IT World accuses Windows 8 of feature theft
On 9 February 2012, IT Word published an article titled “Eight features Windows 8 borrowed from Linux” which accuses the still unreleased Microsoft operating system codenamed Windows 8 of feature theft. The assertion is not direct, but is unmistakably accusatory. But did Windows 8 really “borrowed” anything?
I will recount the disputed features here:
IT World says Windows 8 has borrowed the idea of ReFS from Linux. One of the evidences that it provides is the fact that ReFS supports bigger file and volume sizes! Another “evidence” is the fact that ReFS supports B+ trees, a data storage algorithm that dates back to 1979 and is invented by neither Microsoft nor Linux developers. How these “evidences” point to “borrowing”, I fail to see.
7. Cloud integration
IT World lists cloud integration in its article but does not even discuss why it thinks cloud integration is “borrowed” from Linux. It briefly mentions Ubuntu 11, which is released in 2011. However, the fact is that neither Microsoft nor Linux developers have borrowed this idea from the other.
Cloud integration dates way back to 1995, although home users did not notice its presence back then. After all, the fast and massive Internet storage service was far beyond the reach of their paychecks and the fancy name “cloud” was not in use. In the enterprise sector however, cloud storage was a must. Large companies could purchase T1 or E1 datalinks if necessary. Overall, the idea of cloud storage predates both Windows and Linux; however, even if we strictly think “implementation of cloud storage integration for average PC users at home”, neither Microsoft nor Linux developers would be able to take credit for being the first: There are a line of third-party companies that implemented this feature before either of the two.
6. Native support for USB 3.0
In a most preposterous attempt, IT World claims that Microsoft has borrowed the idea of USB 3.0 support from Linux, disregarding the fact that USB 3.0 is ratified in December 2008 by Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Microsoft, Intel, and Agere Systems. Microsoft takes credit for the very existence of USB 3.0.
5. Social integration
In yet another most preposterous attempt, IT World claims that Microsoft has borrowed the idea of social integration from Linux. To support this preposterous allegation, IT World mentions “Me” menu in Ubuntu 10, an operating system that first appeared in 2009. However, the history of social integration dates well back to the late 20th century. Windows XP that came in 2002 had been equipped with Windows Messenger, Outlook Express and MSN Browser, all of which were means of social integration. The social networking itself is as old as ARPANET (1977) and Usenet (1980), although none denies that the idea has evolved beyond recognition.
4. The Metro UI
IT World claims that Metro UI is borrowed from Linux. It provides no direct evidence but only mentions Ubuntu and GNOME in vague terms. However, unlike what the article asserts, Metro UI did not first appear 5 years ago; rather it first appeared in 1995 with Microsoft Encarta and has been evolving (slowly) ever since. Both GNOME and Ubuntu are much younger: GNOME was started in 1999 while Ubuntu dates back to 2004. Indeed, the topic explorer in Encarta is Metro UI itself.
3. Windows To Go
IT World claims that Microsoft has borrowed the idea of a portable OS from Linux. This is the third most preposterous allegation. If there is anyone to take credit for the first true portable graphical OS, it is Steve Jobs and his Apple Mac OS.
Windows To Go is neither the first portable Microsoft OS nor the first portable Windows. The first portable Microsoft OS was MS-DOS, which predates PC as we know it. One may argue that MS-DOS is command-line based and therefore not eligible for our discussion; but most Linux distros are also command-line based. As previous portable Windows versions, Microsoft has already released Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) as well as Windows Embedded.
2. ISO mounting
IT World claims that Microsoft has borrowed the idea of “ISO mounting” or a virtual drive from Linux, although it provides no evidence whatsoever. The main problem with this assertion is that Microsoft has released virtual drives before. (Windows XP PowerToys once featured an unofficial virtual drive, but let us disregard that for the moment.) Microsoft released its first virtual drive-enabled application in the form of Microsoft Virtual PC. True, it is not what you expected, but it means that Microsoft had access to ready-made code for a virtual drive since it acquired Connectix Virtual PC and the only reason that it did not release such a product was that it did not want to. Indeed, it is more plausible to think (and actually possible to prove) that Microsoft implemented a virtual drive in Windows 8 as part of its continued investment in virtualization sector.
As a side note, U.S. antitrust investigation has more than often prevented Microsoft from being the first to implement a feature in its operating system.
1. File copy dialogue
IT World claims that Microsoft has borrowed the idea of its Windows 8 file copy dialog box from Linux. By far, I think this is the only plausible assertion that the article has ever made. However, the fact is that the article fails to provide any evidence that can rule out another possibility: The influence of Mark Russinovich, who is now a Microsoft senior employee. The changes in the file copy dialog boxes seem very similar to the key signature features seen in the products that Mark Russinovich and his Winternals crew have developed.
The misrepresentation of USB 3.0 support as a stolen idea makes me think if the author of this article and IT World in general are reliable sources. After all, who knows how many other such articles they may have published?