THE WARPED PERSPECTIVE
I am standing in a long, straight line at a food
counter. There is a set of glass-enclosed food bins to my left. In front of me is
a long, straight row of red plastic food trays sitting on a metal rack at hip level.
Each tray is pushed down the line by a person who is trying to buy lunch. At the
end of the line, in front of the cash register, a burly-armed cook splats a huge
clod of mashed potatoes onto the tray. Afterwards, a dainty little waitress drops
a pinch of rainbow-colored candy sprinkles on top. The cashier rings up $8.95 and
drones loudly with a blank, empty stare to buyer after buyer.... "Greatness.
Fortunately, you and I don't have to eat in such an establishment. We can go somewhere
else, without penalty, without anxiety, without loss of job or reputation. There
is a large degree of freedom of choice in the market for foodstuffs. If I don't
like McDonald's burgers, I can go to Wendy's or Sonic or somewhere else. If I decide
I don't want burgers, I can go to KFC or Pizza Hut or Long John Silver's. If I decide
I don't want "fast food," I can sit down at a restaurant or a steak house
and, for just a few dollars more, enjoy a tasty platter of well-cooked food.
The computer market is not like that.
The PC software marketplace is an awful lot like the first example. People line
up, almost mindlessly, pay an overpriced bill, and receive a mish-mash of mediocre,
wimpy, undigestible trash. Marketing hype, exclusionary license agreements, and
short-term, profit-driven corporate cowardice make this situation a fact of life
in store after store. Sure, an experienced PC buyer can find an alternative-OS vendor
on the Internet, but the vast majority of first-time computer buyers get stuck in
line with the morons pushing "Greatness" onto each and every plate.
To argue that Microsoft is not a monopoly is foolishness. We might as well watch
a Department of Justice trial of a pizza vendor who has 90% market share not just
of pizza, but of all fast-food. Imagine hearing Janet Reno complete a day of discussions
with the government attorneys about "Gambino's Pizza" in a monopoly case,
and then casually asking, "Well, what kind of Gambino food shall we order tonight?"
Yes, you can order a Microsoft operating system from Compaq, IBM, Gateway, and the
other biggies, but not operating systems from other companies. This is a lot like
being able to get any color automobile as long as it is black, a la Henry Ford's
Model T cars. That is why the very Department of Justice that is prosecuting Microsoft
is also using Microsoft products, not the superior alternatives.
To argue that Microsoft has benefitted consumers by monopolizing the PC marketplace
is just as foolish. For example, some know-it-alls claim that Microsoft has helped
lower the price for PCs. If that was true, then why have computers just recently
dropped below $500, some 25 YEARS after they were originally introduced to the public?
Did VCRs take that long to become affordable? Did car stereos take that long to
become affordable? Did any information appliance in the second half of the 20th
century take 25 years to move from consumer introduction to consumer affordability
-- calculators, music CDs, television? No, of course not.
The reality of the PC marketplace is that Microsoft's domination of the operating
system has been very, very bad for the consumer. Consumers have had to pay far more
for their hardware than they would have with multiple, freely competing operating
system alternatives. Why? Because cheaper computers depend on having an operating
system that does not require expensive, high-powered hardware to run. Indeed, an
operating system like DOS could have been fixed to provide multitasking, crash protection,
and other high-end capabilities -- including full Internet access -- running on
a cheap 386 machine. (Ever hear of Quarterdeck DesqView?) Since the average consumer
does not perform three or four simultaneous tasks, the average price of a typical
home computer could have been $500 perhaps five or ten years ago. Since AMD and
Cyrix have long had the capacity to build 386-class CPUs, Intel's computer-chip
monopoly might even have crumbled faster, further dropping the cost of consumer
PCs. Thus, it was Microsoft's policy of killing off operating systems as soon as
there was cheap PC power available that unnaturally extended Intel's monopoly power
over the PC hardware market.
