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The day someone stood up to Microsoft

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The day someone stood up to Microsoft

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

For a decade I have been reporting each year on the April 1 meeting of the International Substandards Association, known to many as the ISO. This year's meeting took on a new urgency, since it was held not in the usual location in Geneva but at Redmond, Wash.

As you may know, Redmond, a suburb of Seattle, is the home of Microsoft. The ISO was asked to convene there after Bill Gates, chairman and co-founder of Microsoft, threatened to pull his company out of the ISO in a dispute over a trademark.

Gates became upset when he saw a commercial on TV for Andersen Windows. Andersen, a Wisconsin manufacturer of doors and windows, had advertised its new bay windows as being "hardware compatible" with existing PCs - which the ad cleverly pointed out meant "popular condominiums."

Gates was on the line to his lawyer before he could hear that part of the ad.

"They can't do that!" Gates said. "The Windows and PC trademarks belong to us!"

"But what can we do about it now?" the lawyer said.

"Buy!" Gates replied.

And so the lawyer set up an appointment with the head of Andersen Windows, and Gates flew off to Wisconsin. He was expecting a hostile reaction - after all, he wasn't sure whether Andersen Windows was even for sale - and yet when he got to the snowy Midwest, he was greeted warmly.

"Which model would you like to buy?" the Andersen president asked as he showed off his line to the head of Microsoft.

"The factory model," Gates said in jest, not realizing his counterpart from Andersen had misunderstood.

"We have a lot of factory models," he was told.

"I mean the factory model this building is standing on," Gates said, losing patience.

The man from Andersen paused.

"Oh," he said.

And then again:


"Well?" Gates asked.

"Sorry," the Andersen president said. "We're not for sale."

Gates flew off and had his lawyer call the ISO as soon as he got back to Redmond.

"There's something substandard about this," the lawyer said. "We think you should get involved."

And so the International Substandard Organization called its members to a session in Redmond. The sole topic: Windows, PCs and trademarks.

"It's a pane," said a representative of IBM.

"It won't wash," said the head of Compaq.

"Curtains!" said a man from WordPerfect.

"Let's have a vote!" the members cried out, and one by one the roll was called. No one dissented.

And so the ISO approved Rule 63, Subsection 4 of its international licensing code. Starting April 1, no devices bearing the names "Windows" or "PC" can be marketed in the United States, Benelux nations or British Columbia without the explicit approval of Microsoft. Generic names must be used instead. The prohibition even applies to journalists writing about such items.

Andersen, of course, refused to stop producing its in-wall transparent devices, but it has given up on the name for the large rectangular objects. In accordance with the new ISO directive, it also changed its corporate name.

It's now Andersen OS/2.

That's my report on the ISO for this year. Please do not ask me for more information, as I have told you more than I know already.

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