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Where is Stac?
The company that gave us Stacker is all but gone, how did that happen?

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999


Applications and systems were getting bigger and bigger, and taking more and more hard drive space. Hard Drive space was expensive (notice the past tense -- things have changed in 10+ years). There are ways to "compress" data -- computer algorithms to make data take up less space (like folding a piece of paper so it fits in your pocket). Many people had written programs to compress data and uncompress is, but all these were done as separate utilities. This small company in San Diego (Stac) decided that they could add it to the OS in such a way that whenever you wrote (or read) a file it would automagically be compressed (decompressed). By putting these routines in the disks drivers, it made the compression completely transparent to the users.

Stacs' compressions product , called Stacker, was a raging success. People loved it. It cost a lot less for this program than it did to buy double the hard drive storage. Users didn't have to know anything about running a utility on each file to compress or decompress it -- they just installed, and Stacker did the rest.

Microsoft = FUD

Then along came Microsoft. Remember, Bill Gates philosophy (and companies philosophy) seems to be focused around winning and control. They could not let some little snot-nosed up-start company make products for THEIR OS without permission. If they got away with this, then others might improve their OS and make money off of users as well. This was a direct threat that had to be crushed. (I am still not sure why it was such a threat to Gates and Co. -- but they were not happy).

Phase 1 - Its irrelevant.

Microsoft worked on convincing people that it didn't matter what Stac had. Microsoft promised that they were going to create a new better compression architecture that was built into the OS. Microsofts would compress better, compress faster, it would be more expandable, it would be free and it was not some little "add-on" it was part of the OS. These promises helped reduce Stac's sales, and market acceptance.

Phase 2 - Make it incompatible.

Microsoft was coming out with the next versions of DOS (and Windows). So they just made sure that DOS changed enough that Stac's stuff all broke. Stac was nimble, and quickly fixed things -- but it still put a bad taste in peoples mouth. Microsoft then uses the fact that things broke (because they made them break) as proof that you can't trust Stac's products.

When Microsoft came out with their compression product (called DoubleSpace), it had numerous bugs that would destroy files. Coincidentally, I'm sure, Microsoft Applications and Files did not "accidentally" get destroyed it was only competitors products files that seemed to get eaten*.

* For the record, MS probably did not likely create the program to intentionally destroy other peoples data (though with MS you do have to wonder). More likely they only tested DoubleSpace with their own apps, and didn't care if it worked with anyone else. (Which is not quite the same thing).

Phase 3 - Ripp-it-off (poorly).

Microsofts next version of DOS (MS-DOS 6.0) had Stac's product integrated into the OS. Stac was no longer needed. Now I don't mean they copied the functionality -- they copied the idea, the design, and the implementation. MS copied Stac so much that they got sued -- and lost. Of course MS's product did not meet up with MS's hype and promises (see phase-1). In most ways it under-performed compared to Stac's product -- but lets not quibble.

Phase 4 - Bring in the Legal Beagles.

Microsoft usually brings in the Lawyers to crush the competition, to bankrupt them or at least keep them distracted and having to jump through hoops (slowing down development and causing a loss of focus) while they are reverse engineering the competing companies product. This case was no different.

Stac sued Microsoft for patent violations, and Microsoft counter-sued Stac. There is great irony in the fact that Microsoft sued Stac for "improperly using" undocumented system calls in Stacker. According to Microsoft, Stac "illegally" reverse-engineered MS-DOS in order to gain information and access to those undocumented system calls. Apparently, Microsoft wants it both ways: to be able to reverse-engineer the competition, while preventing their own products from being reverse-engineered through legal intimidation.

For once Microsoft actually lost -- but it didn't really matter. By this time Stac was already crushed and had lost focus and their product was irrelevant. Microsoft also used the discovery part of the suit to learn what parts of Stacker (that they ripped off) had to reengineered in order to be in compliance with the law. They changed some things so they were no longer in violation. End of legal claims for Stac.

Phase 5 - MS won, so drop the product.

Since the goal is winning, and not the product itself, many times when MS wins (and crushes the competition) they drop the product. Who cares anyway -- the point was to crush or to win, not to offer the consumer anything. So where is automatic compression in later versions of MS OS's? There is no such thing. Who cares about the consumers - the competition was destroyed and no one will challenge MS in that area again. That was the goal.

Microsofts product was so buggy that people got a bad taste in their mouth about automatic compression, and now they believe it is not to be trusted. That probably doesn't bother Microsoft as they now don't have to support compression AND the competition was crushed. Only the consumer (and Stac) got hurt.


Microsofts marketing process has earned its own name, and is known as FUD. Microsoft causes Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt about the competitors and their products. The promises in phase-1 gets people questioning why they should buy the competitors product, when MS will have a better one in just a few weeks (months). (The fact that it will take 4 times as long as promised never seems to enter their minds). MS never lives up to their own promises, but users fear buying the wrong version works, and prevents sales. Phase-2 comes in when other products often do break (coincidentally) when MS changes OS versions . However, this is because Microsoft writes the OS, and they can engineer things to break. Some people mistake this as "other companies" not being as good as Microsoft; when it is Microsoft that is "accidentally" breaking the other peoples programs. So users are uncertain about whether the superior product will work with the next version -- while it is guaranteed that Microsoft products will work. There shouldn't be doubt, but there is. It is almost guaranteed that MS will break the competitors product, and the competitor will fix it. But the damage is done in the breaking. Phase-4 (the law-suit) keeps getting publicity and making people doubt the survivability of the smaller company (how long can this go on). It works like a charm -- but every time you (the consumer) buys into it, you are validating these business practices.

What bugs me more is not the people who don't know about MS's modus operandi (M.O.) -- but those that do, and do not care. There are many IS types that figure -- better to just help kill off the little guy and follow the leader, than to buy the better product. They are the ones making it into a self-fullfilling prophecy -- all so that they can say "see, I told you MS would win!". Since they are right more often than wrong, they get credibility -- and the only price for that credibility is their souls!


MS achieved their goals in a typical way -- for them. The biggest surprise was that they lost the lawsuit -- usually their lawyers can buy off justice (or rent it for a while). Justice may not be blind, and she'll definitely look the other way for a price. There is a little more to the story -- MS first tried to buy Stac. In their "investigation" stage, Stac opened their doors (and Docs) to MS, and that is how MS got inside and learned a lot of information about Stacker and how it worked. This also helped Stac prove their point in court about MS's business practices. The money Stac won from the suit has enabled them to stay in business (they are still around here in San Diego). Stac licensed their compression technology to storage manufacturers, but they were driven out of the OS-Utility market completely, and will likely not venture in again soon.. The war was one by MS, even if the battle went to Stac. Stac is irrelevant, they lost their momentum, and their product is basically gone. Consumers got screwed, Stac got screwed, but Bill Gates won -- and that is all that really counts.

Lest you think this is just a single example of MS's practices, I recommend that the reader does some more research into the many other companies that have been crushed by MS in similarly unethical manner. In fact Stac is a great representation of MS's practice because it IS so typical. There is even an industry joke called Humor "HumorFood for Windows" to describe exactly this process. Yet through all this MS's image is not tarnished, and the press often treats them with Kid-Gloves.

Every business that I know of that has ever competed with (or got in bed with) Microsoft has always gotten out feeling screwed. The amazing thing is the long line of people waiting for their turn.

Created: 05/27/97
Updated: 11/09/02

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