October 20, 2009, 4:36 PM — Since its inception, Microsoft has made a practice of folding innovation by others into its proprietary products. Windows 7 is no exception. Beginning with version 1.0, Windows has accreted features that often eclipsed third-party products, sometimes killing them in the process.
This isn't to say that Microsoft doesn't innovate on its own -- clearly it does. The question is: Why does Microsoft so frequently, and completely, vanquish third-party software by merging their capabilities into its OS? Is it for competitive advantage? Perhaps, as bundled features ultimately cost users less, although at the expense of future innovation through competition. Or could it be part of Microsoft's ongoing efforts to lock in its customer base? Frequently Microsoft's versions of third-party capabilities add proprietary code and protocols that limit their use to Windows, and Windows only.
[ See Microsoft's top technology roadkill victims in our slideshow. | InfoWorld's Randall C. Kennedy enumerates the "7 deadly sins of Windows 7." | John Rizzo shows what Apple stole from Windows and what Microsoft stole from Mac OS X. ]
Studying some of the history of Windows as it progressed to today's Windows 7 sheds light on Microsoft's motivations and the ultimate effect of its feature-grabbing to limit user software options.
Windows 7 starts out on the wrong foot
Although it's too early to fully measure the impact Windows 7 will have on the third-party market, it's already off to a bad start with its heavy-handed dismissal of third-party video codecs. Third-party codecs cooperate with video compression standards that Microsoft's own video applications, such as Media Player, were heretofore loathe to support.
But Windows 7 adds some new codecs to Microsoft's quiver, and where these collide with third-party products, you won't be surprised who comes out on top.
Windows 7 preempts third-party codecs in Microsoft's own applications, such as Media Player, by using its own embedded codecs whenever possible. This is a major change from XP and Vista operation, where users could override Microsoft codecs globally. Although users can circumvent Windows 7 codec usurpation with some effort, the process is not intuitive and decidedly less convenient than the old behavior.
Early Windows dismisses, then plays catch-up with Apple