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More on Microsoft, March 1, 1998 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

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archived soapbox: March 1, 1998
"More on Microsoft" [permalink]
    keywords: Microsoft, tech, computers, Netscape, web, browsers
    soapbox #: 125
    written: March 1, 1998
    words: 3098

"More on Microsoft", an Essay

Currently, Microsoft and its CEO Bill Gates are being questioned by the Senate as to whether they currently have a monopoly in the computer software industry. I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure the UNIX newsgroups are euphoric, Microsoft's competition is feeling high and mighty, and all the slobs out there who think Microsoft's evil because they read a political cartoon about Bill Gates are cooing in satisfaction.

This hearing is basically about the rest of the computer industry whining about how they failed to meet up with Microsoft's business genius.

First of all, let's get one thing straight. It's a basic definition that monopolies involve there only being one seller, and that seller is selling a product identical to other sellers' products. Software, operating systems, et al are all going to be different. They are not like products. Therefore, the decision to use one program over another will be very much affected by how useful that program is to the buyer. This is not an issue of selling oil, folks. Oil doesn't come in various flavors, graphical interface vs. command line interface. 'Kay?

Right now, everyone is just trying to decide if Microsoft is a monopoly. Can't even get that straight. Competitors insist that Microsoft is in a position so that, left unchecked, it can throw about its power and crush its competition with underhanded strategies. Bill Gates assures the Senate that it is because of good business, not monopolistic practices, that Microsoft is where it is today. I tend to agree with Mr. Gates.

The condescending tone Microsoft's opponents are taking towards the customer base is highly offensive. To even think that just because Microsoft has and could ship its browser, Microsoft Internet Explorer, with Windows95 and Windows98, that everyone will begin to use MSIE instead of competitors like Netscape Navigator is insulting. They are not going to win votes that way. Computer users, particularly those who use computers fairly often, since the minority of people either don't use computers much or use it all and every day, are highly intelligent people, in general, with good educational, monetary, and social backgrounds. These people are not stupid. Customers of the computer industry know how to smell a rat, as are they willing to spend the time to research computer parts before they buy them.

This is a good thing for capitalism to have. Customers know what they want, and they do not buy products which are terrible, when something's better, cheaper, and more frequently used.

The main issue is web browsers. Netscape feels like Microsoft is cheating it because Internet Explorer was going to be sent with new computer systems as part of a deal between computer manufacturers and Microsoft. Supposedly, people would receive Internet Explorer and use it blindly, never considering Netscape Navigator instead.

Okay, so let's get this straight. A year or so ago, there was no Internet Explorer. Alright? All there was was Netscape Navigator. Netscape was the sole web browser company in the business, and they basically gave away their browser for free, the only people legally having to pay being those who used the product for commercial purposes. As an aside, how is this not a monopoly? Netscape had no chance of losing the industry, and it could afford to sell its product for practically nothing, undercutting its competition and ensuring the clout for Netscape continued. As for MSIE, even though it came with Windows95, did anyone use it? Hell no! Not version 2.0. Okay okay, so I used it for testing the appearances of my HTML documents. But that's different. ;)

Netscape became a commonly used word among computer users. "Netscape" is not even the name of the program -- "Navigator" is -- but we interchangeably use "Netscape" and "web browser" in daily use. Netscape had everything going for it. And then the unthinkable happened. Microsoft entered the arena by strategically revamping its strategy to include the Internet. Microsoft released the first two versions of Internet Explorer, which had almost completely caught up with what Navigator took a year or two to develop. I believe I've commented on Internet Explorer when it first began gathering steam. I said it was Netscape's game to lose and it blew the early jump it had on the competition. Netscape continued to take ages to fix bugs and release the ghastly number of betas for each of its versions. Microsoft caught up quickly, and it put in features people wanted. Microsoft didn't goof off.

Netscape is one stupid company. It should be bankrupt by now. I used to use Navigator devoutly, assuming Navigator would always be one step ahead of Internet Explorer. But then I found that Internet Explorer was better at dealing with HTML, faster to use, more robust, and more streamlined. Netscape lost the battle because it got lazy. Microsoft did not win because it had market clout, but because it produced a better product.

But oh no! That's not anything you'll ever see Netscape admit. Netscape is basically whining about Microsoft cheating. Netscape refuses to take responsibility and say it slacked off and let its competition beat it. And Netscape isn't alone.

Microsoft Office includes the most used software, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint. Can you name any other competitors for each of the programs? Sure, there are some, but do you really see any future in those alternatives? Do you think Word is the most used because Microsoft forces Word upon the industry? Could it just be that Word is the best for what it does? Gosh, no! Imagine the best being the victor.

