How the Web Was Won: Microsoft from Windows to the Web

Overview

In How the Web Was Won, veteran Seattle Times journalist Paul Andrews chronicles the explosive drama and high-stakes gamesmanship behind the most remarkable business turnaround of the 1990s: the story of Microsoft's journey from Windows to the Web - and of the handful of Internet believers who led the charge.
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Overview

In How the Web Was Won, veteran Seattle Times journalist Paul Andrews chronicles the explosive drama and high-stakes gamesmanship behind the most remarkable business turnaround of the 1990s: the story of Microsoft's journey from Windows to the Web - and of the handful of Internet believers who led the charge.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Steve Lohr
...[O]n its own terms, How the Web Was Won is an exemplary tale of corporate resilience, filled with insider detail....Andrews, a columnist for The Seattle Times, is the co-author with Stephen Manes of Gates(1993), which is regarded as the definitive biography of the Microsoft chairman to date. For his current book, Andrews received Microsoft's cooperation from the top on down. And he delivers on his promise to tell ''Microsoft's Internet story through the eyes, ears and voices of the players themselves.''
The New York Times Book Review \
Steven Levy
...Andrews is so tilted toward Microsoft's contention that it won the Web solely by fair play that the book has...value as an anthropological study....[A] well-researched account. —Newsweek
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
That Microsoft was late getting onto the Web is a common piece of corporate lore. For Andrews, who for more than 10 years has covered Microsoft for the Seattle Times and is the coauthor of the balanced Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America, the nuts and bolts of how the company has rebounded to dominate the browser market is a milestone of corporate history. As such, he treats it lovingly, lingering over memos, basking in the company's high-stakes, big-money energy and spotlighting various corporate players as they maneuver the monolith into pole position. Andrews makes clear that Microsoft had been thinking at least peripherally about Web-like technology since 1990. Even before rival browser-purveyor Netscape went public in mid-1995 (creating a $3 billion company), the race had already started. The story is familiar: technologies crop up as challengers, only to fall or be absorbed. Internet Explorer becomes part of a desktop bundle. Antitrust suits are fended off. IE becomes something of a standard. Andrews's minute descriptions--though often slow moving--of the technology and of the problem-solving approaches of Microsoft and its rivals will fascinate tech-heads and intrigue the uninitiated. Yet, as Andrews notes, Microsoft's victory may not be permanent: the software giant is threatened by AOL's purchase of rival Netscape and its alliance with operating-system competitor Sun Microsystems, by the "open-source" movement that advocates giving users direct access to program code, and by the government's ongoing antitrust action. The notoriously volatile technology business may yet render at least the title of this book premature. Photos not seen by PW. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Novel-length exposes of Microsoft and Bill Gates tend to fall into two camps: dry behind-the-scenes business studies and dirt-dishing tell-alls that focus on the eccentricities (or worse) of key executives. No different are the latest off the presses – Paul Andrews' How the Web Was Won and Gary Rivlin's The Plot to Get Bill Gates. Both longtime journalists, Andrews and Rivlin bring different perspectives and styles to the most overexposed subject of late '90s business media.

In detailing the fits and starts of Microsoft's march to dominate the Internet, veteran Seattle Times tech writer Andrews has the right idea. He profiles the handful of Microsofties who provided the inspiration for a complex tangle of initiatives. Problem is, the profiles aren't that interesting. Mostly we learn that folks like J. Allard, Steve Sinofsky and Brad Chase are smart, incredibly hardworking and maniacally dedicated to Microsoft. But Andrews' subjects feel interchangeable. They're all young, white, type-As who play practical jokes, fetishize retro gym shoes and eat lots of pizza. There's not much else to do when you work 90-hour weeks. Andrews also hurts his own cause by plowing stubbornly through technical details. Much of the first chapters trace the historical record of TCP/IP implementations and WinSock API development. Tech historians will love it, but general readers' eyes are likely to glaze over. Even the biographical details of the young, unheralded Softies – some of whom will become the next inner circle – read like the back of a geek bubble-gum card. Do we really need to know every version of DOS that Ben Slivka worked on?

In The Plot to Get Bill Gates, Rivlin takes an outside approach. This city-desk reporter strings together a rogue's gallery of Gates' foes: Suns Scott McNealy, former Borland leader Philippe Kahn, Oracle's Larry Ellison, antitrust lawyer Gary Reback, former Novell chief Ray Noorda and other usual suspects. Rivlin has a great sense of the hypocrisy and ego-tripping that pervades corporate boardrooms, and he spares neither Gates nor his rivals the rod. He may slap Microsoft for its unchecked greed and arrogance, but he just as eagerly shows its rivals – a modern-day "Captain Ahab's Club," as Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold impishly calls them – gnashing their teeth and foundering on the rocks of their own obsessions. Perhaps most brutal is his description of Ellison's Oracle as a testosterone-fouled sinkhole, a high-tech version of the company depicted in Glengarry Glen Ross.

