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Embrace, extend and extinguish

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

Embrace, extend and extinguish (eee, as this strategy is called for short) is a phrase used to describe a business strategy, in which computer standards are embraced, extended, and extinguished. Microsoft has been frequently accused of this practice. Critics of Microsoft say the company uses eee to drive competitors out of business by forcing them to use inferior technology, while Microsoft controls the dominant technology.

Table of contents
1 Microsoft, the Internet, and other standards
2 Self-limitation of eee
3 External links

Microsoft, the Internet, and other standards

Some use eee to describe Microsoft's perceived strategy toward the Internet and other standards, in particular by those who see such a strategy as unfair competition.

The three stages of the eee strategy appear to be unfolding as follows:

  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. Unfortunately, the Microsoft version uses proprietary technologies such as ActiveX that places competitors at a distinct disadvantage. The Microsoft standard then becomes the only standard that matters in practical terms, because it allows the company to control the industry by controlling the standard.

The phrase itself is not used by Microsoft, nor is such a strategy outlined in official Microsoft announcements; thus, for fairness, it is important to note that the concept of "embrace, extend and extinguish" is based on a particular viewpoint of Microsoft's strategy and that viewpoint's underlying assumptions about and opinions of Microsoft's business practices. That said, there is an increasing body of evidence to support this viewpoint, most notably the Halloween documents, a series of confidential, internal Microsoft memos which were leaked to prominent hacker Eric S. Raymond and subsequently made available to the public. What exactly can be inferred from the documents about Microsoft's strategies is up to debate. To some, particularly Raymond, these documents constitute incontrovertible proof of Microsoft's unfair business practices.

Examples of areas where "embrace, extend and extinguish" has come into play:

The last example is of particular interest as it 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; it would be inaccurate to apply the term to a subject such as Internet Explorer vs. Netscape Navigator. 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 Java-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, then later adding proprietary extensions and removing support for the standards-based version. This particular case is somewhat different as C# was developed as a Microsoft initiative.

"Embrace, extend, and extinguish" is a strategy based on the network effect, the idea that the value of a product to a potential customer increases as the number of customers who already own 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. The book was first published before the company became involved in antitrust proceedings.

Self-limitation of eee

The "embrace, extend, and extinguish" strategy seems to have had limited usefulness. It has only been partially successful in balkanising 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. ActiveX is an example of a Microsoft technology that has met with customer resistance.

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 Public Licences prevent 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.

External links