Articles like this one on (ahem... "MS-")NBC tell it all... the smug,
self-confident twaddlings of a monopolist that concludes that its future
is secure, and all is right with the [Windows, of course] computing
But the world of technology is not like that, and Microsoft of all
companies on earth should know. The world of computer technology was
birthed by providing fundamentally better solutions to real-world
business problems by providing a completely different way to solve them.
Which one of us today would willingly go back to the typewriter?
Microsoft established its first beachhead by creating software for a
computer so small that no one else took it seriously, and by providing
needed tools (MS-DOS) to the first company who did (IBM). In doing so,
it defeated that selfsame company, IBM, in that particular market.
It established its second beachhead, not too many years later, by
providing a cheaper alternative to the Apple Macintosh, even though the
Mac was an arguably better system.
A third beachhead was established as Microsoft Word gained momentum over
many of its competitors, and when the disparate Microsoft Office suite
re-tooled itself from two separate code bases (one for Mac, a separate
one for Windows) into one cohesive system.
But after that point, in the last few years, Microsoft began to fall
apart... hoisted upon the very same petard of corporate monopolistic
arrogance that brought down earlier companies such as AT&T, the
Pennsylvania Railroad, and yes, IBM.
The computer industry naturally prefers a monopoly. Computer software
and hardware is very expensive to develop, and monopolists have a
natural advantage in such capital-intensive enterprises. The intrinsic
nature of computer software also works in favor of the monopolist, since
it is difficult to make two programs work well together. But the
downside of this that any monopolist, absent the goad of real and
effective competition, begins to substitute its own objectives for the
market's, and to consider those objectives as coming _from a marketplace
that -- in truth -- it no longer really hears.
This is precisely what has happened now to Microsoft.
Several competing software and hardware manufacturers finally had their
craw full of Microsoft's shenanigans, and turned to the Federal court
for help. After millions of dollars spent, the courts concluded that
the antitrust laws had, indeed, been violated. But... lawyers being
what they are, there were "appeals." And appeals and more appeals.
Until finally, the courts had had their craws full of it too, and they
pushed for a settlement to the issue.
The "settlement" that the government returned was an astonishing
affirmation(!) of what Microsoft had been doing all along -- and now,
with the government's effective blessing, apparently will continue to
do. The few states who seem to oppose the measure seem (by the
aforementioned news report) to be "out in the wind." The various
companies who are plaintiffs are busy consolidating and merging.
So, when the dust finally settles, exactly where does all this leave us,
except several hundred million dollars poorer?
In this poor writer's opinion, it leaves us with the confirmation that
both the Federal courts and the Department of Justice are, in the end,
beholden to Big Business. They write laws that oppose monopolies, but
approve them all the time ... witness the systematic rebuilding of the
Standard Oil Trust ... AOL-Time-Warner-GodKnowsWhat ... the merging and
consolidation of prescription drug companies. If you don't like
competing with a monopoly, according to the Feds, "tough."
So where does that leave _us, in the computer industry? Strangely
enough, it leaves us right back where we started: waiting for the NEXT
technology innovation to completely re-align the playing field!
After all, the Federal courts never anticipated the explosion of the
spreadsheet -- VisiCalc -- or the word processor -- Electric Pencil --
both of which demolished the existing status-quo. IBM didn't look upon
the lowly PC as a threat to its mainframe business. AT&T anticipated
neither the graphic-user-interface, nor the cell phone, nor the need for
any modem speeds higher than 300 baud. In the world of high technology,
court-battles in the end mean nothing: opponents are defeated, utterly,
by rendering their entire line of business *obsolete.*
Just like what happened to the steam locomotive.
The contender that has now appeared on the scene to do just that is
Linux. It has no single owner, it runs most of the world's web servers,
and it works easily with Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel files. It
might not be "the solution" now, but it's certainly the technological
basis for one, and completion of "the solution" in such an environment
is not far off. Apple Computer, ever the innovator, is pushing hard in
that direction with OS/X, based on BSD Unix.
Microsoft spent billions of dollars on lawyers and .. whatever else ..
to win its judgement from the government, but in the long run that
victory may prove as hollow as its also-expensive "victory" against
Apple Computer: by the time the judgement was finally writ, it did not
Microsoft may also find itself doubly-damned by something _else that has
happened in the last five years: The Internet, which connects the world
to itself and renders the judgements of any one country much less
important than before. The world of business is no longer "national"
but "international," and the import of each and every decision made by a
national court (even a nation's "supreme" court) is much less binding.
America does not "own" Linux, any more than it owns cryptography.
America is much more influenced by the "court" of international business
and finance than by its own.
And so this writer anticipates Microsoft to soon be shell-shocked just
like the competitors it [not-so] long ago defeated: a victory in the
court, but defeated in the very same arena where it once played.
? Copr. 2001