While no one is safe from Rivlin's reproach, Andrews' tome is an elegy to the Microsoft Way. His laborious efforts to heap Gates with praise and defend him against criticism – such as the failure to grasp the importance of the Web in his "visionary" 1996 best-seller The Road Ahead – are embarrassing. Andrews describes Gates at a crucial 1994 offsite meeting in which Allard and others brought the Net's importance to Gates' attention: "Watching his lieges spar like a verbal version of Ali and Frazier did not faze Gates. He loved how passionate people got about Microsoft and its products. It was OK to disagree as long as no one got hurt and the results helped the company serve its customers." Gates couldn't have said it better.

Ultimately, both books rehash much of the daily news from the past five years. Rivlin's work collects in one place all the incidents, real or rumored, that are the very pith of Valley lore and ultimately concludes that there is no single plot to get Gates, just a greedy boys club playing one-upsmanship. Andrews' lens on his hometown company is as rosy as Rivlin's is gray. Neither author deserves 300 pages.

Katie Hafner
...[A] well-researched, highly readable account....For the most part, readers will find his profiles of Internet zealots both in and outside of Microsoft fascinating....While books like this often suffer from acronym and technical jargon overload, Mr. Andrews is admirably restrained on both counts.
The New York Times
Steve Lohr
...[O]n its own terms, How the Web Was Won is an exemplary tale of corporate resilience, filled with insider detail....Andrews, a columnist for The Seattle Times, is the co-author with Stephen Manes of Gates(1993), which is regarded as the definitive biography of the Microsoft chairman to date. For his current book, Andrews received Microsoft's cooperation from the top on down. And he delivers on his promise to tell ''Microsoft's Internet story through the eyes, ears and voices of the players themselves.''
The New York Times Book Review
Steven Levy
...Andrews is so tilted toward Microsoft's contention that it won the Web solely by fair play that the book has...value as an anthropological study....[A] well-researched account.
Newsweek
Kirkus Reviews
The detailed story of how Microsoft created a substantive position for itself in the rapidly growing world of the Internet. Other books have already covered Microsoft's meteoric rise and massive presence in the computer software industry; Seattle Times technology columnist Andrews himself co-authored a business bio of the company's leader, Bill Gates (Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America, not reviewed). This time, he turns to Microsoft's decision to make itself a major player on the Internet, based on the company's belief that the World Wide Web would offer big opportunities for future profits. In a chatty and personal style, Andrews introduces the cast of characters assigned to this task, starting with those who had the initial realization that something big was brewing with this universal network. Bits and pieces of information are offered about how software is created, but Andrews's relentless main mission is to portray Microsoft's efforts to enter the Internet era as mortal combat with competitors rather than creative programming. Hyperbole often obscures the subject. We read that "the earth shook" at a Microsoft news conference, for instance, and that one of Microsoft's competitors is a "sworn archenemy." Still, software developers will feel kinship with the deadlines, crises, and interdepartmental fighting that accompany the story, and Microsoft aficionados may enjoy learning more about the workings of the company (including product and management failures) and about the expansive team of professionals who get as much credit and emphasis as the boss himself. Fan-club reading for Microsoft supporters. ($75,000ad/promo; author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767900485
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • Publication date: 6/15/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Coauthor of the 1993 national bestseller Gates, Paul Andrews has watched Microsoft as a Seattle Times reporter since the company moved to suburban Bellevue from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1979. Since 1989 he has written one of the nation's longest-running weekly personal technology columns, "User Friendly." Andrews has won numerous awards for his coverage of Microsoft over the past decade. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Cecile, and bichon frise, Maggie.
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Read an Excerpt

Nightmare

You would never have known it from his wealth, fame, and reputation, but Bill Gates was a worried, worried man.

On April 30, 1991, the software king isolated himself for a week at the family compound he had built along the southeastern shore of Hood Canal in Washington State's Puget Sound. The canal, a long, narrow stretch of inlet that ran the length of the sound, was one of Gates's favorite spots on earth. Growing up in Seattle, Gates had spent some of his happiest times visiting Hood Canal, going water-skiing, attending summer camp, staying with his grandmother Adelle Maxwell, whom he and the rest of the family called Gam, at her summer cabin there. After she passed away, Gates had built as a monument to his grandmother Gateaway, a four-house compound on three and a half acres, for family and executive retreats. An hour and a half's drive from Seattle, Gateaway was well known to Microsofties as the site for Microgames, an annual summertime adventure competition where teams of players matched wits and motor skills in a sort of extreme games for the brainy set. The compound also hosted periodic strategic planning sessions for Microsoft's inner circle, guys like Steve Ballmer, Paul Maritz, Jeff Raikes, Brad Silverberg, Jim Allchin. And Gates liked to bring in friends like megainvestor Warren Buffett and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham for occasional get-togethers.

That week, Gates was alone. There was something calming yet energizing about the canal. The damp air seemed to enclose you in a cocoon of concentration and focus. Your mind cleared out. Issues and challenges became more defined. Ideas flowed more easily. It was amazing how whenyou eluded the noise and demands of the everyday world, you could grab hold of the things that really mattered. Drilling down, augering in-call it what you wanted, the misty isolation of Hood Canal really allowed you to bring things into focus.

