The AARD code was a segment of code in a beta release of Microsoft Windows 3.1 that would determine whether Windows was running on MS-DOS or PC DOS, rather than a competing workalike such as DR-DOS, and would result in a cryptic error message in the latter case. This XOR-encrypted, self-modifying, and deliberately obfuscated machine code used a variety of undocumented DOS structures and functions to perform its work, and appeared in the installer, WIN.COM, and several other executables in the OS.
The AARD code was originally discovered by Geoff Chappell on 17 April 1992 and then further analyzed and documented in a joint effort with Andrew Schulman. The name was derived from Microsoft programmer Aaron R. Reynolds (1955–2008), who used "AARD" to sign his work; "AARD" was found in the machine code of the installer. Microsoft disabled the AARD code for the final release of Windows 3.1, but did not remove it, so that it could have become reactivated later by the change of a single byte in an installed system, thereby constituting a "smoking gun".
The rationale for the AARD code came to light when internal memos were released during the United States v. Microsoft Corp. antitrust case in 1999. Internal memos released by Microsoft revealed that the specific focus of these tests was DR-DOS. At one point, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sent a memo to a number of employees, reading "You never sent me a response on the question of what things an app would do that would make it run with MS-DOS and not run with DR-DOS. Is there [sic] feature they have that might get in our way?" Microsoft Senior Vice President Brad Silverberg later sent another memo, stating: "What the [user] is supposed to do is feel uncomfortable, and when he has bugs, suspect that the problem is DR-DOS and then go out to buy MS-DOS."
Following the purchase of DR-DOS by Novell and its renaming to "Novell DOS", Microsoft Co-President Jim Allchin stated in a memo, "If you're going to kill someone there isn't much reason to get all worked up about it and angry. Any discussions beforehand are a waste of time. We need to smile at Novell while we pull the trigger."
What had been DR-DOS changed hands again. The new owner, Caldera, Inc., began a lawsuit against Microsoft over the AARD code, Caldera v. Microsoft, which was later settled. It was believed that the settlement ran in the order of $150 million, but was revealed in November 2009 with the release of the Settlement Agreement to be $280 million.
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- Chappell, Geoff (2011-11-24) [1999-05-08]. "First Public AARD Details". Archived from the original on 2013-04-02.
- Schulman, Andrew (September 1993). "Examining the Windows AARD Detection Code - A serious message--and the code that produced it". Dr. Dobb's Journal. Archived from the original on 2005-12-10. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
- Schulman, Andrew; Brown, Ralf D.; Maxey, David; Michels, Raymond J.; Kyle, Jim (1994). Undocumented DOS - A programmer's guide to reserved MS-DOS functions and data structures - expanded to include MS-DOS 6, Novell DOS and Windows 3.1 (2 ed.). Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-63287-X. ISBN 978-0-201-63287-3.
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See footnote #19 (BDOS 1067h "DR DOS 6.0 Windows 3.1 update, April 1992"; 1992-03, 1992-04-07: "This public DR DOS 6.0 update only includes patches addressing full Windows 3.1 compatibility. There should have been a full "business update" for registered users, shipping a little bit later."), #27 (BDOS 1072h "Novell DOS 7 Panther/Smirnoff BETA 3", 1993-09: "This issue does not have workarounds for Windows 3.1 AARD code."), #29 (BDOS 1072h "Novell DOS 7 German release"; 1994-02-22: "This issue is known to have workarounds for Windows 3.1 AARD code. This should also apply to the earlier English issue.")
- Susman, Stephen D.; Eskridge III, Charles R.; Southwick, James T.; Susman, Harry P.; Folse III, Parker C.; Palumbo, Ralph H.; Harris, Matt; McCune, Phil; Engel, Lynn M.; Hill, Stephen J.; Tibbitts, Ryan E. (April 1999). "In the United States District Court - District of Utah, Central Division - Caldera, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation - Consolidated statement of facts in support of its responses to motions for summary judgement by Microsoft Corporation - Case No. 2:96CV 0645B" (Court document). Caldera Inc. Archived from the original on 2013-10-03. Retrieved 2013-05-12.
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[…] exhibits attached to Microsoft's Memorandum of Law in support of Microsoft's cross motion for summary judgment in the Novell v. Microsoft antitrust litigation. We finally find out what Microsoft paid Caldera to settle the DrDOS litigation back in 2000: $280 million. We even get to read the settlement agreement. It's attached as an exhibit. […] The settlement terms were sealed for all these years, but […] now that mystery is solved. […] We also find out what Caldera/Canopy then paid Novell from that $280 million: $35.5 million at first, and then after Novell successfully sued Canopy in 2004, Caldera's successor-in-interest on this matter, an additional $17.7 million, according to page 16 of the Memorandum. Microsoft claims that Novell is not the real party in interest in this antitrust case, and so it can't sue Microsoft for the claims it has lodged against it, because, Microsoft says, Novell sold its antitrust claims to Caldera when it sold it DrDOS. So the exhibits are trying to demonstrate that Novell got paid in full, so to speak, via that earlier litigation. As a result, we get to read a number of documents from the Novell v. Canopy litigation. Novell responds it retained its antitrust claims in the applications market. […]
- Osterman, Larry (2004-08-12). "AARDvarks in your code". Archived from the original on 2016-11-25. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
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- Chappell, Geoff (1999-05-08). "The AARD Code". Archived from the original on 2010-01-13. (Details and initial discovery)
- Wilke, John R. (1998). "Old e-mail dogs Microsoft in fighting antitrust suits". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Archived from the original on 2016-11-25. Retrieved 2016-11-25. (Caldera v. Microsoft details)
- Dr John (1999). "Survey Says: "MS OK", but Dr. John is not convinced". KickAss Gear. Archived from the original on 2016-11-25. Retrieved 2016-11-25. (Site with email excerpts from Microsoft and an example of tripping the AARD code (XMS error))