Dojo (HowTo)







  Easter Eggs




  Martial Arts

Have you ever heard of VfW (Video for Windows)?
Another technology that was ripped off from Apple...

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

Video for Windows (known as VfW) is also known as "Direct-X Video", "Active Movie", or by other names which decency requires I not repeat. The name changes seem to be Microsoft's way of distancing themselves from the older VfW name and reputation. And why not? If you can't change the product or rewrite history, just change the name constantly to keep a bad reputation from sticking.

QuickTime -

Apple decided that "computers for the rest of us", should not only work with just text and pictures, but also work with video and sound. So Apple went on to coin the term "Multi-Media" and did everything in their power to make sure that computers could work with many types of information (including Video and Sound). It was from this that QuickTime was born.

Macs handled Sound before QuickTime, but the way in which they handled it was different. Before QuickTime the Macs handled computer sounds - little snippets of digitized sound. QuickTime enabled laying down and mixing multiple tracks of higher quality sound, taking advantage of special Hardware and more. It was a big improvement on sound capabilities that were already far superior to that found in PCs.

The name QuickTime comes from Apple's name for its API's QuickDraw (which is the Mac's and Lisa's Imaging engine) and the Time factor associated with video and sound. Video and sound both are linear and time oriented -- so the time factor implies "real time". There is more to QuickTime than just video and sound, there are all sorts of other capabilities for real-time events -- but only programmers seem to know or care.

Soon after Apple created the Mac version they started offering a Windows version as well. That way programmers who adopted QuickTime could deliver their content across both platforms, although the Mac did have it first by a year or two. Later the company added support for some Unix platforms as well. Apple seems to be pretty open about some technologies and was truly trying to make Multi-Media a technology for "all" of us.

Video for Windows

Microsoft did not like Apple offering anything on the Windows platform. It would be a beach-head. If Apple was able to offer good products and services for Windows users, then who knows where that might lead. The brain-washing that MS had been working on for so many years might start to wear off. This brainwashing that told users "MS is the Creator" might be a little less buyable if others were allowed to create on that platform.

So Microsoft slapped together a hacky standard they called Video for Windows. It was a cheap shadow of Apple's QuickTime and has basically been a flop in the marketplace. Even the mind-numbed Micosoft-Minions (those developers and users who normally follow MS) rejected VfW and chose QuickTime instead -- which shows how much VfW really stank.

The whole point of QuickTime (and VfW) is to offer a continuous smooth stream of real-time information. Tracks of movies and sound are overlaid and displayed in a smooth, synchronized (video and sound) experience, while keeping frame rates as high as possible and with little overhead. Apple had been working on these problems for years, and MS had just slapped something together in response. This time people could see the results clearly. QuickTime got better frame rates (smoother video), had better compression (used less space for video clips), had more formats, worked cross platform, worked better with more types of hardware, and most importantly STAYED SYNCHRONIZED!

In Microsoft's hurry to get something out, they didn't keep the video and audio synchronized. The further in to a video clip, and the more likely the sound was to be either ahead of (or behind) the video. So the words or sounds would happen a second or two later (or before) you'd see the video that went with that sound. Some of the MS -Moonies (those who would follow MS at any cost) would break all of their video into really small clips. The synchronization problem was not bad for the first minute or two, so if you had 10 clips, of 6 minutes each, the users wouldn't notice the problem (as much). Who cares if this was more inconvenient than a single one hour clip? To some it was worth it to follow the great Microsoft. Fortunately, there were a lot of other people with brains, and they weren't going to put up with that. QuickTime became the defacto standard for Video -- but it still took years of struggle and there are enough Video-for-Windows and AVI files out there, to remind you of what mindless sheep some of the Windows people still are.

The Lawsuit

Apple was contracting some of their development to a Windows development company called Canyon Co. Because Canyon had inside knowledge of Apple's formats and technologies, and because Microsoft's first attempts at multimedia playback were such dismal failures, they decided to go to Canyon as well (through Intel). With the Intel/Microsoft money carrot dangling in front of them, Canyon caved-in, and used some of Apple's proprietary code to make Video for Windows a little less stinky.

Apple found out and screamed bloody murder -- this was not legal. They appealed to Microsoft and Intel (Intel also didn't want to be left out of the rip-off) to change their code -- and were met by total disinterest and feigned innocence on the part of MS and Intel. So Apple sued (MacWeek article).

It was so obvious that even nebulous copyright law became clear cut. Apple got an injunction, and MS and Intel had to fix their stuff. (MacWorld snippet). Unfortunately, the way our legal system often works, the defendant in these cases can use the "discovery" part of a trial to learn what they have the change -- and change only that, still ripping off the rest. So it was really only a moral victory and vindication of Apple's claim -- MS and Intel still got to learn how to do video better from Apple.

It is rumored that Apple was ready to finally win a much bigger suit (1997) based on Microsoft's theft of QuickTime technology (via Canyon). Steve Jobs used this leverage to get Microsoft to do a patent "swap" where Microsoft pays Apple $500M-$2B over 4 years, and Microsoft also coincidentally bought some Apple stock ($150M) and started playing nice. Microsoft agreed to make Mac Apps for the next few years, and some other PR moves. Of course the press only reported the parts that reflected well on MS.

Active Movie

When all else fails, change the name and promise more (at least that is MS's belief). You don't have to deliver it, as long as people THINK you are going to. And it is amazing that people are not only gullible, but are repeatedly apt to believe the same promises. What are these promises? "It's irrelevant, and Microsoft will have it soon anyway", "the Microsoft version will be better, and be cross platform", "Once the Microsoft version comes out the others won't matter anymore". Since it is hard to compete with hype and promises, often MS can scare developers away from using superior products, out of fear that they will soon be irrelevant. FUD - Fear Uncertainty and Doubt!

So Microsoft tried their usual FUD tactics, and started a new campaign for Video for Windows, now renamed Active Movie. Microsoft promises the world and tells you how their product is much better than the competition's -- which is like trusting the wolf to tell you about how many sheep are in the flock. There are all sorts of promises about what you will get in the next version -- then the reality is often a small sub-set of the promises with surprises (undisclosed "gotchas"). Active Movie was going to be the cat's meow, cross platform, easier to use, it would even stay synchronized (MacUser Article). Of course it is now a year later, and none of the promises seems to have come true - in fact I am still waiting for the Mac version, which was promised more than 6 months ago. However, this is more a morbid curiosity than a desire to actually use the product. Even if the product was superior and was able to crush the competition (which we know it won't), then the only likely outcome would be that, having "won" dominance, Microsoft would discontinue it on all competing platforms in an attempt to force users to Windows -- as they have done so many times in the past.


MS has employed a business model of saving on expensive R&D by copying other companies. But MS copies poorly, and hacks things together. Sometimes people actually buy their stuff -- much to the amazement of engineers. Watching Microsoft market is like watching a car crash in slow motion -- it is sickening and fascinating. Fortunately Microsoft does not always win, and wins a lot less often than people give them credit for. QuickTime is an example of Microsoft's continued failure. In the last 10 years Microsoft has continually failed to drive people to their format, despite their marketing campaigns and a continuous stream of name changes and hollow promises. It almost gives one hope that the industry (and its users) are learning not to trust MS and to use superior products.

Links to further information:

Created: 05/06/97
Updated: 11/09/02

Top of page

Top of Section