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June 23rd, 2000

[Analysis] Microsoft's The Universal Canvas Universal Rip-Off
by Wes George

In what must be the most pitiful irony of the week, Microsoft -- with no tongue-in-cheek -- unveiled a brazenly bold plan to dominate the world and dubbed this evil scheme Microsoft.Net.

Once again, Bill Gates is on TV repeating that Microsoft has not altered their business strategies one iota in response to the ongoing antitrust trial. And you have to believe him after the "universal canvas" announcement this week.

Microsoft's latest scheme is nothing less than a centrally controlled networked operating system that would own every function of your new Internet appliance. It makes perfect sense from a profit-driven corporate point-of-view -- unless your company has been found guilty in Federal court of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act! It makes much less sense for a consumer looking for choice or an independent software developer looking for an opportunity to innovate.

The thrust of Microsoft.Net is to Vulcan mindmeld the operating system to centralized Microsoft servers by making the browser and the OS one piece of software. All access to information, services, or other applications are controlled from this "universal canvas." And the universal canvas is directly linked to Microsoft at all times. No more passing that MS Office CD around anymore. Thanks to the power of XML and broadband -- or at least broader band -- there are new ways for corporations to control our lives while ostensibly providing a service and protecting their property rights.

The universal canvas will log-on to the MS system of servers whenever your new web device is turned on. One can be reasonably sure that unlicensed software won't be compatible. Technically, even transferred documents created on unregistered MS Office suite software could be tracked, deleted or held as criminal evidence. Worse, Bill Gates even admitted on the Nightly Business Report that although Microsoft.Net is going to be using some open Internet standards, the MS applications appendaged to the universal canvas will run better than third party software. So much for Microsoft's promise to not tweak Internet standards to their advantage.

Part of Microsoft.Net is a scheme for Microsoft to reel back control of its software empire to its own servers. After all, when you "buy" a shrink-wrapped box o' MS Office, you are really buying a limited license, not the code. It's like renting a car, only the software industry has, until now, allowed you to keep the car in your garage instead of returning it to their service center when not in use.

One of Microsoft.Net's primary benefits for Microsoft is to tightly integrate control of the licensing process. The universal canvas OS creates a single all encompassing networked environment to umbrella all of the software giant's intellectual property. On one end is you, tapping on the keyboard, on the other end is Microsoft. Oh, and everything in between is Microsoft's too. The end result of this evolutionary spiral is that eventually you own nothing, but pay for everything.

Microsoft is demonstrating that when it comes to developing schemes to reap maximum profit from its products through creative leveraging of its monopoly, the company is a powerhouse of innovation -- a true leader in the nascent field of manipulating Internet standards for corporate profit at the expense of the common good.

Redmond is famous for reverse engineering. (The science of deconstructing a piece of software then rebuilding it in a way that is just different enough to avoid patent or copyright violations. RE must include the work of diligent legal staff as well as code sharks.)

Microsoft.Net represents a whole new class of retro-research and development. It's the tailoring of a complex system to appear to be a naturally evolved and inevitable paradigm of value to all, while actually being a contrived environment designed to deliver the maximum wealth towards a single master. The ultimate example of this type of proprietary information environment is found only in fiction as the alien conspiracy utilizing humans as battery cells in the movie The Matrix.

Billed as a feature, not a rip-off, Microsoft.Net promises to unload the burden of those pesky independently produced, stand-alone applications with a single browser/operating system containing, or having links to, every application you might need -- e-mail, chat, IM, word processing, database, telephony, calendar, speech, games, etc. Everything would come from one source -- Microsoft.

Bill Gates describes Microsoft.Net as the way of the future and appropriately the company is betting their future on it. The Redmond giant is pouring $2 billion dollars over the next two years into

The benefits to consumers will be a unified, standardized platform for coordinating calendars, documents and communication with others using Microsoft's universal canvas, NT or Windows systems.

Surely, the company's goals must be to dominate the nascent consumer web access device OS and application marketplace in an even more insidiously complete way than Windows dominates the PC desktop today.

The higher courts, to which Microsoft's appeal now goes, must be watching with one eyebrow raised in awe.


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