Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What do you think of Microsoft corp?

[Below is how I answered that survey question posted on .]

Microsoft, along with IBM, played a crucial role in legitimizing the personal computer as a serious tool that can be useful to almost anyone. IBM was smart (or not greedy) enough to base its PC product lines on open standards. Microsoft took the low road and went proprietary with as much as it could.

I'm not sure that Microsoft could compete effectively on an even playing field, say one after it lost an antitrust case and was forced to "open its standards" to competition the way IBM did by choice. Would you really buy Vista from Microsoft now if you knew you could get a clone for free from Ubuntu or some other Linux vendor, where user-feedback is taken seriously and nobody is trying to invade your privacy with spyware such as WGA?

Microsoft has never been an innovative company. It didn't invent DOS (for PCs) but got the contract to do PC-DOS for IBM because Digital Research screwed up when they could have had DR-DOS become the standard OS on early PCs. The WIMP (windows, icons, mouse, and pointer) interface was invented at Xerox PARC, snagged by Apple then appropriated by Microsoft, as any serious student of the history of modern computing knows.

Microsoft makes decent developer tools (Visual Studio), mostly good office tools (Office; with Word, Excel, Access, Outlook (Outlook Express is not so good), and PowerPoint (yech! -- so one can bore people to death with business graphics? -- but hey, it does what some people want to do), and and an acceptable "heavy-duty" DBMS (SQL Server). But, the *only* reason Microsoft has achieved dominance in any of the areas it currently leads in is predatory business tactics.

WordPerfect is as good or better than Word. Oracle makes DBMS that rival the best Microsoft can produce at the moment (one of the few areas that matter to it where Microsoft has real competition). Lotus 1-2-3 / Symphony could easily have become the spreadsheet / office suite of choice, had it not been for the way Microsoft used its position as OS vendor to ensure that it could develop software for the latest versions of its OS more effectively than its competitors.

While IBM had a slew of clone makers to contend with and eventually changed its business model to do what it does best (consulting, support, and specialized development projects for corporate clients) rather than compete with Compaq, Gateway, AST, Dell, Quadram and the many other vendors who could make IBM PC compatible hardware better and/or cheaper. Note that some of the ones I mentioned are no longer household names, while others competed and thrived, especially when they delivered complete hardware platforms, just as IBM did.

I'd have little problem with Microsoft if anyone could market Microsoft compatible systems and application software and Microsoft made sure the specs that had to be met were very publicly available. Microsoft would be placed in a somewhat tough position if it actually had to compete with other companies on an even playing field, even if it set the (open) standards. I strongly suspect Microsoft has the cash on hand and the ability to gather/keep the resources it would need to stay very competitive over the short and long term. It would (probably) have to learn to play nice with the rest of the industry instead of being the monopolistic bully.

Competition breeds innovation and excellence. Microsoft is sorely lacking in both of those qualities, to the detriment of the computing industry as a whole. If Microsoft had to make its core products competitive on their merits rather than because it has exclusive control of the relevant standards, people all over the world would be better off and Microsoft probably would, too. More importantly, it might (this would be a first for it) win the hearts and minds of its user base. It might even stop losing its best thinkers to Google!


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