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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Don't Kill Microsoft, Watch It Crumble By Itself
December 7th, 1999

Historically, empires always fall. No matter how they dominated their continents - especially Europe - they could not last forever. Rome looked invincible, it fell. The Spanish? They slowed down with time. The Ottoman Empire? Same thing. Napoléon's France? Too many enemies teamed up against him. Germany? Same phenomenon. What is the next dominate country that is bound to fall one day? Well... quite a few of you live in it :-)

How does an empire fall? Usually, it's from the inside. Sometime it's because of overwhelming opposition by an alliance of numerous enemies. The latter might not be able to stop the empire individually, but when they team up, resistance becomes futile.

Now, transfer this analogy to computing, and let's start with the enemies first.

Microsoft dominates the following markets: consumer operating systems with Windows, server software with Windows NT, business software suites with Office, etc etc. Its business practices oppress its competitors. The browser war is a good example, Netscape Communications receives an unfair competitive disadvantage because Internet Explorer is a part of Windows 98 and Microsoft threatened to pull Windows licensing from computer manufacturers who did not make IE their default browser. Those kinds of threats not to release software are used to make sure that other companies do things the Microsoft Way.

Throughout the years, Microsoft signed deals but also made enemies, even among its partners. It earned the attention of the United States Department of Justice too. The DOJ folks and politicians such as Janet Reno might not be computer experts, but when they decide to put a stop to something, they just refuse to let go. It reminds me of the attitudes from the allied powers that beat Napoléon and formed the Sainte-Alliance at Vienna in 1815... and the Allies in the 1940's.

History shows that no matter how powerful your army is, politics are going to kill you. If you harm too many competitors, not only they will get tired of it, but they will regroup (together) and get rid of you. When it comes to enemies, the only possible thing for Bill Gates to do is to use his expert lawyers to gain time and delay the inevitable from the DOJ and other companies. Unfortunately for him, even the best army cannot stop a coalition.

On the other side, and as I said earlier, empires fall by themselves. Why? It is very simple. I will use yet another history/war analogy.

Lightning victories and conquests lead you to gain territory. But there is a boomerang effect. When you possess more ground, you have to cover it, extending your lines and your front. This forces you to use more resources to keep communication alive in all the parts of your empire. The bigger it gets, the more chances you have of losing control of the operations and the residents of the conquered territory. Many kings and emperors had to face this, quite a few of them failed. You end up having so much to take care of that you do absolutely nothing right.

This is what has happened to Microsoft. It conquered so many markets with so many types of products in so little time that no matter what it releases, nothing is good enough. A good example is the operating systems market with Windows. Whether it is 98, NT or the upcoming 2000... none is really suitable for its market. I read a pretty good analysis from Jesse Berst about it. I usually cannot stand his writings, but he made a lot of sense in that particular column. MS wants to dominate every market but ends up releasing products that only blind hardcore fans will love. Or to quote his words:

"He who attempts being strong everywhere... ends up strong nowhere."

Man, he hit the nail right on the head. Apply this to a lot of Microsoft products and you will find out that Linux and other UNIX flavors are better server solutions, the Macintosh is much simpler for consumers, we can all live without MSN and Internet Explorer to go on the Internet, and even Office is not so important if you know how to use alternative solutions.

It takes Microsoft an awful lot of time to release badly programmed software. It took three years to update and replace Windows 95 with Windows 98! If you used Windows 95 and 98, you might wonder why it took so much time for so little improvement. Do you sense something going wrong somewhere? Trying to do everything at once is going to sink your ship and this is what will happen to MS and many of its key products.

At the same time, it costs an awful lot of money to conceive and release intelligent and actually functional goodies such as Outlook Express 5.0 for Macintosh and the acclaimed IntelliMouse. If you need all your spare change to dish out poor products and extra efforts to do something right, you have a serious problem.

You know, consumers and corporate clients will need some time to realize it, but one day, they will think that Microsoft has not served their needs all that well. They will start looking for better solutions. Their desire will be to control the computer again, not allowing it to take over their timetables as has happened in recent years. They will want simplicity, instead of expensive technicians doing complicated setup and maintenance. Darn, it looks like what they will want... will be the Macintosh.

Microsoft's fall might not take place tomorrow, but as for any previous empire, time will do its job better than anyone. If you hate the company so much, enjoy watching it crumble slowly all by itself... while I am reading about Napoléon's rise to power :-)

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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