comes
in. But before talking about their site, I’m
going to take the opportunity to mention mine, which is appleexplained.com. And although it isn’t full of content, it
does have a very important purpose. It allowed me to buy the appleexplained.com
domain before anyone else, and therefore claim a custom email address, [email protected] And I was able to claim my domain name, build
my website, and create a custom email address all with the same service. And that’s Squarespace. I’ve been using Squarespace for over a year
now after switching between other services, and I’m really happy with what they have
to offer. Squarespace had the highest number of website
templates to choose from and they’re all optimized for mobile so I didn’t have to
do any extra work for that. And when I wanted to sell a merch product
I was able to add an e-commerce store to my site without starting from scratch. Plus the payment processor was built in and
I could print shipping labels straight from Squarespace as well. When I say it’s an all-in-one platform,
I really mean it. And you can get all this for cheaper than
you might think, especially if you use the link squarespace.com/appleexplained since
you’ll get 10% off your first purchase, you can find that link in the description. Their battle with the Justice Department reached
a fever pitch in 1998, when Microsoft was finally sued for abusing their power to suppress
competition, particularly when it came to their internet browser called Netscape, which
became so ubiquitous that it was even shipped as the default browser on Macintosh computers. But Microsoft refused to stand idly by while
the Justice Department accused them of illegal monopolistic practices. They actually used their website as a means
to defend themselves in the court of public opinion. It began in 1998 with a relatively small side
banner asking what visitors thought about the lawsuit, but quickly adopted a more prominent
position in the center of the website, as well as more suggestive messaging. No longer was Microsoft simply informing visitors
with the title “Microsoft and the DOJ,” they were now making an argument with the
new title, “Microsoft and the freedom to innovate.” And as the case intensified in 1999, Microsoft
began an all-out offensive against the Justice Department’s accusations. And nowhere was this aggressive posture more
apparent than on their website, which was completely overhauled. The usual Microsoft software products and
news updates were replaced by information about something called the Freedom to Innovate
Network. Which claimed to be a non-partisan, grassroots
network of citizens and businesses who had a stake in the success of Microsoft. Now it’s questionable how much of a grassroots
movement the Freedom to Innovate Network was, especially considering it was formed by Microsoft
and advertised to the public through their own website. But it was clear that the company was trying
to form a narrative that had a chance of influencing the outcome of their legal case. But I should mention that this had been their
strategy since before the Justice Department actually filed their lawsuit. Because back in 1997, Microsoft made a substantial
150 million dollar investment in Apple. And although that surprised many, it actually
made a lot of sense for both companies. Apple was guaranteed at least five more years
of Microsoft Office development for the Mac, influence over the creation of Java, and access
to Microsofts patents. But perhaps the most important aspect of the
deal was ensuring that Microsoft had a vested interest in Apple’s success. Because as we already know, Microsoft had
developed a reputation of monopolizing the software market by either forcing companies
out, or simply buying them out. But this wasn’t a sustainable business model
for Microsoft, they knew the Justice Department was eager to file a lawsuit which had the
potential of breaking up the company. Something they wanted to avoid at all costs. So Microsoft needed Apple to succeed as much
as Apple themselves. If not, it’d be very hard for Microsoft
to argue against having a monopoly over the software market, considering about 95% of
all personal computers ran Windows at that time. But there were more benefits for the company
than simply strengthening their position in a potential legal battle with the Justice
Department. Microsoft was also released from a longstanding
lawsuit from Apple over stealing the look and feel of the Macintosh operating system,
their Internet Explorer browser would ship as the default on every Mac, and they actually
made a substantial amount of money from their investment as Apple became profitable. Now in 2000, the judge overseeing the case
ruled that Microsoft had to be broken up into two separate entities. One to make the operating system, and another
to make other software like the internet browser. But as you can imagine, Microsoft fought the
judgment by filing an appeal and making another argument on their website with an article
titled “Microsoft urges court to dismiss government’s breakup proposal.” And again, they were successful. In 2001 the Justice Department announced that
they were no longer seeking to break up Microsoft. Instead, they decided to pursue a less serious
antitrust penalty. Now as that legal battle came to an end, Microsofts
website quickly returned to normal. Featuring news like the demise of clippy and
preorder availability of Windows XP. And when that operating system actually launched,
Microsoft’s website was slightly remodeled to reflect the design language used in Windows
XP. Now at this point Apple had been enjoying
profitability for about three years and despite working closely with Microsoft in some areas,
Apple had a very different way of doing business. And those differences could be seen by simply
taking a look at each company’s website. Back in 2001 Microsoft’s homepage was very
text heavy with few photos and very little white space. It was clear they were trying to squeeze as
much information on the page as possible. Compare that to Apple’s site during the
same period, which dedicated almost the entire homepage to just one product, the iPod. Rather than providing links to as many news
articles, products, and pages as possible, Apple instead directed visitors attention
to just one thing. Ensuring a clear message that anyone could
understand in just seconds. And as we learned in my previous video, that
approach to web design was pretty revolutionary at the time, but it quickly became the industry
standard. Just take a look at how Microsoft’s website
changed by 2004, suddenly they were featuring less text links in favor of banner images
with a clear message. This is when Microsoft began thinking of their
homepage as a storefront rather than a site map with endless links. And that shift makes sense when you consider
the company’s focus on hardware during this time. They created the Xbox in 2001 which became
one of the best selling consoles in the country. But their second major product, the Zune music
player, wasn’t as successful. It launched in 2007 and was featured on Microsofts
homepage, which was redesigned yet again with an even greater focus on banner images. But the Zune never caught on and was dominated
by the iPod until it was discontinued in 2011 after just four years on the market. Now it was during this period when Microsoft
entered a number of markets including smartphones and tablets, in addition to rebranding of
their logo, products, and operating systems. It was all centered around their new Metro
design language that debuted on their smartphones, and you can see how this new style influenced
their website. By 2012 Microsoft’s homepage looked like
a completely different place. It adopted a responsive design and prominently
displayed hardware, like the Surface tablet or Windows Phone, which was a big change from
the software-centric approach they took just a year earlier. And that change in web design coincided with
Microsoft’s changing business strategy, primarily driven by new hardware. They introduced the Kinect, Microsoft Band,
Surface Book, and Microsoft Surface Hub all within four years. Many of which were featured on the company’s
homepage during their release. Now Microsoft has stuck to this responsive,
modern website design for the past few years, and they’ll likely continue using it for
many years to come. But their focus may be shifting from the consumer
market to the business and government markets. They’ve recently worked with Toyota, the
US military, and 17 American intelligence agencies, providing various technology to
improve and streamline their operations. So while Microsoft may not be experiencing
much success in the consumer market, they are making a substantial profit from other
companies and government agencies, which could become the main focus of Microsoft’s business
strategy, and homepage, going forward. Alright guys thanks for watching and I’ll
see you next time.


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