Editorial: Where do you want to go tomorrow?
As one ponders the current state of the computing industry, one is struck
by a number of things:
So, the bottom line is:
- the industry is dominated by Microsoft Corporation. In fact,
by nearly everyone's
definition but Microsoft's, Microsoft has a monopoly in the PC operating
- Microsoft Corporation clearly seems to believe that it is the only
player with the right to control its own technlology.
- As widely reported in the media, Microsoft has until recently placed
rather stringent restrictions on what sorts of changes can be made by
OEMs to the Windows 95 and Windows 98 boot sequence.
Their justification for this position is that they have a right to control
their intellectual property.
- As widely reported in the media, almost immediately after obtaining
its Java license from Sun Microsystems, Microsoft set out to make a variety
of incompatible enchancements to Java and has promoted the resulting
products rather heavily.
Question: if Microsoft has the right to control what is done with
its intellectual property (i.e. the W95/W98 boot sequence) then why does
Microsoft also have the right to devalue Sun's intellectual property
(i.e. the Java goal of write once, run anywhere) by making
- Microsoft spends a great deal of time talking about its right to
innovate yet any attempt by its competitors, customers or
partners to innovate in a way incompatible with Microsoft's vision
of the future is met with a pretty strong negative reaction.
- Hewlett-Packard (a Microsoft customer (i.e. reseller of various
Microsoft products)) made changes to the Windows 95 boot sequence that were
intended to improve the end-user's (i.e. the ultimate Microsoft
Microsoft forced Hewlett-Packard (as testified to in the Microsoft
anti-trust trial) to remove the changes and revert back to the standard
Windows 95 boot sequence.
The result (also testified to in the anti-trust trial) was that HP experienced
a marked increase in the number of
customer support calls from customers (does one need to look any further
for evidence of harm to consumers in the anti-trust case?).
Apparently, when faced with the choice of improving customer
satisfaction and forcing adherence to the Microsoft vision, the vision
- Also as testified to in the anti-trust trial,
Intel was forced by Microsoft to back down on the development of
multi-media software for Windows 3.1 shortly before the release of Windows 95
(Microsoft threatened to not support new multi-media instructions in the
latest Pentium processors).
The problem from Microsoft's perspective was that anything that enhanced
Windows 3.1 in that time period
could negatively impact sales of the soon to be released Windows 95 product.
- Disney (and other fairly large corporations) were coerced by Microsoft
into signing contracts which prohibited Disney (and the others) from
producing WWW pages which looked better under any browser competing with
Microsoft's Internet Explorer (again, testified to in the anti-trust trial).
The restrictions were the price that these companies paid to receive
prominent placement in the Windows 95 desktop (this practice is called
tied selling and is illegal under the U.S. Anti-Trust laws).
- AOL was coerced into agreeing to not promote Netscape's web browser
in any way (they were allowed to offer Netscape's browser on their site
but were prohibited from providing any reasonable way for interested
customers to find it (according to testimony in the anti-trust trial,
you apparently needed to know some key word or phrase in order to find
the Netscape browser and AOL was prohibited from telling the customer
what the word or phrase was)).
Again, the quid-pro-quo was prominent placement of AOL on the Windows 95
desktop (i.e. tied selling again).
- The only difference between being a Microsoft partner and a
Microsoft competitor is timing.
- Microsoft originally set out to make Netscape a partner.
When Netscape refused to play ball, Microsoft proceeded to try to
cut off Netscape's air supply (quote attributed to Paul Maritz,
Microsoft executive, by the New York Times).
- Microsoft has enjoyed considerable benefits from the efforts
of all the major database vendors to port, promote and tune their products
to Microsoft operating systems.
Microsoft's response was to develop SQL Server and position it as a
direct competitor to these database vendor's products.
How much fun do you suppose it would be to be competing with a major
supplier (i.e. Oracle competing with the company that sells the operating
system the Oracle relies on)?
How much less fun would it be when you know that the supplier has a proven
track record of making incompatible changes to key interfaces with each
major release and withholding documentation w.r.t. to numerous important
and/or useful interfaces from everyone except its own internal product
development teams (eg. Oracle trying to compete with SQL Server and knowing that
SQL Server is able to take advantage of undocumented operating system features).
Speaking of competing with Microsoft, consider the following comment:
Asked how small software companies could compete on products that Microsoft
wants to fold into Windows, [Microsoft chief operating officer Bob] Herbold
told Bloomberg News 'that they could either fight a losing battle, sell out to
Microsoft or a larger company or not go into business to begin with.'
- One very common result of a Microsoft innovation is
the death or crippling of a mini-industry which, prior to the innovation,
enhanced Microsoft's products.
- Microsoft destroyed the Windows disk compression technology industry
when the disk compression innovation appeared in Windows (this
particular innovation cost Microsoft over $100 million US in patent
infringement damages - the money was collected by the creditors of the
now defunct corporation which had previously been a leader in the disk
- Microsoft has set out to destroy the browser marketplace by
incorporating Internet Explorer into Windows 98 (they continue to develop,
promote and release Internet Explorer as a separate product and essentially
admitted under oath in the anti-trust trial that there was no meaningful benefit to
consumers resulting from the incorporation of IE into Windows 98 which could
not have been achieved without bundling IO into Windows 98).
