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Charles Darwin Would Be Proud: On Microsoft's Supposed Plan To 'Embrace, Extend & Extinguish' TC

Charles Darwin Would Be Proud: On Microsoft's Supposed Plan To 'Embrace, Extend & Extinguish' TCP/IP

by , 9:00 AM EDT, August 8th, 2001

Fame is proof that the people are gullible.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

No one ever went broke underestimating
the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Lord Acton

Between the years 1831 and 1836, Charles Robert Darwin served as a staff naturalist for a British expedition aboard the H. M. S. Beagle. After that and subsequent years of studying plant and animal life around the world, Darwin formulated theories on the origins of life on Earth, most notably in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life -- known simply as The Origin of Species. Ostensibly, the most controversial theory in his body of work -- evolution notwithstanding -- is the process described by Darwin as "natural selection," known colloquially as "survival of the fittest."

For the uninitiated, natural selection is based on the premise that organisms grow and reproduce. Duh. Darwin builds on this, saying that since reproduction is virtually unlimited and unrestrained among animals (and some people), and resources such as food and shelter are comparatively limited, species must compete for these resources. Many species, according to Darwin, have traits that aid them in this struggle for life; others have less favorable traits, hence, a lower chance of surviving the "competition." They don't last.

Enough of the school lesson.

This element of Darwinism came to mind while reading the latest installment in the natural selection process otherwise known as Microsoft's business tactics.

We are not regular readers of Robert X. Cringely. Maybe we have no taste; we don't know.

Last week, however, we moseyed on over to read his latest column at PBS.org, provocatively titled "The Death of TCP/IP." Cringely, cyber gadfly and the Internet equivalent of Hollywood's Rona Barrett, is known for publicly calling Steve Jobs a sociopath and Bill Gates an egomaniac (or was that vice versa?) on a regular basis, as well as being a fount of industry rumor. So, it's no surprise that this time, he has in his rhetorical crosshairs everyone's favorite evil corporate empire known around The Mac Observer forums as "Micropoly."

Our goal wasn't to rehash Cringely's conspiracy theory here, but we feel compelled for those who may not have read Mr. Cringely's column. Mr. Cringely says he has heard information that suggests that Microsoft is deliberately making Windows XP less secure than it otherwise might be, and there are two reasons for this. The first is that the company's only criteria for deciding on whether or not to add new features or services to Windows is whether or not that service or feature will increase Microsoft's market share in one market or another. The second is that the company is hoping to scare the bejesus out of the Internet-using world, coercing them into accepting a proprietary communications protocol that is owned (and licensed out) by Microsoft. They would, in effect, be collecting a toll for every bit of data that traverses the Internet through their protocols. Scary thought? That's what we thought.

Let's just say that it all sounds like classic Microsoft -- a most-damnable and extreme derivation of Microsoftian FUD, downright evil if it's true. What we wanted to do was to run tangentially with a thought that Cringely stressed in his column. He makes a cogent observation about Micropoly that has a great chance of being a truism, and allow us to be redundant: Micropoly's every initiative -- be it a new feature in Windows, a new hardware product or a new software product -- is launched based on one, overriding criteria: will this initiative increase M$'s market share? We agree with Cringely.

Can we get an amen? We knew we could.

However, this has gotten us thinking. People look at Microsoft's tactics as cold-hearted, evil intentions to "try to take over world," as Pinky and the Brain would undoubtedly say. But there is a simpler, more obvious way of looking at this. We think that Microsoft's continued quest for more and ever more computing dominance can be traced to one of the oldest motives known to man: petty jealousy. Follow us here.

Life imitates commerce
It can be argued that a company is in many ways an outgrowth of its CEO's personality, biases, quirks and desires, as well as that of any other personalities that are integrally and intimately associated with the corporation. Nowhere is this as true as with Apple and Microsoft. This corporate personality can be reflected in the company's "relationships" with other corporations, which are similarly outgrown from their respective management personalities. Take Apple and Microsoft as examples…

The Steve Jobs-Bill Gates rivalry is the stuff of legend. Steve Jobs is obsessed with doing great things. Bill Gates is obsessed with being like Steve Jobs, great things and all. Steve Jobs is Bill Gates' idol, whether Gates admits it or not. So in addition to Cringely's assessment of Microsoft's modus operandi, we can also argue that Microsoft's business strategy is also following Apple's (Steve Jobs's) lead.

Think about it. Many people think that Bill Gates is obsessed with the pursuit of money. We suffer no such illusion. While we are sure that Mr. Gates appreciates the wealth he has amassed, we don't think he could care less about adding another farthing to the pile of loot he already owns. No, gold has little allure for the world's richest man; it is winning that he is obsessed with. He must win, he must conquer, he must have every bit of everything he sets his sights on. That's really all he cares about in the world of business. And right now, he has money. What he doesn't have is admiration -- like his idol Steve Jobs. Gates will not rest until he is number one in everything, including admiration.

Once more, we believe that Mr. Gates is (still) obsessed with Steve Jobs and his genius. Our "evidence" is wholly circumstantial: things such as "Luna," which was the name given to the default Windows XP theme a few months after Aqua was announced; Windows XP was so named a year or so after Mac OS X was officially dubbed with that name; Microsoft's consumer video editing software was announced as "a truly innovative" concept three months after iMovie was introduced, etc. We believe that Mr. Gates is terribly frustrated that Steve Jobs leads a company that makes beautiful and functional things every day, while Microsoft's (non-Mac) products are boring, ugly, and inelegant no matter how you look at them.

This is the biggest motivation of the Great Follower. To become a great, much-loved company is probably Gates' fondest wish. What better way to do that than to shoehorn your corporate presence into every nook and cranny of the public consciousness. "Sell the 'digital-hub' idea? Hell, we will be the digital hub for everyone!"

With that in mind, we have no problem believing that Microsoft has some sort of cockamamie plan to try and replace TCP/IP with its own proprietary system. That fits with every single other strategy that the company has ever pursued. Smart Tags, Hailstorm and Passport are merely the most recent schemes by the company to try to control (and therefore, derive a revenue stream from) every aspect of the Internet, and TCP/MS will not be the last. It won't even be the worst of them, either. We are thoroughly convinced that Hailstorm/Passport are clearly the most evil of Microsoft's near-term offerings, but that's the subject of another column.

All that said, we believe that the final analysis will prove that Microsoft has really gotten ahead of itself and is going to lose this ostensibly control-freakish battle for TCP/IP if it pursues that path. We believe that this scheme will be thwarted for one, sole reason. Granted that Microsoft controls the lion's share of the computing industry, it does not control the brains of the true innovators. This will be Microsoft's undoing. The true innovators in the industry see through Microsoft, and will not brook this continual quest for power. One day, some movement spearheaded by the industry's true leaders (Apple, the Open Source Movement, et al) will play David to Microsoft's Goliath, and, as they say, "the bigger the are; the harder they fall." Stay tuned for the Big Fall. It may not happen today, this week, or even this year. But it will happen if Microsoft continues striving to be the biggest instead of the best.

Mark our words.

For further reading:

Rodney O. Lain thinks we should not stop Micro$oft from doing foolish things like Smart Tag, Hailstorm and M$ TCP -- letting the company continue unrestrained will just pave a speedier path towards the company's breakup. Meanwhile, he will keep writing his "iBrotha" column for The Mac Observer. Bryan Chaffin usually holds forth from his The Back Page column. He thinks that Bill Gates stands in his mirror and practices keynote speeches, where he gets to say, "and one more thing…" -- just like his idol, Steve Jobs.

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