Editorial: Microsoft and Innovation

What's Wrong and Why They Win
by Walt Stoneburner
"Hey, don't fault me... I like the enemy, too."

Microsoft and Innovation

Every tech person reading this knows that the Microsoft operating system platform is certainly capable of being built and shipped without dozens of Microsoft applications. A platforms doesn't care who wrote the applications it runs. And one only has to turn to a version of the Windows platform before Internet Explorer and Media Player ever existed, or to recent Microsoft devices running embedded Windows, to see that Gates is bending the definition of what Windows is in recent court cases.

Microsoft is pulling a definition swap on the non-technical world. It is trying to say that the APIs, the interface, and the applications in a certain configuration represent the concept of "Windows," not the operating system. This is following the marketing of Steve Jobs saying an Apple is an Apple is an Apple. At least Steve is up front about it. When us techies sling code, we know better: there's a difference between environment and experience. But what Microsoft knows is that the end-user doesn't know... or care.

People choose Windows because they can tweak it; there is so much software out there to choose from, and much of the good stuff isn't from Microsoft.

Remember, Microsoft is going where the money is, and money can be easily removed from the hands of the uninformed. As such, the "lame end-user" who just wants to turn on their PC and have it "work" with no frills is a large market base to draw from.

The rest of us, the hobbiests, the scientists, the engineers, the developers, spend most of our time conversing on the higher end of the technical IQ distribution that we forget what the average user is like or how many of them there are. These people don't want to know how it works; they don't care it could be better, faster, or smaller. They want the first solution, not a best fit. They want the computer to tell them what to do, not the other way around as a power-user mandates.

Go Back And Read Old News Columns

Microsoft didn't create DOS, Tim Paterson did.
BASIC itself was stolen by Gates from his partner.
Windowing and multi-taksing? Anyone remember DesqView?
Windows interface? Stolen from Xerox.
EMM386? QEMM was the leader until Microsoft hacked windows to recognize the filename and abort; rename QEMM.SYS to something else (QEMM386.SYS) and it worked fine.
Remember Borland cranking out Pascal and C first, to end-users at a cheap $20 price?
How about Microsoft programmers taking C++ courses from Borland?
Word Perfect existed well before Word.
File access control lists? VAX/VMS.
Microsoft didn't think much of the Internet, now they want to dominate it.
Netscape came along first, then Internet Explorer followed.
How about X-Box games? Game images were mocked up. Remind you of them faking video evidence in court?

I'll be happy to correct any inaccuracies.

I don't mind Microsoft going after these people, but don't insult the rest of us by twisting word meanings. Afterall, we're the ones developing the applications and content for that operating system. We're the source of your "innovation."

The problem is, that last statement is true, it stings, and they know it. That's why there will always be a love/hate relationship with us -- they need us, but don't want to be reminded of that fact. Microsoft isn't above condeming with the left hand while forging a relationship with the right.

Microsoft is a business. A big business. A successful business. And their goal is to make money, let's never forget that. They're not here to help us unless it makes us reach for our wallets in the process. Perhaps that's why I like Open Source so much, it's about the product, about the quality. It's about the stuff I use daily, and that I can trust, modify, and share it.

That said, I'm a big purchaser of commercial software. There are just some things that large companies with lots of resources can solve faster.

The point, however, is that Microsoft knows its target audience's behavior. They can build a sub-quality product that is a rip-off of another company's product, deliver it with Windows, and the majority of Windows users will use what Microsoft ships, like lambs, simply because it's there.

From a business standpoint, this makes sense: it lets the other companies take the risk, Microsoft can learn from their mistakes, and it makes support easier for them. Eliminate the need to look elsewhere, and most people are content with what they have, even if something better is out there. Don't underestimate the human laziness factor.

But here's the real reason why Microsoft's practice is unfair:
If a new company wants to compete against an existing one for product space in the market, it has differentiate itself. This usually happens by product improvements, better pricing, or great service; consumers benefit. Microsoft has an advantage, it simply has to bundle the package, avoiding all the factors competitors must fact, making a level playing field.

Worse yet, Microsoft has repeatedly strong armed hardware vendors -- let Microsoft do it, or lose the right to preinstall Windows (a value added service that makes hardware vendors more money). The hardware vendors aren't in the business of selling software, and therefore cave easily. Microsoft can gain market share by practices not available to its competitors. Imagine if another software vendor tried to make those demands of PC manufactures, they'd be laughed out of building.

Let's be honest, there are more users out there who just want to turn on their PC and go rather than set it up themselves. To you, customization means which applications you want to run and where they get put on the disk. To them, customization means "what does my wall paper look like this week?"

The sad part is, those differentating factors that companies use to compete are pricing, quality, and service. And unfortunately, that's where most of the whining appears when people say Microsoft is a monopoly. They're looking at the symptom, not the problem.

A quote from Men In Black says that "individals are smart, people are dumb" -- this holds true: everytime someone goes for a quick-fix in the short run, they are screwing themselves and those around them in the long run from better prices, better products, and superior customer service down the road.

The only way to combat it is to either educate the masses, which frankly isn't going to happen, or to let Microsoft implode on itself as it's products get more bulky and complex, its platforms more expensive, and it goes audit crazy against businesses.

When that call comes in "I just installed Microsoft _____ and now it's not working... help!", perhaps one shouldn't feel inclined to jump anymore. Let them sit on it, let the end user enjoy the Microsoft experience for what it truly is. By solving the problem for them, we're enabling them; making them think it was them and not the machine.

At that moment help people feel and see the pain they are experiencing, suggest an Open Source solution where this kind of problem just doesn't happen and show them how to use it to do what they want to do. You have to wait until people are ready to learn, then make the most of that opportunity.

Other platforms from mainframes to Unix to VMS just don't suffer from Microsoft-ish problems; it's not that they're magical. Microsoft has spent years conditioning people that computers are tempermental beasts, and the solution is rebooting. You know as well as I do, computers shouldn't need constant rebooting, they should be blinding fast, and they should be reliable and secure.

Statements made in this editoral reflect the author's personal opinions and may not be considered fit for platform bigots. This web page is not a toy and represents a serious choking hazzard to children under two years of age.

If you have corrections, ideas you'd like to contribute for credit here, spotted a dead link, or would like to suggest a useful resource, please feel free to send them to the author.

SlingCode Search Results About     Articles     Links     Search Tips