Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft from the Inside
By Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller
Henry Holt (1998)
Can be downloaded from from Open Library
Barbarians Led by Bill Gates, co-authored by former Microsoft programmer Marlin Eller, is mainly about Gates’ mercurial and inconsistent management style. While highly unflattering to Gates, Barbarians simultaneously refutes Justice Depart claims that Microsoft deliberately tried to squash competitors by stealing their innovations. The authors make out it was all just a coincidence – that Gates was too disorganized to carry out such a conspiracy. I don’t buy it.
Eller was one of the original programmers at Microsoft in 1982 when the company had only two hundred employers. They had more than 20,000 when he left. The programmer was principally involved in the development of Windows, the graphic interface Microsoft copied from VisiOn and the Apple Macintosh. The launch of Windows ultimately enabled Microsoft to monopolize the software market (competitors’ software wouldn’t run on Windows).
As Ellers describes it, the birth of Windows was a long painful saga, plagued by Gates’ mismanagement and numerous blind alleys costing the company hundreds of million. Microsoft had no systematic quality control over Windows. They seem to have mainly relied on customers to inform them of bugs and security flaws post release.
Eller repeatedly depicts Gates ordering his programmers to reverse engineer software created by other companies. Thus I find it hard to believe it was pure coincidence that Microsoft put Netscape out of business by creating Internet Explorer (which they copied from Netscape) – especially when Internet Explorer team left a giant “E” on Netscape’s front lawn the night before they launched Internet Explorer 4.0. Attached was a card that read
“Good people should feel so BAD! Best wishes – the Internet Explorer team.”
The book also details Microsoft’s longstanding legal problems, including numbers copyright infringement lawsuits and a longstanding battle with the Department of Justice over unfair competition and violation of anti-monopoly laws.***
The reader comes away with the sense that Microsoft’s only unique innovation was MS-DOS* and the BASIC programming language Gates created enabling computers to talk to one another. I’m inclined to agree with Justice Department claims that he used his wealth and monopoly power to pressure manufacturers to load Windows onto new computers. This, in turn, squeezed out competitors who designed software for other operating systems.
*Shortly before their 1999 acquisition by AOL in 1999, Netscape created the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. The foundation, in turn, rewrote the source code for Netscape Navigator. The latter would be used to power Mozilla’s open source Firefox browser. Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000 and as chairman of the board in 2014.
**DOS (short for disk operating system) is an acronym for several computer operating systems that are operated by using the command line. MS-DOS dominated the IBM PC compatible market between 1981 and 1995, or until about 2000 including the partially MS-DOS-based Microsoft Windows.
***Microsoft’s battle with the Department of Justice is ongoing.