Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

me and microsoft

Yesterday I was told that this weblog appears to be slightly... umm... anti-Microsoft. I realize that I never expressed exactly what I feel about the People of Redmond, so I'll give it a try now.

For starters, I am not anti-Microsoft. I am not pro-Microsoft either. Microsoft is neither good nor bad. It is ridiculous to assign moral categories to things that don't have it. (Example: that is a bad ant. Doesn't that sound ridiculous?).

Microsoft is a metahuman entity, a creation of the Capitalist system, and it might even be the best corporation ever created. They have (so far) escaped government regulation (although nothing is certain, let's remember how long AT&T's monopoly lasted) while accumulating the biggest cash-hoard in history (38 billion dollars in cash and short-term securities). Microsoft has enough cash to buy AOL-Time Warner at today's prices without needing financing. They have more liquidity than many banks. They have an unchallenged (as yet) monopoly in a market that frequently grows by double-digit percentages. And the list goes on. I'd say, then that Microsoft is a pretty successful corporation by most standards. What they have achieved, they have achieved out of work and cunning, and sometimes bending the rules. But everybody does that. So as a business I think Microsoft is quite impressive.

But then there's the other subject: technology. Microsoft is a technology company. And its technology is has many problems. True, many of them are derived from the fact that they are the most widely used platform in the world. Still, they could do better. They could stop adding features mindlessly and focus on improving what they have. They could stop releasing FUD and vaporware simply to prevent other companies from doing things that might compete with them. They could focus, for once, on usability. They could be much more open, and compete on the basis of the quality of their products instead of helping themselves to more monopoly pie. And this brings me to my last important point.

Microsoft behaves as if it was a tiny company, and they are not. They defend every inch of territory fiercely. They destroy competitors using every tactic available. This, standard capitalist behavior, might be fine for a small company, but on a company their size, with such a set of monopolies (Windows, Office) it seems to do more harm than good. They stop innovation in certain areas (try and get a VC to fund a word processing software company). They lock customers in. They maintain prices artificially high with the excuse that they keep the price stable but add more features (the problem, of course, is that the new "features" are frequently useless). (A similar argument, by the way, can be made of the power of the US, but that's a topic for another time).

Then again, it's hard to blame an ant for being an ant, and similarly it's hard to blame Microsoft for trying to hold on to their space and growing. It's what companies do. It's the essence of capitalism. But at least, in terms of technology, they can be criticized. They can be pushed to do better things, perhaps simply by introducing better products than them and forcing them to catch up.

One thing is for certain: because they have interests seemingly everywhere in software, and because they are so big, it's natural that they will be a common topic, just like the US and its policies will be a common topic in any political discussion, simply because of its power and its reach.

Memories of Douglas Coupland's Microserfs...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26 2002 at 11:27 AM

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