Microsoft: Hatred or Hot Air?

written by: Michael Silverman

I spend a good deal of time on message boards and on many occasions I've heard people say something along the lines of, "People are looking for an alternative to Microsoft and if more people knew about [app] MS would go down." or "[Company/Product] would have defeated [insert Microsoft product] but Microsoft is a monopoly and stopped them."

I disagree.

Yes, Microsoft is an illegal monopoly and they are indeed guilty of predatory business practices. I'm not disputing any of that because quite frankly nobody can, it's on the legal record. My point of contention is how they got where they are. After the fact, people are saying that Microsoft used bully tactics and binding legal contracts to squash the competition and ensure their position at the top. That's not quite how I see it.

I don't believe the majority of the computer using populace wants Microsoft to go away. If the people really wanted to buck the "Microsoft standard" than it would be done. Microsoft may be guilty of predatory practices but the corporations and the consumers are the ones that make them the standard. They insist on using Microsoft products out of convenience. Alternatives and transitory compatibility options have always been available but people have chosen not to utilize them.

On the Office front there are plenty of applications out there that can read and write Word docs, a few of them are even freeware. If you need an entire Office suite there is Star Office, Open Office and K-Office. If you wanted an alternative to Windows there has been the Unixes, OS/2 Warp (It even had Windows application support), Openstep and Be OS. There is of course the Macintosh but it requires a substantial hardware investment. If made, the Mac could do just about anything Windows could save for very high end serving due to Apple's hardware line-up.

How about the most famous of Microsoft's illegal practices? The "browser wars". Netscape vs. Internet Explorer. Once again, it's an example of the people giving Microsoft control. While Microsoft went ahead and integrated IE into Windows; that action didn't prevent anybody from continuing to use Netscape Communicator or Opera. The people simply decided,"I have a browser built in so why should I download another?" The courts may call that illegal business practice but I call it user indifference.

Microsoft is simply using a user's indifference coupled with the newbie fear of installing new software to gain control. The worst part is that the majority of the people don't seem to care about, or simply don't realize, the consequences of handing over tremendous amounts of control to one company; especially a company like Microsoft.

Microsoft's plan is to completely eliminate the traditional software license within 10 years in favor of a system where users pay them on a regular basis. In the not too distant future, if you want to use Office you'll pay MS for a lease with a pre-determined termination date and and when that date arrives you must pay again or lose access to your app. They are implementing "digital rights" into their OS and products, playing off the copyright fears of large industries such as film and music. They're manipulating these entities into handing them control of digital file formats by promising that they'll protect the industry's works from copying. The industries are pleased but the consumer is going to end up paying in the form of inconveniences and perhaps even higher prices down the line. Perhaps the greatest irony in this is that the thieves break these copy schemes almost as quickly as they're made and thus the users shoulder the consequences while the thieves continue on as usual.

The more people that willingly choose to use Microsoft's solutions out of convenience the worse the situation becomes for everybody. Microsoft is no longer required to stoop to low levels because all they have to do to get control of a market is pre-install with Windows and reap the rewards; confident that their customers will just use what's installed without ever seeking an alternative. Windows XP has pushed integration to a new high, including MSN Messenger, Media Player 8, "reminders" to sign up for Passport, default links or preferred Microsoft service partners (think photo editing) and sneaky ways to up MSN page hits through browser redirection when URLs are mistyped.

According to recent studies: MSN messenger has more registered users than AIM, Windows Media Player's numbers are gaining on Real's and MSN is rapidly approaching Yahoo! as the most trafficked web portal. MS is bundling and people are accepting defaults. There are Open Source messengers such as Jabber and as much as I dislike Real's product at least it's available on Windows, Mac and *nix. None of the other players can claim support of all three platforms.

Yahoo! is fighting back by attempting to use the defaults tactic against MS. They launched a campaign that will turn many Microsoft internet defaults into Yahoo! defaults. The big difference here is that Yahoo! still has to convince users to download and run the program and as I've been saying, this is the real problem. Getting over the user indifference to convince them they should be using Yahoo!'s defaults instead of Microsoft's.

I personally don't think very highly of Microsoft or their products but 90% or so of the computer using population seem to think they're good enough and continue to keep them in a position of dominance by refusing to seek options.

Maybe people want Microsoft to be in control because it would ultimately mean they wouldn't have to burden themselves with computing decisions, they'd only have to pay their Microsoft bill.

Disclaimer: I am not implying that all Windows users accept Microsoft solutions for everything, merely a large proportion.


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