David K. Every
We knew the world wasn't big enough for both Janet Reno's and Bill Gates' ego's... but we are all going to get hurt in this fight.
Microsoft (Bill G.) has systematically destroyed competition in our computer industry. They've crushed Stac, Digital Research, and many other companies by making their OS incompatible with competitors products, by forced bundling deals, by forced distribution and anti-competition deals, by giving away products until they starved others out, by lying about their own release dates (and features), or by acquiring. But MS has enough money to always win. Throw in the aide of a one-sided press misinforming the public, and some Microsoft worshiping IS depts. forcing the competition out of business -- and ANY company who gets in the way of Microsoft will be destroyed (and people, jobs, functionality and choice along the with it).
There are many Microsoft apologists who pretend the animosity towards Microsoft is because of their wealth, I bet only 5-10% of the anger is over that -- the other 95% is over the methods used, the lies told, and those that have been burned by Microsoft in the past. I have met no one (or company) who has gotten into bed with Microsoft, and that hasn't gotten out that bed feeling screwed.
On the other hand, our Govt. has a long proud history of creating monopolies, and then destroying them. (It's good for the pocket-book on one hand, and good for PR on the other). Microsoft may be the first case where a monopoly was actually self-created without govt. assistance (they had IBM subsidies, power, assistance and name usage instead). If you look at the rail-roads and other monopolies, and you learn that they got 90% of their power was acquired with the direct assistance of Govt. (which the Govt. later broke up). Of course Microsoft had support of the same sort of group-thinkers that are usually pro-govt. types (the press, IS/IT type, and people that want to follow) ... but either way it doesn't matter -- no company can get as much BAD attention as MS (and build as much animosity) without politicians (including appointees) getting involved.
I've been saying for a couple years now that it is just a matter of time before MS is taken down... not because of what they do wrong (they are usually smart enough to not quite break the law), but because of how many people they've pissed off along the way. That doesn't mean that Microsoft hasn't done a lot of wrong -- they have. But Justice seems pretty blind to the spirit of the law (which has been raped by MS) -- but lawyers can be obnoxiously pedantic when it comes to the letter of the law (even raping the spirit of the law in the process). Fortunately (for them) our laws are complex enough that someone in the Govt. can always find you guilty of something, if they become so inspired. What I call the Capone Syndrome (1).
(1) Elliott Ness couldn't get Capone on any of the thousands of real laws he was breaking -- so he got him instead on Tax evasion -- which is what they try to get many Drug Dealers and Prostitutes on to this day. The point being that if they want you bad enough, they will figure out a way to get you (or they will make a new law just for you). The scary thing is that they can get almost any law-abiding person on some technicality as well -- if they want you bad enough.
Worse for Microsoft, is that the rest of the industry is starting to ally, and gang up on Microsoft as well -- and this is just the beginning. When you own as much market as Microsoft has, and got there the way Microsoft did, there is only one way to go (and that is down). IBM had built a big back-log of resentment by their methods (by the 80's), and when the first opportunity arose (in the mid 80's), the market paid them back. Of course just like Microsoft, it won't mean the end for the company -- just a smaller, gentler, wiser company, a little more humbled. IBM is a far more responsive company today because of it, and Microsoft will be as well, after it gets its well deserved beating. The only question is whether it will come in one year, in ten, or in twenty -- when will the press get tired of misinforming the public, when will other companies (or individuals) get tired of Microsoft methods? IBM was able to hold on for about 20 years in their position, and it has only been about 10 so far for Microsoft (but things seem to move faster now days).
With my beliefs (2), I am very conflicted over this Microsoft deal. Monopolies are usually made by Govt. -- Microsoft was made by IBM. Most Govt. involvement is a way for politicians or appointees to get attention.
(2) My personal philosophy is that there is nothing that is so screwed up that Govt. (especially federal) involvement can't make it worse. (I'm an optimist, and Jr. Historian) Every now and then, there is something that turns out to be less of a screw-up than I thought, at least for a brief amount of time. But historically, politicizing most issues is a way for the special interests to pervert the intent of the law, and is just a way for one group of individuals to oppress another (using the law as their bludgeon). But everyone gets their fingers in a law, and lawyers will corrupt the intent, and decades later the supporters of the original law say, "but the law is not doing what we wanted it to do". They ignore the realities that this will happen to all laws -- by nature, laws get perverted over time by the political process itself (and by lawyers). The solution is not more laws (that is a politicians solution), but better laws, more objective and simple laws, fixing the laws we have, and eliminating most of the laws on the books. Laws need to remain objective and to not try and force others to do what you wouldn't want them to force you to do. If you try to take away someone elses favorite vice, and they will try to do the same to yours, and the world will not be a better place for the lack of tolerance. When you try to force your beliefs down their throats, they will reciprocate in kind, and you'll both end up pissed off. Microsoft is being attacked because people don't like them, and see an opportunity to go for the throat -- what is right or wrong is irrelevant, this is about power and revenge. Microsoft brought it on itself, but we will all be tainted by our involvement.
What this whole issue is about is --
Microsoft says that the Browser is becoming part of the OS. They are right!
Look at the history of the Operating System (on Microcomputers). An Operating System is something that sits between the programmer (Application Writer) and the hardware, to help him program (offer him functionality).