Maybe one reason I'm majoring in Latin is because I yearn for the days when the best civilization won, and not the civilization with the best orators and lawyers. A victory is never a victory unless it involves a court ruling unfair play, eh?

Sure, you can say that Microsoft has set itself up as the only company you should even consider buying software. Sure, you can say that people only use Excel because Word comes with it. Okay, fine. If Microsoft has such a lock on the industry, how do you explain Adobe Photoshop, people? Microsoft has released very poor programs which serve as Microsoft's reach into the image editing industry. But its products have failed miserably. Photoshop is still the most used program, and only a few people use other specifically image-editing programs.

In a stunning show of legalese and Cicero-like rhetoric, James Barksdale of Netscape asked the spectators (appealing to the public?), "How many of you use Intel-based PCs in this audience, not Macintoshes?" A few people raised their hands. He followed that up by asking, "Of that group who use PCs, how many of you use a PC without Microsoft's operating system?" Everyone put their hands down. As his finishing move, the intellectual superpower Barksdale closed his statement by saying, "Gentlemen, that is a monopoly."

Hey Barksdale...Adobe, I guess, is a monopoly too, and we should go after them. How many of you who read Usenet regularly do not use Forte Agent? No one? Damn, all the monopolists! Wait wait...of those who use FTP regularly, who uses WS_FTP? All of you? Shit, WS_FTP is even used in universities across the US. What ever will we do about this?

Absolutely nothing. Boys, this is how the game works, okay? You develop the best product, you win. Stop whining. People do NOT use "Jimmy's Wide Web World Broswer 104.299992" because Microsoft is cheating. Got it? You give the customer what he wants and then he'll buy it. Netscape and Sun and Oracle and all these other businesses undermined by Microsoft seem to think that they have superior products, but Microsoft is cheating. What a delusion.

And operating systems! That is what Microsoft's main foundation for spreading its influence is. It can launch campaigns into graphics, games, networking, information management, and everything else from the operating system. That's true, and I think Microsoft has done some things wrong with its OS. It's pushed more than it should -- working with other companies to exclusively use Microsoft software is a little underhanded, since it keeps companies from letting employees use what they prefer. It's like not being able to wear your favorite sweatsuit at the Olympics because it's made by Reebok and the team has a contract with Nike. Microsoft needs to stop working out exclusive deals with companies. Frankly, I think all that extra marketing they do doesn't help them -- I'm not the only one who is pissed off by Microsoft installing demos of its programs when I don't want them, or ticked that Microsoft makes me get more programs than I want. Microsoft's alienated a lot of people on that point alone. Sure, they want to spread awareness about their program, and seeing fifty little cards for Microsoft Java++ in that Microsoft Close Combat box is annoying, but it sure as Hell convinces you that MS Java++ is one of the first products to consider when looking for a Java compiler. Another thing Microsoft should do, if it truly is sincere about helping the Internet and the computer industry get better, is be more cooperative with releasing its source to licensed companies and with the government in investigations. Yes, I agree, Microsoft's acted a bit snobbish about all this, but if they truly think they are successful because they do their job the best, then cooperating is only going to help them, especially in the P.R. department.

Let Bill put MSIE in Windows. They're being integrated and they can't be split apart like Navigator and UNIX can. "That's not the way it should be!" Then go install Linux and leave us alone. And the DOJ, go after Andrew Grove instead!

But Microsoft for the most part does exactly what it should do when marketing. Have you seen Microsoft's commercials? They're not as ubiquitous now as they were during the stint when they were showing on TV, but they had their effect. Combining techno or blues or other music genres gaining in popularity with a slick look and convincing message is just damn good marketing. In contrast, have you seen those Microsoft commercials. Me neither, but I remember seeing a couple in my life. They're about as interesting as those "everyday people" Toyota commercials. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you've got my point exactly. They're terrible.

Macs and all those other systems are boring, and not just in how they appear in commercials. Microsoft sells itself as what's currently hot, what's new and cutting edge. Macs are trying to pull the political move and appeal to the common man. IBM is....well...IBM is trying to do something. I think they retreated to center towards businesses and server admins.

But Windows95 does not hold "90% of the market" without reason. Okay? I will not write about how well-programmed Microsoft's software is. I admit it can be shoddy and horrible and can cause some computers to barf up until they are completely reinstalled. Microsoft Internet Explorer 2.0 used to crash a lot. Word has had some serious bugs in it, as well as Excel. Same with every piece of Microsoft software. There's no excuse for the slop Microsoft has produced.

