Is Microsoft The 'Puffy Combs' Of The Computing Industry? Probably.
February 16th, 2000

If it ain't shipping, it's vaporware



I read with interest the news reports and editorials vulturing around Microsoft's upcoming "Windows XP." I'm sure you did, too.

I didn't pay attention to much of the criticism, especially that penned by Mac users -- after all, our knees jerk in quicker reaction to Microsoft news that the rest of computer fandom.

Instead of reading what people said about Windows XP (second-hand sources), I went to Microsoft's Windows XP Web site (the horse's mouth). What stood out in my mind, after a cursory glance through the site, wasn't what was presented as the look-and-feel of the OS upgrade, but, rather, what was missing from the Windows XP web pages and from the Bill Gates introduction earlier this week: Windows XP itself.

You see, when Apple revealed OS X to the world, Apple gave us a full-working product -- okay, okay, so what actually happened was that we all burned for one another underground copies of DP3, DP4, etc. The main argument is still the same: Apple appears to have the philosophy that no app should cause the spotlights to shine before its time.

Microsoft, by contrast, is a different animal.

The timing of this announcement causes one to eye it askance. To wit: Apple's OS X is about to settle onto store shelves. Juxtapose this with the fact that Microsoft just released Windows Me, and Windows 2000 has only been out for less than a year.

This leads me to two views on Windows XP:

1) What this could imply is that OS X is being seen as a serious competitor to Windows. Duh. (I say this, keeping in mind Bill Gates and other Microsoft higher-ups often view anyone with serious market share and mind share as a competitor, regardless of how small they are -- this means Apple has caught Microsoft's paranoid attention.)

If Microsoft still operates like the MS of old, one way to deal with competitors is to make a vaporware move – let's announce our unfinished product to steal the thunder from those who've actually produced something. This uncovers the scary truth that software development has an element of chance to it. Sure, Microsoft has something in the pipeline called Windows XP. But, there are aspects and features that will probably change in response to competition (remember the screenshots of "Whistler" that were circulating on the web?). If Apple is a serious competitor to Microsoft, Microsoft worries about it (my bet that is Apple has enterprise aspirations, contrary to its collective protestations, and will make a serious move to Microsoft's bread-and-butter market in due time).

Microsoft fears competition from anyone, be it Linux and OS X (on the enterprise), and Sony and Sega (on the games side). Hell, Microsoft probably has designs on Susie's lemonade stand on Grant Drive and Maple Street. It's not personal; it's business.

But, I digress…

2) Now, another theory of mine is that Microsoft doesn't give one whit about Apple as a market share threat, but a good idea is a good idea, and Microsofties have been looking jealously at Mac OS X since Day One. Hence, the "X" stylistic and thematic influences on Windows XP – coincidental, though they may be.

Many have already commented on the fact that Microsoft is gearing XP towards the "digital hub" stance that Apple is trying to carve out for itself. This me-too approach is nothing new on Microsoft's part. Soon after Apple released iMovie, f'rinstance, Microsoft released its Windows MovieMaker (or some title like that).

Why should anyone be surprised that Microsoft will take a page from Apple's play book whenever it can benefit the Redmond giant? That may have something to do with the cross-patent-licensing agreement of the 1997 Apple-MS détente, but I think it stems from an unwritten rule among computer and Microsofties -- Apple is the R-and-D of the computer industry. Apple is the House of Ideas. Microsoft is the House of Idea.

Microsoft is akin to the rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs, whose claim to fame is taking songs like Sting's "Every Breath You Take," slapping some half-assed rhymes along with the beat, and making a million dollars.

'Nuff said.

Meanwhile, there is much mileage to cover between Windows XP - the PowerPoint presentation, to Windows XP - the product.

And I, for one, look forward to it, believe it or not. I speak as someone who must use Windows in the workaday world (my job still has us all using Windows 95 -- I've mightily resisted getting Windows NT). Anything is an improvement over the current Windows interface, Windows 2000 notwithstanding.

When the product ships, that is where the true trial should begin. XP should be a solid product by then. Microsoft will have had more time to ape Apple. After all, OS X will have been on Macs around the world for a good many months by the time Windows XP has had its last bug squashed.

In spite of whether or not Windows XP copies OS X, we needn't get all hot and bothered. Apple is no longer dying, so who cares how Windows fares? In the scheme of things, I don't.

Your comments are welcomed.