|by Wes George
The Rise And Fall Of Microsoft's Empire
December 27th, 1999
It's the day after Christmas and I am surrounded by family and friends who won't let me concentrate on writing this week's article.
Ironically, I have a number of relatives who are intimately involved with other operating systems besides our sweet Mac OS. So, in the interest of hacking out an Apple Trader column by deadline, I subtly guided our conversation towards the future of operating systems while swilling spiked eggnog to the sound of carolers in the street below.
Some salient points were made as the evening drifted by.
The first and most counterintuitive opinion, at least for me, was expressed by my wife's cousin, an NT programmer. This super-geek believes that Microsoft's monopoly has been very, very good for information management because Redmond has unified the world under the umbrella of Windows. It is this standardization of Windows that has allowed IT to avoid becoming a tower of Babel where no two systems can effectively communicate with each other.
According to this admittedly biased NT programmer, it's a good thing that Microsoft dumped DOS--and that Windows remains proprietary--because the various DOS flavors were a source of endless suffering for software programmers since no application would run exactly the same on any two versions.
Furthermore, if the Justice Department splits Windows off from the rest of Microsoft's 600 billion dollar business, and/or makes make Microsoft distribute the source code for Windows, that'll be the dark dawn of a new age of confusion. All is not well in the Microsoft empire and the Windows patriots shake their heads disapprovingly over the recent turn of events.
In retrospect, my NT relative warns direly, history will label the 1990's as the decade of Pax Microsoft, a golden age of compatibility and service packs ruled by benevolent Emperor Gates!
As a member of the Mac Faithful, I noted this allusion to the era of forceful Roman peace would place us Macites in the role of the oppressed Hebrews.
My brothers, recent converts to Linux from Windows, concurred that Macheads are analogous to the Hebrews under Rome's thumb since the Mac OS is an Old Testament paradigm for operating systems--proprietary licensed and hard drive loaded.
Linux, these righteous converts claim, is the new open source OS that will ultimately conquer the Windows empire and push the Mac OS even further away on the back burner of history.
Open source is, they argue, what evangelical monotheism was to the priest-class pagan status quo of Roman times. Linux is a cleansing fire spreading rapidly through the dry ranks of confused and disenchanted pagan Windows users.
The metaphor breaks down here because Apple is only months away from releasing OS X which has an open source component based on a core of BSD Unix. Admittedly, OS X is just a beginning and in no way meets the standards of purity demanded by the open source zealots. It is entirely unclear just what sort of impact OS X may have on the wider world of operation systems outside the Mac Faithful.
Thus, unlike the Hebrew religion, which has not fundamentally changed since the advent of Christianity, the Mac OS is morphing towards the open source paradigm in one huge step for Mac users with OS X.
Three OS trends (Maybe four).
In our ramblings I discerned a couple of emergent gestalts that were not notable only a year ago.
The first is that the "heart-share" of programmers is migrating towards open source operating systems like Linux. Proprietary systems like the Mac OS and Windows are seen increasingly as dinosaurs in our networked world. The best and the brightest are fleeing the restrictive proprietary systems that serve only their master's fortunes for the amorphous, freewheeling world of organically grown OSs where a smart programmer can still make a name for herself. The evangelicals are no longer Mac.
The second is thin client computing has come of age. Again. Thin clients are computers or terminals that may have no hard drive and do all their work off a server over a network. It's the logical next step for, at the very least, business.
A full-blown Unix or Linux OS can take up to a gigabyte of hard drive space and requires an expert to comprehend. It's not efficient to require all workers in your business to know how to maintain their own individual operating systems while trying to become expert in whatever task is the main objective of their job.
Part of the slow advance in worker productivity witnessed this decade, as computers were adopted in all areas of business, is directly attributable to the difficulties workers have in learning the arcane art of OS maintenance.
The Macintosh approach to this problem is to make the Mac OS as user friendly as possible. The thin client approach promises to make computing more like using the phone. Forget knowing your computer even on friendly terms, the only question is whether the damn thing is plugged in.
You can also forget about any personal privacy with network computers. Of course, experts are telling me that in our increasingly networked world, even with private hard drives and firewalls, the concept of privacy is up for a major gutting.
The third major shift coming soon is that Microsoft is very likely to face "remedial" business structural changes imposed upon it by the Justice Department. Windows may be forced into an open source arrangement. Microsoft may be broken up.
It is widely believed by many that Win2000 will face a slow adoption rate by business and a near zero adoption rate by consumers in 2000 as the world watches and waits as the DOJ case proceeds.
This delay will give the wildfire of Linux a chance to spread further than it might and give the Mac OS X a shot at radically increasing its market share in the consumer OS market space. Meanwhile, the likes of Oracle and Sun Microsystems have begun subtle fear, doubt and uncertainty campaigns directed at Win2000.
Apple is in need of some new business alliances--analogous to the Apple-IBM-Motorola alliance that brought us the RISC microprocessor--to capitalize on the paradigms of open source and network computing as Microsoft's empire enters its twilight years.
What's all this mean for OS X? Maybe MacWorld will cast some light in our direction. One thing is for sure: we live in a time of exponentially increasing opportunity for the Mac platform unlike any we've seen since the early 1980s.
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Wes George writes about the financial side of being a Mac nut. Wes has followed Apple's finances for the last 7 years and comes to The Mac Observer every Monday to tell all about his opinions. He is, in his own words, "inordinately fond of money." If you would like to write Wes, make it nice. Someday you might own a company that has something to do with Apple, and Wes will probably still be writing for The Mac Observer...... On the other hand, Mr. George is known to love a rousing, hair-raising debate, so send him your worst!
Disclaimer: This column is for informational and entertainment purposes. While Mr. George may be sage indeed, his writings can not be construed as a solicitation to buy, nor an offering to sell any particular stock. As with any trading in the financial markets, you must use your own judgment to make the best trades that you can. Neither The Mac Observer nor Wes George may be held accountable for trading advice.