Windows95 is notoriously buggy. I think I have a dozen patches or so for my dial-up networking, simply because hackers are finding new ways to penetrate peoples' Win95 systems and crash them. We all know that Win95 has problems detecting hardware and things of the like quite often. But you know what? Microsoft does get it right after a few upgrades. They keep working at their software and they keep making it better and removing bugs. I'm running Win95 OEM with the standalone MSIE 4.02 browser, and you know what? These hardly ever crash. I reboot every few days or so. And only then do I have to reboot because something clogged up the memory (probably Quakeworld uncaching poorly ;) ). So for an OS that is purportedly horrible and sloppy, I cannot agree completely. It works tremendously well for me.

Another reason Win95 is the most used OS is because of software. Virtually anyone who has any desire not to fail in business will design software for the Win95 platform. You'd be a twit not to. Almost all games are developed first for Win95, then ported to other OS's and platforms. There are plenty of developer's tools for Win95, and there are plenty of customers with Win95. This is no fluke. Can you really imagine an industry with four or five different OSs? No. That just won't work. There can only be one really successful operating system because the customer only wants to worry about getting things for one operating system. What the computer industry refuses to work on is the overwhelming desire from customers for standards. We don't give a shit about Netscape's channels. We don't want an alternative OS. Okay? What we want is software that we can use on our computer, our friends' computers, our school's computers, and our business's computers. Got it? We want to not kick the desk because we have to finish a project at home but we have a Mac while work has Win95. I'm sorry to say it, but marketing and business are so frigging easy. All you have to do is pay attention to consumer trends.

UNIX-philes insist that UNIX is a superior OS and that anyone who uses Win95 is a computer newbie and has been brainwashed by Microsoft. Mac folks keep using their Macs for God knows what reason, decrying Win95 as a clone to the Mac. Get with it, people. Do you want to know why Win95 is successful? It's not because it's bug-free, or standards-compliant, or anything else that idealists desire. It's because Win95 feels nice. You may think people are stupid because they prefer how a window shuts in Win95 as compared with Macs. You may think people dragging files from one directory to another are stupid, since with UNIX you can specify thirteen thousand different ways to copy files from one directory to another using cp and its dozens of parameters, but guess what? User interfaces are the thing right now. Hell, even I admit that I love using Win95 because it feels nice. I love the slickness of it, okay? So what if it caters to idiots? So I'm an idiot. I'm an idiot because I would hate using a command line all the time.

Don't get started with me on XWindows... What a hack. :)

Win95 gives its customers what they want. An easy way to do the menial tasks they have to complete. Any software you want comes with Win95, and anything you want to do can be done in Win95. It's not the best server OS, but there is plenty of server software for Win95. It's not the best multimedia OS, but I can still make my own .wavs, encode my own RealAudio, write HTML, input video, and do whatever else I want. Win95 is an incredibly versatile OS. It's a jack-of-all-trades.

Is it any wonder that 90% of the computer industry, people who want to experiment and produce things using their invested computers, uses Win95?

Throw all the technical advances and jargon and specs and anything else that you want at Win95 users, but please do not forget that ease of use is the king of success in the computer industry.

So getting back to the main issue, it is my opinion that the rest of the computer industry should be ashamed of itself for Microsoft's success. Microsoft has sloppy coding, crashy software, and a bad reputation, yet it's still the top dog. It's topping companies that specialize in only one area of computing. That's pitiful. If you can't come up with a better product than Microsoft, even if you concentrate solely on that one product, you deserve to lose. And if you do create a better product? Well, you'll have your own little niche, like Qualcomm's Eudora, Forte's Agent, and Adobe's Photoshop. Those companies have the right idea. They shut up, stop whining, and do what they do the best. These companies deserve a Hell of a lot of respect, because they demand a huge share of the market, even though Microsoft is trying to outdo them.

Stop placing the blame on others and redirect it on yourself. In the computer industry, the consumer will decide what is best. Sound idealistic? Well, it's also true. The consumer will use the best product and if another product comes along which is better, than that product will quickly replace the first. And if you don't believe me even still, go to Tom's Hardware, see how many hits he gets, how much work he puts into generating FPS and CPU results, and then tell me that consumers don't know what they're talking about when they go out and buy something. The Diamond Monster 3d card is the most used 3d card because it's the cheapest and the best overall. Logitech has the best overall input devices. Iomega offers the best overall storage devices. They are by no means perfect, but they give the customer what he wants.

No matter how hard you try, you cannot undermine the theory of "survival of the fittest." This is what companies like Netscape and Sun are trying to do. It is infeasible and impossible for Microsoft to control the computer market and especially Internet access. So the next time you feel all good and rosy about yourself for registering Netscape Navigator, just remember that it's those companies that are complaining that their tactics to sell to the average stupid computer user also reflects upon their opinion of you.

To them, it's not what the consumer thinks is the best program, it's what program the customer saw first. And that is a policy we should attack, not smart business tactics and giving the consumer what he asked for.

Respect the computer consumer market -- it's the most informed market there's ever been in history.


 
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