Author's note:
This is a little essay I wrote up in a UBB message board, far away and removed from Everything. The original topic was the most recent yet another shooting at an American high school. My post was vaguely related to the shooting but mostly concerned with Microsoft, the Evil Empire. So yes, this is mostly a cut and paste writeup, but it's my own words and, more importantly, my own ideas which I wanted to share with a wider audience.
Information technology is rapidly becoming the heartblood of the world, a major driving force of technology, communication and things financial. Microsoft has been the world's largest player in this field for more than ten years now. Together with IBM and their PC, Microsoft has helped make computing available and accessible to everyone. So far, so good. My big problem with Microsoft is the fact that, ever since MS has grown large enough to have such influence on the world, it has pursued its business interests to the detriment of the quality of its products and the productivity of its users. In plain English:
  • MS has produced technically inferior products wherever this has helped them obtain or maintain a business advantage. I know of several examples of MS coding which is intentionally buggy so as to make it incompatible with competing products.
  • MS is using its financial clout to destroy competitors who have been producing innovative and useful alternatives to MS products. Netscape and Stac come to mind, but there are others.
  • MS adopts, subverts and then changes standards in ways that give MS products an advantage but reduce the usefulness of the standards to the IT world as a whole.
I can understand a company fighting to survive, even fighting to stay #1. But I fiercely object to a company doing things that globally slows the progress and development of a resource which is becoming more and more vital to the whole world. I'm convinced that billions and billions are wasted worldwide every month in lost productivity, compromised data, squandered resources and wasted time. I'm not talking about the inevitable problems and mistakes inherent in practically any software; I'm talking about very intentional design decisions to trade off product quality against power on the market.

I'd like to propose a little analogy:

  • Imagine that your city's municipal water supply was controlled by a privately-owned company. (This isn't the case now, is it?)
  • Imagine that they have a deal with a nearby chemical plant to dispose of some of their industrial waste - by mixing it in with your drinking water.
  • Imagine that people who are aware of the water's aftertaste are interested in buying bottled water from the supermarket, but this company happens to own the supermarket too, and make it a policy not to stock bottled water, or to "accidentally" break 50% of all water bottles in stock.
  • Imagine that they go into the bottled water business too, except they use tin cans, which are not as easily recycled as bottles. With the money they make from selling sewage-polluted tap water at a steep profit, they can afford to sell you canned water at 1 cent per can.
  • Imagine that there are stores in town other than the supermarket that want to sell bottled water (all brands), but that this company sets up private meetings with the storeowners, informing them that if they sell anybody else's bottled water, they will not be eligible for shipments of this company's water.
  • Unsurprisingly, the competitors that puts healthy water into recyclable bottles at a fair price go out of business.
Does this sound overdone? Far-fetched? Preposterous? I don't think my analogy is so far off. Computing has become almost as vital a resource as air and water. And there is one company controlling most of this resource. And it is using tactics which I as a software developer consider equivalent to mixing sewage into drinking water.

Again, I believe that the damage which Microsoft has caused with its predatory business tactics far exceeds Microsoft's gross turnover, impressive though it may be. I believe that tax money has been wasted by the bushel, that economies are ailing, that companies have gone out of business, that family fathers have lost jobs, partly due to some of the intentional actions of Microsoft. I believe that a healthy economy feeds its people and educates its children. Call me crazy, but I believe that, if you look very hard, you will see a faint but very real connection between the business practices of Microsoft and the incidence of violent crime in the US.

I swear by my house, my 5 PCs and my Cadillac that I am not a Communist. But I feel that when a business uses its stranglehold on a vital resource to the detriment of an entire nation, then it's time for the government to intervene. This is what we pay taxes for. It's their job - unless they happen to be on Microsoft's payroll.