April 6, 2000

an updated stance on this issue is available here

Well, the US Govt went for Mr Gates eh. I don't actually approve of this. I think business should be free to operate as it sees fit. Other businesses would have been free to compete with Microsoft on an even footing but for those very laws Microsoft is being prosecuted for breaking. That is, the laws create distortion in the marketplace. This is not news to the pollies - it's what gives them a job.

But, there's little point fantasising about a pure free market. Them Big Boyz in the White House reckon they're running the show, let them think that.

More to the point, the Microsoft verdict comes at a strange moment for computing. The high profile of the case caused prudent IT managers to spread their risk, as it were. And that was years ago -- and this is IT. Which means that well before the verdict arrived, Microsoft's fate was already sealed.

Microsoft has never enjoyed a good reputation with tech-savvy folk, and now managers have good reason to agree.

And all the while, alternative, more friendly systems have expanded their installed base. In particular, the rise of GNU/Linux, and its "free as in freedom" culture of open source code and peer review -- of sharing, basically -- has changed forever the IT landscape.

Why would IT managers stake their businesses on low-quality software made by a firm being mauled by the strongest government on the planet?

Nobody would.

Especially when the alternative has proven to be industrial-strength. Indeed, its strengths are just beginning. The open-source model harnesses feedback. It is an organic model that grows -- it learns from its environment and adapts to it.

This sustainable approach is contrasted by Microsoft. The closed Microsoft approach does not facilitate feedback. This causes them to become less and less adapted to the environment over time.

And while Microsoft was busy hoarding closed Windows APIs, the open-source community (which essentially embodies most of the "old skool" internet crew, and the authors of most software in use today - even IE 3 was based on Mosaic), was adding elegance to a marvellous set of protocols which Microsoft simply had to support -- such as TCP/IP and HTML.

Microsoft's monolithic culture comes through in their software. Their response to open standards (once they noticed them, and learned to accept they could not wish them out of existence) was to hurridly implement them, then go and invent bunch of proprietary "standards" (such as ActiveX) that don't work properly and create a large support overhead.

Like this: "JScript is the Microsoft implementation of the ECMA 262 language specification. It is a full implementation, plus some enhancements that take advantage of capabilities of Microsoft Internet Explorer... it is only distantly and indirectly related to Java.". ...it's called JScript, but it's not much like JavaScript at all?? Hmm, I'd be confused, if I didn't see through yet another attempt at Standards Hijacking.

The paradigm is plain. They don't want to be compatible with you. They want you to be compatible with them -- and they'll bill you for the privilege. And the judge has said, they use their market power to force you to do that. Charming..

The consequences of all this are that Microsoft has lost the faith of the general community; it has allowed rival platforms to gain a hold in pockets of tech everywhere; and it has demonstrated a lack of business intuition and integrity that has sent a clear message to the highest of corporate levels.

It's a dog, mate.

It is true that Microsoft hurt the community. Just last night I saw a web page say "if you want to edit these pages, you must use FrontPage, because it has inserted so-and-so special codes....". Yet on another webpage, I was reading how installing FrontPage installs Personal Web Server, and how PWS is vulnerable to attack from hackers in a number of areas.

So if you want to edit these pages, you have to make yourself vulnerable.

It's a dog, mate. And with this decision, now everybody knows.