Microsoft and Standards

Back in 1993 and 94, I worked for a then-well-known software company called FTP Software. Their business was TCP/IP stacks and applications. (Bear in mind that the first web browser — Mosaic — hit the market in 1993, so back then the ‘net meant nothing to the average consumer.)

We went to Microsoft in April of 1994, to an interop testing event held by Microsoft called the PPP-a-thon. The idea was that you got all the coders, with their live code, into a room, and made sure everybody could talk to everybody else (which included not only dialup PPP, but also PPP over a variety of things like X.25, hard-wired T1s, etc.). PPP was still a fairly new spec at that point, and much more complex than SLIP.

As I tested our interop against the Microsoft dialup PPP support in Chicago — which became Windows 95 — I remember a conversation with their lead engineer (I seem to recall his name was Andy, and he wore cowboy boots; strange the things you remember). He told me that the interop was very important for the community, because Microsoft, even in 1994, was quite the software juggernaut. Any flaws in their PPP software would become the new de-facto standards.

He was right. Even 9 years ago, Microsoft’s bugs could become next week’s new standards, just by virtue of the number of people using it. And there’s another moral here, too: not everybody at Microsoft was (or is) anti-standards. Microsoft is a bunch of individuals as much as it is a giant corporate machine… maybe even more so.

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