The price for the operating system itself has been elevated dramatically over the
past 20 years. From a low of $3 per copy in the early 1980s, Microsoft now charges
as much as $85 per copy to many small PC manufacturers. This $85 premium is often
more than the PC makers' hardware profit margins, which forces many small vendors
out of business and thus reduces competition in the PC marketplace. The operating
system is now the only truly high-margin item in the computer. Microsoft gets away
with this through a dual policy of discontinuing older, faster technologies like
DOS, while simultaneously discontinuing development support for older, more reliable
DOS applications. By creating an artificial shortage of high-speed software, Microsoft
creates an artificial demand for slower, low-quality junkware like Windows, as well
as the unnecessarily high-powered hardware to run these behemoths.
Speaking of "artificial shortages," most Microsoft products have artificially-shortened
life spans. Unlike VCRs and televisions which are subject to wear and tear according
to the laws of physics, software does not inherently "wear out." Therefore,
a copy of MS Office 4.3 from 1995 should theoretically work just fine for a lifetime.
Yet Microsoft uses a combination of unnecessary file format changes and intentional
discontinuation of production in order to force consumers to chase a "moving
target" of file compatibility with newer, slower, less-reliable versions of
MS products. To top it off, most (if not all) Microsoft products are doomed to failures,
glitches, and unpredictable actions as a result of the failure of MS developers
to design Year2000 compliance into their products. Microsoft products are designed
to become obsolete, despite the very real capacity of software to have an indefinite
Where does OS/2 Warp fit into this picture? IBM does not compete on price; they
compete on quality. How can OS/2 benefit the consumer, then, if it does not compete
on the basis of lower cost than Windows?
OS/2 can benefit the consumer by avoiding the very defects listed above. Using OS/2
does not exclude a PC user from using a lesser operating system such as Windows,
since Boot Manager and other boot loaders are available. IBM does not force PC makers
to load "OS/2 only" the way Microsoft does with Windows. OS/2 does not
have constant, unnecessary file format and API changes the way MS operating systems
and applications do. This protects the PC buyers' investments and keeps them off
the MS treadmill of constant, expensive change -- running full speed just to stay
in one place. Real innovation can be added to OS/2 because of its modularity, unlike
Microsoft's top-heavy, bloated code. OS/2 is practically guaranteed Y2K-ready by
IBM, where as Windows is best described as "Y2K-challenged." IBM does
not discontinue availability of an OS/2 version until a real and significant shift
in its user base has already occurred; that is, IBM responds to consumer choice
instead of forcing it. And of course the consumer's personal time is valuable. OS/2's
time-saving features such as greater reliability and superior background printing
and Internet file transfer save the consumer this valuable, irreplaceable resource.
Yet there is one more way in which OS/2 can be a cost saver for the typical PC consumer.
Since Microsoft plans to discontinue its DOS-based Windows operating systems and
force the marketplace toward the even slower, more-bloated Windows2000 line of products,
the hardware requirements of Windows will soon far outstrip the more modest requirements
of OS/2 Warp. Offering the consumer a Warp upgrade for their older PC will soon
be a far less expensive option than having them throw out their machine and start
over. Even PC upgrade requirements for Windows2000 will be far higher than for OS/2
version 4. This means an immediate, signficant, and most importantly VISIBLE cost
savings for the PC consumer who wisely says "NO" to Microsoft's next round
of wallet-on-a-string. Unlike the hardware situation of five years ago, saying "YES"
to OS/2 Warp is soon to be a very smart, money-saving event.
All things considered, Microsoft has been a poor steward of the power and influence
they have wielded over the PC marketplace. Willful obsolescence, reduced product
quality, and artificially inflated PC costs are the price that the consumer has
had to pay for almost an entire decade. It is time for Microsoft to begin atoning
for its woeful rule of incompetence, terror, and the cavalier disregard for the
best interests of consumers. Offering OS/2 gives the PC user a taste of true "Greatness."
Most recent revision: July 25, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.