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

that microsoft thing

Russ responds to a comment by Robert Scoble regarding his anti-Microsoft tendencies:

I have no problems admitting that I hate all things Microsoft. You can check my weblog for a variety of rants against the company and their technology. Institutionally the company lies and cheats. They use their illegal monopoly to manipulate smaller companies, developers and customers. They copy great technology and ideas (WIMP, Netscape, Java) and then use their financial power to muscle the originator out of the market. Microsoft's dominance of the industry is literally a crime. There is NOTHING to like about that company.
I disagree. I don't like Microsoft's aggresive behavior, and I think their products aren't as good as they should be, and I agree that some of the things they do are inexcusable. They do stifle innovation. But, that doesn't mean that they are "criminals". As I've argued before, I think that they are simply better than many others at playing the game of Capitalism. Their monopoly is not illegal (monopolies per se aren't illegal, and in fact network effects tend to dictacte that monopolies happen more or less "naturally" in market economies), but the use Microsoft gives to their monopoly is illegal in many cases.

Yes, my view is possibly overly "darwinian", but I think that's the way things are. It's not Microsoft's fault that monopolies encourage this kind of predatory behavior, that free-markets-for-all policies squash the little guy, and so on. It is their fault that, having so much power they don't rise above that and become a more "benevolent" force, but hey, they're human after all. They have the power and the money to create better things from the start, instead of playing the waiting game and doing things only when it's absolutely necessary, but they don't do it. How many others, in their position, wouldn't defend it at all costs? I'm not sure. It's easy to be on moral high ground when there's nothing to lose. I like to think that I'd personally would not behave like that, but I don't think I can say that my own principles are above others. They're just my own.

Russ then goes on to say:

There is no middle of the road here. If you don't actively oppose Microsoft then you are just conceding them whatever market they want and this will directly affect you sooner or later. If you're one of the millions of Java programmers you need to actively oppose ANY Microsoft advancement into your company, otherwise your time and effort learning Java will go straight in the trash. I don't mind competition - Java is improving already by the presence of Dot Not for example - but Microsoft doesn't compete, remember? They use their monopoly advantage to take over whichever market they set their eyes on. And this means that whether you're a Java programmer or a mobile developer, Microsoft is actively planning to make your skills and livelihood obsolete. Don't forget it.
It's true. They are always a serious threat, and no one should forget it or dismiss it. That doesn't mean that we have to consider them to be evil, or despise them.

Now, I don't know if my argument qualifies for "middle of the road" or what. The problem I see with saying "you're either with us or against us" is that it polarizes the argument unnecessarily. For example, I find many things from Microsoft impressive: their single-minded focus, their ability to somehow make their products work in spite of the size of their market and of their code base. Windows XP is more than 35 million lines of code. And it still works (more or less). Now, to me, that says that there is a really good development organization in place, and that many of their people must be talented. They are in more software markets than anyone else and they have products in many areas. They weren't always so powerful; keep in mind that through the 80s the biggest software company in the world was Lotus. So they are doing something right. Whether it's moral or not is another matter.

The argument that, more often than not, bully their way into markets using their monopoly position is true, but then we should remember that all the companies that have been crushed by them have made fatal mistakes along the way. Those that haven't have survived. Intuit survived Microsoft's determined attack into end-user accounting/tax products in the late 90s. AOL survived the bundling of MSN into every consumer version of Windows since Windows 95. In fact, not only did AOL and Intuit survive, they also maintained their market dominance. How? Better products, better prices, better understanding of what the customer needed or wanted. And, each in their way, through innovation. This is not to say that Microsoft behaved lawfully in the Netscape case, for example, but Netscape compounded Microsoft's onslaught with its own set of crucial errors (can you think of anyone that considered Communicator 4.0 anything other than bloated, buggy software?). Additionally, a monopoly doesn't include any guarantees. Microsoft keeps moving: slowly, making many mistakes along the way, sometimes behaving in a predatory manner, but they keep moving. Many companies had monopolies in the past, and some lost them because they couldn't adjust. Take IBM, for example, who invented the PC only to see it erode its own market dominance. Sure, the antitrust trial that ended at the beginning of the 80s had an effect, but when the company's leadership thinks that "there is probably a worldwide market for 5 computers." (As Watson had expressed at the end of the 50s) it's not a surprise that when they created the PC they didn't know what they had. Compare that to Microsoft's mission statement for its first 20 years "A computer in every desk and in every home." They had this since the mid-1970s. Now we take it for granted, but saying that back then was truly crazy, as it was thinking that they could build a business selling only software, at a time when people saw software as an "add-on" to hardware sales. So there was some vision in place, even at the beginning, and Gates deserves some credit for that.

My point is: sure, we don't like their tactics and we certainly don't like their dominance. But that doesn't mean that everything they do is absolutely bad. I think that there are many things that can be learned from Microsoft, and the only way to do that is to acknowledge where they have been successful, and why.

PS: Russ's comments about all weblogs being subjective are right on the mark. And isn't that why we like weblogs? Because of their inherent subjectivity?

Categories:, technology
Posted by diego on March 24 2003 at 6:52 PM

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