In the very beginning (early 70's) there was nothing between the OS and the App writer -- Applications were written directly to the hardware. Then we added "drivers" (BIOS) -- programmers used these routines to make their life easier. Then we added Command-Lines and Prompts and more utilities (easier for programmers). Then in the 80's (for Mac people, 90's for Windows) we added, GUI's, Graphics and more layers (easier -- if you wanted to do those things). Then we added better cross application messaging and protection (ways for Apps to work together and talk together). Now we are adding Internet Functionality, Java and Browsers. It is the next logical evolution, given the desires of the marketplace.
Apple started this trend (or was involved early on). Apple tried to create Network/Work group integration with PowerTalk. Then Apple created CyberDog, which allows App writers to make Internet Compliant Apps (Components) that can work together with other Internet components -- the results are that programmers can make Apps that interface directly with the internet, and with other Applications. Apple is still doing this kind of stuff, and will continue to do so. The difference is that Apple is not a monopoly, and Apple is trying to make it so that you can "plug-in" anyone's Internet Tools (Browsers and other programs and components). Microsoft is making it so that only their tools will work -- so that they can drive everyone else out of Business (see Netscape). Microsoft is wrong in their methods (forcing everyone to use THEIR browser THEIR way), and in making an inferior product (one without Open Standards) -- but they are not wrong that the Internet Applications will evolve to be part of the OS.
The Justice Dept. strong armed Microsoft into an agreement to NOT force license -- then Microsoft was dumb enough to try to force OEM's into bundling Explorer with Windows95, and to try to gag their OEM's with draconian licensing agreements. That was a bad move on Microsoft's part, and for this Microsoft must be punished. They have become a threat to Reno's ego, and they will probably be broken up into separate companies (probably separate the OS from the Application Divisions). I strongly suspect that Janet Reno will tolerate no less, nor will any other subsequent appointee for political reasons (3).
(3) Remember, the Federal Govt. has to continue to dupe the public into thinking it makes a real difference, or people will become less enthused about the 70% lifetime tax liability that kids born today will have to pay (if we continue at current growth rates). So every politician is trying to justify their paycheck (and cash cow) -- and Justice Dept. is no exception. And lets face it, if Reno can award medals for the murder of innocent extremists, or obstruct justice (bury an investigation) like in the Campaign Finance Investigation, then what chance does a big "evil" corporation like Microsoft have? Maybe she'll have a raid on Microsoft where all the leaders of Microsoft are accidentally "shot".
Like most fights, this is a Lose-Lose situation. The problem with slapping someone (or a company) that is full of crap, is that crap splatters. All of us users are going to pay for Microsoft legal fees (in the price of their software), and for the govts. case (in our taxes).
If the Justice Dept. wins, then users don't get a Browser (a useful tool) bundled with their OS -- App writers don't have a Standard browser to write to, and they have the current nightmare of Microsoft and Netscape making non-compatible standards. Internet integration (for Microsoft) will be slowed down, as will the evolution of computers (in that direction). Janet Reno's ego will go up two sizes, and we are supporting the bully Govt. against a company that was making a product that helped users (and helped themselves). Companies will have been told, quite literally, you can't make your product more useful -- unless you have Govt. permission to do so.
If the Microsoft wins, then the better browser, the more open player, and just slightly less amoral company (Netscape) will be driven out of the PC marketplace (or driven into a niche). The Microsoft Tyranny will win again. Again we will be forced to use an inferior proprietary product, and App writers will have to do gymnastics to work with Microsoft the way Microsoft wants -- or Microsoft will crush them by making their products incompatible with everyone else. Bill Gates (Microsoft's) insufferable ego will go up three sizes. We will have supported the big bully Microsoft while it squashed another (relative) innocent (Netscape) -- who's biggest flaw was in not having the unfair distribution advantages that Microsoft has (by making the OS and Applications). Companies will have been told, again (quite literally), that they exist only at Microsoft's mercy -- and will be crushed on whim, and even the Govt. will do nothing to stop it. Venture Capital and Investment in Software Application should dry up (if they're smart), because everyone will realize that "Microsoft is coming to get you" and will eat your market, and there is NOTHING that can be done. There is no way to compete with Microsoft right now, because the infrastructure required to compete is on the order of $100 Billion or more, and decades of development -- and it is getting worse. Microsoft is trying to buy out communications and information distribution (media), so that they can guarantee that their message and products get out there, and the competitions does not.
Of course in a Utopic world, the public would protest Microsofts practices and not buy (or use) their products. But that would require sacrifice, and a loss of productivity and money (since Microsoft truly CAN integrate its OS and Apps better than anyone else in the Wintel market). That would require some individuality, some initiative and not following the crowd. Most people will not stand up for what is right -- they will watch their neighbors dragged away to "internment camps" with nary a complaint, and they will watch superior products destroyed one by one, and assume it is someone elses responsibility. We will suffer in the future at the hands of Microsoft, or we can suffer in the present at the hands of Govt. and the real alternatives will be ignored. We can blame the public school system, politicians, lawyers, Govt., Microsoft, absentee parents, entitlements, the media , IS/IT depts, group thinkers -- but ultimately the responsibility falls to all of us (as a society).
I don't expect people to all agree with my views (political or philosophical) -- and certainly not to the same degrees as I do. I am just pointing out some views that should make people think a little, even if they don't agree.
Before we get too critical of ONLY these groups, we should also look at our own industries as well, and what we can do to improve them. (This whole site is part of my efforts to improve mine).