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How A Microsoft Monopoly Hurts The Consumer.

I posted this on the Yahoo! board but don't expect any real response there. Hopefully some of you might find this interesting and useful, or maybe provide me some insight and solace. Critical comments are welcome as well. Polite ones, anyway.

I am a developer of software. I always considered myself to be supportive of a free market, but I don't support that anymore -- I believe that some government intervention is necessary. I don't have any idea how they are going to be able to solve this problem, given its nature. I'm hoping the cure is better than the illness.

Since Windows is the dominant operating system, I am forced to work within it in order to reach a larger market. That doesn't hurt me so much as it limits my choices.

Hurt #1: Windows is not an operating system. It is a shell laying over DOS. I have been lied to. We've all been lied to.

Hurt #2: The Windows API is difficult to learn and program. Adding to that difficulty, MSFT frequently changes the underlying mechanisms -- in order to give its own application developers an advantage in rolling out apps with new features whenever a new Windows version ships. This is what hurt Lotus for a big example. So I guess I won't write an innovative new spreadsheet program. Consumers get hurt by lack of choice.

Hurt #3: I used the best programming tools I could find, either Watcom C/C++ or Borland tools. Well, Microsoft decided it wanted the market for development tools. So while Borland was trying to figure out how to access the secret unpublished parts of the Windows API, Microsoft was making products that were "better". By changing underlying mechanisms with each new version of Windows (from DDE to OLE, but you as an investor don't need the technical details, all you care about is stock price). If I wanted to program using the full range of tools that my competing developers were having access to by using Microsoft tools, I'd have to give up my Borland tools. That hurt Borland. That hurt me. So now I have to use Microsoft Visual Studio. The reason Visual Studio is the dominant tool on the market is because NOTHING ELSE WAS ALLOWED TO COMPETE. No competition == no innovation == mediocrity. Oh Visual Studio is pretty, we'll never know what else might have been.

Hurt #4: I discovered that I could write programs that could reach more than one platform. Freedom! I started to use Java. Well, Microsoft bundled a new tool in its Visual Studio -- Visual J++ -- that claimed to be a Java programming tool, but in fact allowed me to write code that would work BETTER ON WINDOWS THAN ON OTHER PLATFORMS. So if I chose to continue to use it, I would find that I was once again writing apps for Windows platforms only. That hurt the consumer, who was almost given an opportunity to get access to apps regardless of what platform it ran on. This one's not over yet, here's hoping.

Hurt #5: I'm a developer who has a HUGE IDEA -- I'm one of the founding programmers of a program called NCSA Mosaic. I start a small company. I release my tool -- it's called a web browser -- to the public. BOOM! Everyone loves it! I'm rich! And guess what, anything seen in my tool -- which is available on many platforms -- looks the same across the platforms. Freedom! No longer are we limited to only a certain kind of hardware and software! Only problem is... Microsoft asks me to give them rights to the Windows marketplace, and will allow me the other marketplaces. Otherwise if I don't agree, and want to compete with them on the Windows platform, they won't share with me the inner workings of their API. Well, OK, let's compete. Then I discover that I can no longer charge for my product because Microsoft has the capability to give their version away for free. (It wasn't a revenue source to begin with for them, and they have several cash cows to milk. See, they've been quietly ratcheting up the price of their OS and Office and tools, and have buyers hooked on an upgrade cycle.) That's OK, who needs revenue, right? I'll sell servers and give the browser away. But wait, now I can't even give the browser away even though its the better product because Microsoft is including theirs in Windows. It seems that users won't download my superior product since they've already got one built in. OK, I'll get it preinstalled by the hardware makers. Hmm the hardware makers won't talk to me -- if they do load my product, Windows will suddenly cost them more. Well, AOL could include it on their CD -- nope, AOL made some kind of deal with Microsoft (or Microsoft would've pulled AOL's signup icon from the desktop). That's OK I have the Mac market -- oh, Bill Gates just gave Steve Jobs a great deal of money to keep Apple afloat. In exchange for Apple making IE the default web browser on the Mac. (Also in exchange for Microsoft continuing development of Office for Mac -- if MS stops development Apple is out of business.) Sure you don't see any bodies laying around here yet? And then get this -- now that I have no revenue and I'm losing the capability to keep developers working I start falling behind Microsoft in terms of innovation -- and I get blamed for it! It's my fault that I'm getting so squeezed I can no longer compete and have to give my source code away so we all can continue to have guerrilla developers working on an alternative! Now Microsoft gets its market share -- and once IE becomes the default browser through sheer market pressure (you might call it competition, but it has more to do with inertia) -- they continue to flaunt the openly established standards which they don't control, in order to lock web developers into standards that they do control. Standards which lock users into Windows. Standards which raise the bar of entry for new developers. (New developers -- that's where innovation comes from isn't it?)

Oh yes and along the way, Microsoft is trying to grab the web server market by bundling their web server with NT (now 2000) and making it the only choice for certain MS enhancements to HTML and other web technologies.

Maybe now that I'm forced out of business and into bankruptcy as a software developer, I can try another business. Travel? Nope -- Microsoft's there. Ticket sales? nope. Car sales? Auctions? Web sites that are local travel guides? Streaming media? nope. joysticks? games? keyboards? GAME CONSOLES? Nope -- wherever I turn, there's Microsoft. I can go home and log into MSN and maybe post a little web site (using Front Page of course) and watch stock price and the board and get a little satisfaction when you bitch and moan about losing a little paper profit.

THE ONLY PEOPLE TO GAIN FROM THIS SCHEME ARE MICROSOFT SHAREHOLDERS. The only people who are defending Microsoft are Microsoft shareholders. Or so it seems to me, anyway.

And in the end, we're all going to suffer from the stifling of innovation coming out of Redmond.
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