Originally Published: Sunday, 14 November 1999 Author: John E. Vincent
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

MS vs DOJ: True Innovation

I'm a geek. More specifically, I'm a computer geek. I use Linux and I like it. I advocate it whenever possible. The only reason I say all this is to somehow qualify me for what I am about to write. Anyone could write this and most already have, but I want to offer my viewpoint. Of course I'm talking about the Microsoft anti-trust trial....

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I'm a geek. More specifically, I'm a computer geek. I use Linux and I like it. I advocate it whenever possible. The only reason I say all this is to somehow qualify me for what I am about to write. Anyone could write this and most already have, but I want to offer my viewpoint. Of course I'm talking about the Microsoft anti-trust trial.

I don't like Microsoft for the most part. You see I'm a network administrator. I deal with all flavors of UNIX and all flavors of Microsoft platforms. There are days, like the ones I had this past week, in which I curse Bill Gates and his company with every breath. I curse the fact that they have taken proven standards and done just enough to make them non-standard. I curse the fact that everything has to be so convoluted when all I really would prefer to do is edit a configuration file and restart a service. I want log files that I can "tail -f" and see exactly what is happening. I want control over my servers. Microsoft has taken that control away.

Then I stop to clear my head and realize that, if not for Microsoft, I probably would not be in the position I am today. Of course we used Apple II's when I was in grade school and I learned BASIC on an Aquarius (anyone remember those?), but that was about the extent of my computer knowledge until I graduated from high school. I didn't have a PC at home until after I graduated. When I did get back into computing it was with DOS and a bit later, Windows 3.1. It all came naturally to me. I think that the ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) helped a bit. I decided to pursue my MCSE. I even passed Windows NT 3.51 Server and Workstation. But I discovered Linux and since that day my knowledge has grown tenfold. No longer was everything handed to me on a plate. I had to figure things out on my own and it was A Good Thing.

But it started with Microsoft. Whatever you think about Microsoft's business practices, you can't deny the many positive things they have done for the world of personal computers. Some would argue that we would have gotten there eventually, but how long would it have taken? Would we still be in an era of command-line operating systems (not that there is anything wrong with that)? Would the landscape of technology be where it is today if it were not for a company like Microsoft forcing its way into the world? I don't think so. You can thank Bill Gates for getting the PC into homes and making it easy enough for the average Joe. Now you may say "what about Steve Jobs and Apple?" I say that things would be farther behind if the desktop market were controlled by Apple. Don't get me wrong, I like Apple too, but at least with Microsoft you get a command shell (no matter how useless it is). Let's not turn this into a flame war on operating systems, though. This is my opinion, however useless you may find it to be.

Getting back to the matter at hand, what "good" has Microsoft accomplished? Whenever I get frustrated and think that we would all be better off without Windows, I think about a commercial that Microsoft put out last year. It's with one about Microsoft developers talking about making computers accessible to the handicapped. At the end of the commercial you see the developer grabbing his cane and finding his way out the door. He is blind, you see. Innovation costs ... a lot. Microsoft has the money to back it.

Is Microsoft a monopoly? Definitely. Do they deserve to be punished? Oh yes. Did Windows NT breed a generation of worthless system administrators who can do nothing but regurgitate information that would get them nowhere if the problem fell outside what they've learned? You betcha. Is Bill Gates the anti-Christ? No. You and I both know this. Of course he used his muscle and money to kill smaller companies, absorb others and destroy anyone who got in his way, but you can't deny that he is a smart businessman. He knew what it would take to make computing a part of everyday life.

I think we are now at the point where we can do without Windows. The world's technology sector has evolved to the point that if Microsoft were to disappear, someone else could easily step in and fill the market for a consumer operating system. Linux, xBSD and others have already started replacing the server market. With that we get a new generation of system administrators and network administrators who actually know what they are doing and can do more than point and click. But as for the desktop market, we will never get that. I wouldn't install a Linux machine for my mother to use as her computer at home. Not yet anyway. She doesn't want to know the internals. She wants to send e-mail, browse the Web and write documents that she can share with others. She wants one-touch scanning for her pictures.

What should the government do at this point? Fine Billy Boy and his crew? It wouldn't matter if they did. They'll recoup the fine in less than a year. Force them to open up the source code? I don't want the government to have that kind of control over a company, Microsoft or otherwise. Our hallowed leaders have already proven that they just don't get it.

So what do they do then? I say they should break up the company. Split up into two divisions: Operating Systems and Applications. The judge has argued in his finding of facts that Microsoft has hurt the consumer market. If you force them to break up, we may see more innovation from the applications group like never before. They would not be restricted to coding for Windows only. We may see open file formats that people can use. Think about how much better StarOffice and similar projects would be if an applications branch could release file specs openly without fear of angering the gods on high? This would allow for more competition. If the applications branch wants to make money, they will have to cater to all popular operating systems, not just Windows and Macintosh. I would buy a copy of Office for Linux, if it were available. I need compatibility with the rest of the office when it comes to document sharing, spreadsheet sharing and the like. I would buy a copy of "Age of Empires: Age of Kings" for Linux if it were available.

You may disagree with everything that I've said here. You may say that I am a secret Microsoft mole sent to cloud the minds of the true believers. I say to you, go back and read the Advocacy HOWTO. Each OS has its place. Windows had its place and still does. Break Microsoft up and let them really innovate.

John E. Vincent is network administrator and consultant in the Atlanta, GA area. He's been using Linux for 5 years and has two turntables and a microphone. Check him out at http://www.lusis.org.

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