Microsoft has been pointing at the AOL/Netscape merger as evidence that
the industry is strong.
Strangely, others have been pointing at the AOL/Netscape merge as evidence
that Microsoft's attack on Netscape was successful.
This practice of bundling products together is called forced selling
or tied selling (depending on the exact style of bundling involved) and
is illegal under U.S. Federal anti-trust laws.
- Microsoft is feeling the heat.
- When Microsoft launches a full blown FUD
FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-and-Doubt) campaign against you (i.e. Linux),
then you know that you've got Microsoft's attention.
- When Microsoft suddenly decides to make all sorts of unilateral
changes to its contracts with ISPs and OEMs, removing some of the more
onerous restrictions just as the Microsoft anti-trust case is launched
and again later just as damaging evidence w.r.t. these restrictions
come up during the trial, you know that that Microsoft is worried about
the legality of their pressure tactics.
Does anybody buy Microsoft's defense that since it is no longer
violating the law (i.e. because the restrictions have been removed from
the relevant contracts) that it is not guilty of having violated the
law in the past?
Of all the various ploys that Microsoft's spin doctors have come up with,
this one has to be one of the most feeble (the we're not a monopoly
claims isn't exactly rock-solid either).
- The world is changing.
- Linux is widely recognized as at least a potential threat to Microsoft's
dominance in the marketplace.
Even Microsoft has said so (see the so-called Halloween documents
and testimony in the anti-trust trial).
- Microsoft is having more and more trouble sounding credible when it claims
to be an innovative company that competes hard but fairly
(evidence presented in the anti-trust trial (by both sides) and a definite
shift in the tone of Microsoft's press coverage are two major factors in this
loss of credibility).
- Windows 2000 is late and there don't seem to be very many people
left who buy Microsoft's claims that it can triple the number of lines of
source code and still deliver a robust product in 1999 or even 2000 (a lot
of people wonder if Windows 2000 has reached the point where it will simply
- Bill Gates seems to have been promoted to the Microsoft equivalent
of VP Special Projects.
Nearly missing the importance of the Internet and his amazing performance
under oath in his depositions for the anti-trust trial are probably just two
of the many factors which have resulted in
his apparent fall from grace within the Microsoft Board of Directors.
- the sudden support for Linux by former Microsoft partners who
don't seem to be as afraid of Microsoft as they used to be (Intel, DELL,
Compaq, Oracle, Sybase, Corel, etc).
Frankly, I suspect that a major factor contemplated by these companies
was the obvious fact that Microsoft has a track record of turning and
attacking essentially every partner just as soon as Microsoft
no longer needs the partner (with partners like that,
who needs competitors?).
Where do you want to go tomorrow?
Do you want to be an accomplice in Microsoft's quest for
world domination or do you want to support real innovation in the
In case you're still having trouble deciding, consider:
- A lot (maybe even most) of the real innovation in the computing
industry has come out of
small organizations or companies (where does the real innovation
take place in a world in which only Microsoft is allowed to innovate?).
- the pain consists of possibly using products which aren't
perfectly compatible with the equivalent Microsoft products.
- the gain includes the experience of using products which
are often superior to the equivalent Microsoft products and enjoying
the many benefits of the real innovation that comes out of the organizations
producing these other products.
Frankly, I've made up my mind:
I should point out that I have Virtual PC on my Powerbook so I've got the
option of buying software that runs under Windows 98.
I bought Virtual PC "just in case I needed it".
Frankly, I havn't "needed it" except occasionally to
view a Microsoft Word document (where practical, I
try to obtain a version of the document in a non-proprietary
- I use an Apple Powerbook as my laptop (it triple boots into
MacOS, LinuxPPC or Mac OS X Server).
- I use some variant of Unix as my desktop for essentially everything
else that I do.
- I try to only use and/or recommend software that runs on either
the MacOS or some variant of Unix.
Just in case you're wondering, the only one of the above points which even
remotely resembles a boycott of Microsoft is the last one (I buy MacOS
games since I feel that I should support companies which support my
favourite consumer operating system).
The other points are simply the result of my desire to use computers
which are easy-to-use and robust.
I'll grant that I'm a serious geek
so my definition of easy-to-use might not be the same as yours.
I'll also grant that the MacOS isn't really very robust (I sometimes
think about how the MacOS is often described as being more robust than
Windows, a truly depressing though after I've rebooted my Powerbook a half
dozen times in a single day).
I'll also grant that I'm biased but that's the price one pays when one
isn't willing to use an antiquated user interface running on a fragile
operating system sold by a company which seems to spend far more time
worrying about how to price the next upgrade than on how to improve the
satisfaction of their customers.
One last question: Am I the only person who feels that their intelligence
is being insulted when Microsoft refers to the various Windows operating
systems as standard and refers to Unix as proprietary?