An Open Letter to the Computing Community

Thursday, February 9, 1995

Today Apple added Intel and Microsoft to a lawsuit against the San Francisco Canyon Company, concerning code from Apple's QuickTime software that was pirated and used in Microsoft's Video for Windows 1.1D. We know many of you won't be happy about this (and, frankly, neither are we). For what it's worth, we apologize for any anxiety and disruption this will create. We'll do our best to reduce the inconvenience, but we felt we had no choice. Below I'll explain why we reluctantly took this step, and what we're doing to minimize its impact on computer users and developers.

What Apple did today

In our suit, we've asked the courts to immediately stop distribution of Apple's code in Video for Windows and other products. This doesn't require Microsoft to kill Video for Windows itself, just to pull the offending code (more on what that means below). To protect retail hardware and software developers who use Video for Windows, we're offering an amnesty program that will let them continue using the pirated VFW code at no cost, for the life of their current products, and for new ones released by May 9. We've also eliminated all licensing fees for QuickTime on both the Mac and Windows platforms.

Why Apple did this

Although some people seem to think otherwise, we don't like filing lawsuits. They are disruptive and expensive, and are very unpopular with customers and industry analysts. We tried very hard to avoid filing the suit, but the bottom line is that at some point you have to protect your rights.

We didn't do an aggressive job of explaining our side of the story when we filed the original QuickTime lawsuit against Canyon several months ago. Frankly, we were still trying to figure out exactly what had happened, and the original suit was part of that process. Now that we know more, here's Apple's side of the story:

Contrary to what some have said, this is not any sort of vendetta between engineers, or a contract dispute gone bad. From our perspective, it's just plain software piracy. Canyon was under contract with Apple to help create a new version of Apple's QuickTime for Windows video playback software. Apple worked closely with Canyon to help them accelerate the speed at which images are played back, disclosing proprietary acceleration techniques Apple had developed in-house. Speed is very important because previous video products for Windows often looked more like slide shows than moving video. Canyon's contract with Apple contained prohibitions against disclosing Apple's code, and a specific clause in which they agreed not to work on any competing products.

A senior Intel official met Canyon officials at the rollout of Apple's new QuickTime for Windows. Intel subsequently contracted with Canyon to develop software that would give Video for Windows the same performance as QuickTime for Windows. The contract specified that Canyon would use the same acceleration techniques as used in QuickTime for Windows, and would deliver the program in less than seven weeks. Several thousand lines of code from QuickTime for Windows were included in the software Canyon delivered to Intel.

The pirated code was incorporated into a software product called Display Code Interface. DCI was codeveloped by Microsoft and Intel, and is bundled with Video for Windows 1.1D. Because of the circumstances of the code transfer from Canyon, we think Intel and Microsoft knew, or should have known, that they were getting pirated code. But we tried to use a cooperative, non-disruptive approach by filing our initial suit only against Canyon, and talking to Intel and Microsoft privately to get them to stop distributing our code.

They refused. Repeatedly.

So we were left with two options: let the two most powerful companies in the industry get away with software piracy, or go to court. We chose to defend our rights, and to attempt to bring this matter to a close as quickly as possible. It's very disappointing that we ended up in this situation, especially since Intel and Microsoft have in other situations taken a strong stand against software piracy.

What happens next

If Apple prevails in court, Intel, Microsoft, and Canyon will be ordered to stop distribution of the stolen code. We're also asking for damages and some other conditions. Note that this doesn't mean Microsoft has to kill VFW. The key pirated code is in DCI, which I can best describe as a software driver that lets VFW bypass the internals of Windows and write directly to the video card. This results in greatly improved performance (like the difference between a slide show and a movie), but is not essential to run VFW. In fact, DCI was not in some earlier versions of VFW.

We hope that our amnesty program will prevent major disruptions to software and hardware developers, but there will undoubtedly be some. We're very sorry about that, but keep in mind that Intel and Microsoft helped to create this situation by continuing to distribute our code for months after we informed them that it was pirated, and asked them to stop.

Questions and Answers

Here are a few questions that people are likely to ask...

Q: Isn't this just another effort by Apple to kill Windows in the courts?

A: No. Even if we win, we don't expect this suit to make a major change in the OS marketplace. At most, QuickTime might become more popular than VFW, but since QuickTime is cross-platform, that would not hurt the overall position of Windows. We filed the suit because we felt we were being ripped off, pure and simple.

I want to emphasize that this is very different from the Mac vs. Windows look and feel lawsuit that we filed in the 1980s. This is a limited case focusing on a subset of a particular product. And we can show, line by line, the Apple code that was pirated.

Q: Does this affect me if I'm a computer user who has VFW?

A: Not directly. We're not asking for a recall, for instance.

Q: Do Microsoft's applications get to participate in the amnesty program?

A: No. Microsoft had plenty of warning about this situation.

Q: The amnesty program applies only to programs released by May 9, 1995. What happens if I'm a developer creating a program that uses Video for Windows, but it will be released after that date?

A: You have several choices. First, you can switch to QuickTime for Windows. The APIs are similar, so we think 90 days is enough lead time to do this. (And we understand that a major software company is about to release tools that will make it easier to move files between the VFW and QuickTime formats.) Second, you can ship with VFW without the offending code. It will still work, but with lower performance. The third option is that you can go to Intel and Microsoft and ask them when they will ship a version of DCI that doesn't contain pirated code. We're confident that Intel and Microsoft have the skills to do this. It will cost them some time and money, but frankly they have a lot of both.

Q: What does this mean for the overall relationship between Microsoft and Apple?

A: There's no change from our end. We cooperate with Microsoft on a number of activities that are important to computer users, and we hope to continue doing so.

Thanks for your time. We hope we can get this matter out of the way quickly, and again we apologize for any disruption this causes you.

Michael Mace

Director, Mac Platform Marketing

Apple Computer, Inc.

Copyright 1995, Apple Computer, Inc.

Return to Apple Competitive Analysis

Return to Apple Home Page

1stltr.html/Apple Computer Inc./