Originally Published: Friday, 28 April 2000 Author: Rob Bos
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Death Penalty

In the spirit of enlightened compromise, many people suggest nice, neat, idealistic penalties to the Microsoft problem: breaking them up, setting legal limits on their powers, or requiring the US government to use free software. Let me suggest a slightly more hardline position.

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In the spirit of enlightened compromise, many people suggest nice, neat, idealistic penalties to the Microsoft problem: breaking them up, setting legal limits on their powers, or requiring the US government to use free software. Many of these are very good, and very cogent ideas have been put forth over just what should be done about Microsoft's abuse of its monopoly power.

The problem with compromises, however, is that they arise out of extreme positions. When reasonable people negotiate, and start with a compromise, they end up getting negotiated into a solution that is far more favourable to the extremist position. Already Microsoft is seeking to barter that solution down.

So, let me suggest a slightly more hardline position. Maybe if we had started from this point we'd have Microsoft themselves screaming for a "mere" two hundred billion dollar fine or two.

Forget breaking up this company. Render it to raw materials. Seize its assets, hold it in trust for its employees and shareholders and sell it off, using the proceeds to fund the development of free software. Freely license the Windows source code to any of a thousand takers, and let the operating system fragment, diverge, and grow into a thousand niches.

In short, completely destroy Microsoft as a corporate entity in its current form. Apply the death penalty.

There's plenty of good reasoning behind it. Microsoft's free cash alone would more than assure that each and every one of its employees retire very wealthy; its owned companies, properly managed, could provide funding for shareholders for several decades. Its personnel, given their compensation packages, would be free to not work for a very long time and start their own companies, or even work on free software projects. The expertise that has long been trapped in the stifling proprietary Microsoft can be freed upon the world at large, where it can breathe and advance computing even faster than it does today.

Microsoft's consistent overpricing and poor product design can be seen as a form of stealing directly from the consumer's pocket. Steal from one person, and you are called a robber. Steal from a hundred million, and you are a noble capitalist, worthy of protection in the fantasy world of business! That noble title, Capitalist, which excuses one from moral responsibility and gives rational rhyme and reason to atrocities the world over, must not rationalise this, too. The convenient and odious concept of "charging what the market will bear," or translated, "pegging the suckers for all they're worth," can't excuse the alleged actions of Microsoft.

Starting with a compromise is a bad idea when you're negotiating. In situations like this, a compromise might even be a dangerous idea, giving a solution that is satisfactory to no one at all, much less the people charged with enforcing the law of the land. Law should ideally admit no compromise. Sometimes, the extremist position is the most rational.

Rob Bos (rbos@linux.com) is a little frustrated at all the waffling going on in the computer industry right now, and needed to blow off some steam with a little sarcasm. Please don't take this piece too seriously.





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