Gates had been poring over a stack of technology-oriented reading material-memos, white papers, journals, magazines, and books-early that afternoon. The software king loved to read. The bookshelves in the living room of his compound quarters held some of his recent perusings. There was Running Critical by Patrick Tyler, examining the Cold War power struggle between Admiral Hyman Rickover and General Dynamics. There was Robert Lacey's look at Ford and God Knows, the bleak Joseph Heller novel. The Great Getty, by Bob Lenzner, on the oil baron turned art patron; Honorable Justice by Sheldon Novick, on Oliver Wendell Holmes; The Second Creation, a look at twentieth-century physics; The Bishop's Boys, Tom Crouch's study of the Wright brothers, and Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis's look at Wall Street. Gates gravitated toward historical biographies. Part of his fascination derived from his own sense of history and his role in one of the great revolutions of the twentieth century: the Information Age. By any measure, Gates and Microsoft were successes-amazingly, astonishingly so. Founded in 1975 by Gates and his Seattle private-school chum Paul Allen, Microsoft had grown sixteen years later into an international software empire generating $1.8 billion in revenues and 25 percent after-tax profits. Microsoft's third version of Windows, issued a year earlier on May 22, 1990, had sold 9 million copies and was well on its way to supplanting MS-DOS as the bestselling software program ever written. Within five months Gates, thirty-five years old and worth $4.8 billion, would ride the success of Microsoft and Windows to the No. 2 position on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, a distinction Gates considered more a distraction than an honor.

To the world at large, Microsoft was a mighty kingdom, yes. But to Gates, that just made it a bigger target. The way he saw things, Microsoft was under assault from every front. And if the company relaxed its defense for a moment, if it made the wrong strategic decision or pursued the wrong technology, the whole thing could go up in smoke tomorrow. It was one reason he liked to tell executives at Microsoft, "For every piece of good news you send me, tell me a piece of bad news." Gates mentally ticked off the challenges Microsoft faced. First there was IBM, upset about the success of Windows versus OS/2-the big, next-generation PC operating system that Big Blue wanted to use to supplant Microsoft's DOS and Windows. The delicate partnership that had defined personal computing through the 1980s had in the fall of 1990 finally dissipated in a miasma of distrust and reprobation. "IBM always had these projects to wipe us out, so every company retreat we're saying, 'It looks like IBM is going to try and replace us,'" Gates would recall. "What can we do to prevent that? What's our strategy once that happens?"

The two companies were still working together under a three-year agreement to share some technologies, but IBM's strategy was for OS/2 to supersede Windows by the time the agreement expired in 1993.

Besides Big Blue, there was Big Brother to worry about. The Federal Trade Commission was investigating possible antitrust violations related to the way Microsoft licensed DOS to computer manufacturers. Then there was the Apple lawsuit, filed three years earlier and still hanging fire. Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft was having to bear the ignominy of being crushed by Novell, the Provo, Utah, PC networking software company. For eight years Microsoft had been trying to come up with a good networking strategy. And each year it seemed to fall deeper and deeper off the chart. Starting in 1989 Microsoft had made overtures of a merger with Novell. But talks were desultory, and Gates held little hope the two companies would get together. Networking was an embarrassment, one that Gates repeatedly used as a reminder when someone started talking about how big and powerful and dominant Microsoft was becoming.

Gates thought about a memo he had been reading by John Walker, the founder of Autodesk. Warning his wildly successful computer-aided design company of complacency, Walker depicted a nightmare scenario where Microsoft decided to compete in the market Autodesk had built an empire upon. Gates considered Walker's notion irrelevant; getting Microsoft into CAD might spread the company too thin. On the other hand, Gates considered the notion of nightmare scenarios all too relevant. Unless he and his company could make the leap to the next paradigm, Gates mused, Microsoft would be tomorrow's WordStar. When the IBM PC had come out, WordStar was the No. 1 word processor, with something like 90 percent market share. Everyone knew what control-KD did. You could ask out loud, "How do you boldface?" And someone across the room would call out the command. WordStar had been the standard, the market leader, the dominant force in word processing.

And where was WordStar today?

If Microsoft continued to execute well on its core strategy, the company would do well, Gates knew. He could see DOS and Windows and Microsoft's desktop applications-Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and on down the line-continuing to thrive in their traditional market, the desktop computer. It was a good business, one that had brought Microsoft much of its success. The operating system standards Microsoft had created-first DOS, on the IBM PC and "clone" computers, and then Windows-empowered computer users to create and customize information in new and exciting ways. PCs had exploded in power, functionality, and popularity throughout the 1980s, putting the Gates-Allen vision of a computer on every desk and in every home ever more closely within reach. By 1990 computers were selling at the clip of more than 20 million a year. But peering down the road ahead, Gates saw a looming dead end. Ultimately the model of standalone computers on desks and in homes had a fundamental limitation that would prevent it from continuing to transform society. To be truly useful, to become as popular and effective as television and radio and the telephone, computers had to be linked together somehow. Like people, computers could get a lot done on their own. But like people, they became a real social force and powerful change agent when they networked together.

And networking, Gates knew, was Microsoft's bête noir.
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