I think it can now be safely said, in hindsight, that Microsoft's entry into the browser business and its subsequent linking of the browser into the Windows operating system looks to be the worst decision — and perhaps the biggest, most costly gaffe — the company ever made.You got that right. Microsoft likes to spin that Bill Gates is some all-seeing IT visionary who can guide the company around the shoals of adversity to ever greater heights of success. Bullshit. Bill is highly reactionary, and when he heard Andreessen say that Netscape would become the next great platform and reduce Windows to a collection of poorly debugged drivers, Bill went ballistic. He actually believed it. Nobody, but nobody can replace the operating system. All that capability to render multimedia from text to video requires a lot more than the odd collection of poorly debugged drivers. You need the OS for the client machine, and more importantly, you need the OS to support the network and the servers that serve up all that content. You need computers running an OS with specific tools to manage the network such that it gives the best levels of service for everyone. Bill Gates isn't a visionary. Bill Gates is a 21st century con artist with the nack for concentrating wealth into his pocket and the pockets of his closest cohorts.
So Bill Gates, in hard-core reactionary mode, drove Microsoft to create a browser competitor using technology licensed from NCSA (the National Center for Supercomputing) Mosaic and Spyglass, the same group that spawned Netscape and Andreessen. But Bill didn't stop there. He had to beat a key feature of Netscape, dynamic content provided by Java. So Bill first licensed Java, then went one critical step further. He opened up platform native executables through the browser via ActiveX. When Microsoft did that they destroyed what little security existed on Windows. They didn't realize it at the time, but the creation and addition of ActiveX to Internet Explorer would lead them to over a decade of endless security vulnerabilities and fixes, and that have cost, as Dvorak says, billions of dollars. And untold billions to the users of Windows fighting the consequences of the flaws on the Microsoft software running on their computer systems.
Everyone thought Microsoft got away with murder when nothing much came of the original DoJ indictment. And at first it looked like they did. But Bill had to have it all, and that's exactly what he got, including all the unintended consequences of 'winning'. It has cost more than billions in lost productivity. Bill's behavior surrounding IE and Netscape, as well as his continued reflexive behavior such as that around beating RealNetworks RealPlayer, has greatly tarnished his standing among his peers. During his recent trip to Vietnam they were celebrating his wealth, not his technical prowess.
The sad thing is that neither Netscape nor RealPlayer were anything to loose sleep over. Netscape was a bug-ridden pile of crap code what was re-written by the Mozilla crew, and then finally abandoned after adopting Firefox. RealPlayer has always been a poor third to Apple's QuickTime and Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Everytime I install RealPlayer I get tons of ads and lousy playback of streaming media. I have excellent choice between Apple and Microsoft on Windows. Even with Real on Linux, I prefer boot Windows for the far superior experience. And there are times when I prefer the superior experience of Firefox on Windows over Firefox on Linux.
Windows is still the gold standard, as is Office on Windows. Concentrate on those and let Firefox be the primary browser. Or (finally!) standardise and publish the APIs behind IE and really grow an ecology on Windows for browsers. If Microsoft were truly an easier partner to work with (read: not someone to gobble you up or roll you flat) Linux would never have a chance. And Windows place in the IT world would be really secure.