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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

The Freedom To Innovate? What A Load Of Bull!
November 12th, 1999

What a load of crap! Microsoft's legions have been screaming this phrase, The Freedom to Innovate, so much that it is becoming a mantra. It seems as if they think if they say the word "innovate" enough times when referring to Microsoft, it will somehow make it true.

Microserfs: The Freedom to Innovate, The Freedom to Innovate
Bill: Can we say it all together? It'll make things better!
Microserfs: The Freedom to Innovate, The Freedom to Innovate
Bill: Scream a little louder, my faithful cannon fodder!
Microserfs: The Freedom to Innovate, The Freedom to Innovate
Bill: It may not be all true, but it's gonna have to do.
Chorus: The Freedom to Innovate, The Freedom to Innovate

Immediately following Judge Penfield Jackson's Finding of Facts released last Friday, Microsoft's top executives hit the airwaves saying loud and clear to all who would listen, that Microsoft wanted to settle the case with the DOJ, with one caveat. That caveat was repeated even more often than their being willing to settle, and it was that they had to preserve their freedom to innovate. There is no doubt that many of the Microsoft drones out there buy this load of crap, perhaps millions of people even, but it doesn't change reality.

Microsoft has set up a special web site called The Freedom To Innovate Network, implying there were many participating members. As we said in The Mac Observer Spin in our coverage of this new site, it is a disgusting, yet pathetic attempt to hijack American imagery in their pursuit of their right to strong-arm the competition.

God forbid that they should lose that innovative freedom! Look at all the marvelous and innovative creations they have introduced to their loving users so far! Oh wait, that's right. They haven't innovated a damn thing unless you count the Blue Screen of Death. That's pretty innovative. Or how about the RadioShack store-within-a-store announced yesterday. Too bad no one else thought of that, but thank goodness Microsoft innovated the trail ahead!

And hasn't Mr. Gates seemed contrite with his earnest pleas to settle this nasty business? Time Digital reported:

"But in fact, much of Gates' speech [at the Microsoft annual shareholder meeting] was a reiteration of the kind of unhelpful rhetoric that has served as Microsoft's public face throughout the trial. Gates stayed 100 percent on message, insisting that through its antitrust action the Department of Justice is simply restricting Microsoft's right to innovate. "At the heart of this lawsuit is really one question," Gates said. "Can a successful American company continue to innovate and improve its products for the benefits of consumers?" This from the company that threatened to cancel Macintosh Office 97 if Apple didn't make Microsoft's Internet Explorer its standard browser."

I could hardly say it better myself.

Let me offer a couple of hints to Microsoft. If you want to keep your right to "innovate," then start competing on the basis of your merits rather than the strength of your market share. If the only way you can sell your products is to strong-arm other companies into not carrying competing products, you should not be in the business in the first place. Allow consumers to choose their solutions instead of eliminating the competition by buying them out or giving away your own products. In short, concentrate on making the best products, which Microsoft generally does not do, instead of controlling the marketplace. If you make the best product in a fair market not controlled by an individual company or consortium, you can usually make a good profit.

Ironically, in my opinion , Microsoft's best products are coming from their Macintosh Business Unit. I am still a fan of Office 98 for the Mac, though I could do without Outlook Express. Internet Explorer for the Mac is also a very strong product. Their IntelliMouse Explorer mouse for the Mac is simply the best USB mouse on the planet.

The American way, the true American way, is to earn your living by doing the best job you can. In Microsoft land, indeed in much of our country, that has been twisted into 'take your living from anyone stupid, weak, or slow enough to let you.' Just as with Microsoft's use of the American flag on their ridiculous Freedom to Innovate Network, this is a bastardization of capitalism amd the ideals on which this country were founded.

Microsoft's behavior as a corporate citizen has been appalling throughout much of its existence. I am not talking from a strictly Mac viewpoint either. In fact, Microsoft has sometimes been a friend to Apple going back to Mr. Gates trying to help Apple and John Scully license the Mac in the late 80's. No, Microsoft did not win the platform wars, Apple lost by being the most ineptly run company for more than a decade before Mr. Jobs came back to take control.

It is to their competitors and developers in the Windows world to whom they have done the most damage. Usurping product ideas developed by the truly innovative companies in the world has cost many a company their existence. The arbitrary warnings they inserted into DOS to threaten users of DR-DOS was a major crime that will still come back to haunt Microsoft (that lawsuit is still open I believe, though it has changed hands as DR-DOS has changed hands). Then there are the strong-arm tactics they have used on computer manufacturers by threatening to withdraw their Windows license if they didn't ship Internet Explorer with each computer or if they didn't ship it as the default browser. Of course there is also Apple with Microsoft usurping the Mac's look and feel (though they had a license to do so), as well as numerous other transgressions.

But all that aside, someone in Redmond needs to sheen over to a Starbucks and smell the Frappucino. Microsoft does not innovate and never has. Everything they have done has been done elsewhere first. They don't develop new products, they buy or usurp them. Innovation is what a company like Apple (even in the heyday of its most badly managed years), or the original Palm Computing does. It's what game developers like id Software do. It is not developing a product called Money and then trying to buy the marketshare leader, Intuit, when their own products fail to gain a commanding market share.

Your comments are welcomed.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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