Today in Apple history: Windows scores big victory over Mac

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Windows used a number of elements of the Mac UI
Windows used a number of elements of the Mac UI.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

July 25 TIAH July 25, 1989: Apple suffers a major setback in its copyright infringement lawsuit against Microsoft for allegedly stealing the Mac’s “look and feel” to create Windows.

Apple sued Microsoft on 189 counts of copyright infringement relating to Windows 2.0.3. The judge overseeing the case throws out 179 of them. This paves the way for Microsoft’s dominance over Apple in the coming decade.

A terrible deal for Apple

The 1989 court case was the result of a disagreement that dated back to the original Mac project. Because Microsoft was developing software for the Mac that would, Apple hoped, make the computer a contender in the corporate world, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Word/Excel mastermind Charles Simonyi were among the first outsiders to get a Mac prototype.

After the launch of the Mac in 1984, Gates wrote to Apple CEO John Sculley. Gates suggested that Apple license the Macintosh operating system to outside manufacturers.

The strategy theoretically would help establish the Mac as the standard interface for personal computing. However, the June 25, 1985, proposal was rejected by Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassée, who had taken over running the Mac division from Steve Jobs.

Windows infuriates Apple leaders

Gates decided to capitalize on what he saw as a great business opportunity to create a mass-market operating system. He debuted Microsoft’s operating system, Windows, on November 15, 1985. Sculley was furious when he saw it, although version 1.0 of Windows didn’t compare well to Mac OS.

For example, although it featured onscreen windows, they were unable to overlap with one another. But Windows did come packaged with built-in apps Write and Paint, which were oddly reminiscent of MacWrite and MacPaint.

Microsoft accounted for two-thirds of all software sales on Mac. Therefore, it was in nobody’s interest to end the partnership when the computer wasn’t flying off shelves. Because Microsoft had already begun developing Windows before the Macintosh was shown to Gates, and both systems had licensed technology from Xerox PARC (which invented the graphical user interface), an agreement between Microsoft and Apple was arranged.

Sculley and Gates signed an agreement on Nov. 21, 1985, that licensed the Mac’s “visual displays” to Microsoft. Microsoft agreed to continue developing for Mac (and to give Apple a two-year exclusivity window with Excel).

Apple vs. Microsoft: The start of a rivalry

All was well and good until Windows 2.0 arrived a few years later, looking far closer to the Macintosh interface. Apple promptly filed a copyright violation lawsuit on March 17, 1988. The suit identified 189 different elements the company argued Microsoft used illegally.

Things looked bad for Microsoft until today’s historic event. Judge William Schwarzer ruled that Windows’ new interface elements were covered by the existing license between Apple and Microsoft, and those that weren’t were not copyrightable.

The decision soured relations between Apple and Microsoft, established the long-running rivalry between the two companies, and set the legal basis for Windows’ impending ubiquity during the 1990s.

In other words, this was a crucially important day in Apple’s history … just not necessarily one Apple fans want to remember!