Embrace and extend

Microsoft has publicly stated that it aims to "embrace and extend" popular standards and existing work. "Embrace, extend and extinguish" (EEE) is a scornful takeoff on this by Microsoft's critics, used to suggest that the stages of embracing and extending are only prefaces to extinguishing or supplanting existing work with Microsoft alternatives. (A similar takeoff with slightly more detail on the process is "Copy, corrupt, copyright, circulate, control").

Critics of Microsoft say the company uses EEE to drive competitors out of business by forcing them to use nonstandard and often purportedly problematic technology that Microsoft controls.

Although the behavior is today attributed to Microsoft because of their dominant position in the computing world, it has been present all along in both computer and non-computer history.


Microsoft, the Internet, and other standards

Microsoft's strategy toward the Internet and other standards is often described as being EEE by those who claim that the company exercises unfair anticompetitive practices.

The three stages of the firm's supposed EEE strategy consists of the following steps:

  1. Embrace: Microsoft publicly announces that they are going to support a standard. They assign employees to work with the standards bodies, such as the W3C and the IETF.
  2. Extend: They do support the standard, at least partially, but start adding Microsoft-only extensions of the standard to their products. They argue that they are trying only to add value for their customers, who want them to provide these features.
  3. Extinguish: Through various means, such as driving use of their extended standard through their server products and developer tools, they increase use of the proprietary extensions to the point that competitors who do not follow the Microsoft version of the standard cannot compete. The Microsoft standard then becomes the only standard that matters in practical terms (a de facto standard), because it allows the company to control the industry by controlling the standard.

Evidence held up in support of the 'EEE' view of Microsoft's policies include the Halloween documents, a series of confidential, internal Microsoft memos related to dealing with Linux and open source software, which were leaked to the public. What exactly can be inferred from the documents about Microsoft's strategies is up to debate. Critic Eric S. Raymond has stated that these documents constitute incontrovertible proof of Microsoft's unfair business practices.

Examples of areas where "embrace, extend and extinguish" have been alleged:

The last example was the subject of a widely-publicized lawsuit between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.

The phrase "embrace, extend and extinguish" should be reserved for the particular strategy outlined above. Therefore, in the subject Java vs. .NET, EEE would not strictly apply, either, because .NET is marketed under the Microsoft brand name. However, a J# language is positioned in .NET as a Microsoft-influenced alternative to Java.

Some observers suspect that Microsoft intends to use EEE with the C# programming language, by first getting many users for the ECMA-standard version of the language, which was intentionally designed as a successor to the popular C programming language, then later adding proprietary extensions and removing support for the standards-based version.

Another example is the C++ programming language. First, Microsoft tried to extend it as Managed C++ in Visual C++.NET; however, this attempt was met with a lot of resistance as the managed extensions were poorly implemented and aesthetically unappealing. Because of the poor reception, Microsoft made a second attempt at extending C++, this time calling it C++/CLI. It remains to be seen whether these new extensions, which are scheduled to appear in Visual Studio.NET 2005, will gain wide acceptance.

The purported effectiveness of EEE lies in network effect, the idea that the value of a product to a potential customer increases as the number of customers who already use that product increases. In the first edition of The Road Ahead, Bill Gates explains in detail his plans to use the network effect to Microsoft's advantage.

Self-limitation of EEE

If true, Microsoft's "embrace, extend, and extinguish" strategy seems to have had limited usefulness. It has affected HTML, mostly through the alterations to the Document Object Model in Internet Explorer. One flaw in this strategy is that incompatible enhancements generally create customer pushback, especially when those enhancements have limited usefulness.

So far, standards embodied in popular free software implementations have appeared to be resistant to the "embrace, extend and extinguish" strategy, as the provisions of Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License prevents the third phase of the plan from being executed, by ensuring that any vendor extensions to the software are available to the community, and cannot be tied to any single vendor. One could create a proprietary "clean-room" reimplementation -- a technique often used to create free software workalikes of proprietary programs -- but would have an uphill battle in a marketplace already flooded with the free implementation.

Free software EEE

According to some, the EEE strategy is also used by some free software. Comparison of GNU/Linux and previous UNIX operating systems has led some to conclude that GNU/Linux has embraced, extended and extinguished most of them as of today, most prominently SCO UNIX, the former market leader of UNIX on IBM PC compatible computers. Remaining ones like Solaris are struggling and subsist merely because vendors primarily draw revenue from computer hardware.

Since free software is not public domain, UNIX vendors must write their own implementations of extensions, or allow their customers the same freedoms as the free software if they wish to copy the source code of the extensions outright.

Free software developers have implemented numerous nonstandard (and subject to the GPL and other licenses) extensions in free compilers, libraries, utilities, and on-disk formats and it is sometimes difficult to adopt only part of the solution. The Linux kernel requires C compiler extensions only present in the GNU C compiler, just as Windows code requires extensions originally only present in the Microsoft C compiler.

See also

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