THE WARPED PERSPECTIVE
There are two types of criminals in America and
the world today. The first kind is the obvious kind of crook. For example, a murderer
or a thief or a wife-beater is obviously committing a criminal act. Nobody debates
whether the act they have committed is against the law; most people accept the idea
that such a person should be firmly punished for their despicable deed. The debate
generally revolves around just what sort of penalty is appropriate for such a crime.
The second kind of lawbreaker is harder to categorize, because he is not breaking
any of the written rules set in place by a governmental agency. This kind of person
gets an edge on the competition by violating the unwritten code of conduct, by stepping
outside of the bounds of polite and dignified human endeavor. In this case, we would
call such a person a "moral criminal" in that they appear to be only breaking
the unwritten moral codes of society instead of the more clearly delineated legal
statutes. A common example of the type of excuse rendered by such a person is the
infamous remark supplied by Vice President Al Gore to the charge of misappropriating
government property: "There was no controlling legal authority over what I
While the first kind of lawbreaker is seldom declared innocent (except in cases
of "jury nullification"), there is a common attitude of radical nonjudgmentalism
in modern society toward the moral criminal. The scoundrel, the rebel, the desperado
is sort of a folk hero who occupies the position of cultural role model. "I
wish I could get away with it like he does" is a common, unspoken fantasy among
many otherwise solid citizens who observe the slick wheeler-dealer's escapades.
Admiration and a touch of envy are far more common than anger or any desire for
punishment. Occupying the role of moral criminal is often considered a sign of bravery,
as if the underdog is justified in cutting a few corners because they are really
just fighting for the little guy, the regular man on the street.
And this is the position that was recently occupied by Microsoft -- the position
of a company that never broke any of the "real" laws, but merely fought
a little harder and maybe a little dirtier than the competition. But that was acceptable,
that was not something to be judged or condemned, because Microsoft was really looking
after the interests of the "little guy," the average computer user. And
besides, nobody was committing any crimes because Microsoft was never caught breaking
Read carefully the following excerpts from an internal Microsoft memo released during
the ongoing federal antitrust case:
" TABLE II-1
MICROSOFT STRATEGIES TO KEEP THE MARKET FROM
CENTERING ON THE LOW COST PC
..... PREVENT LOW-END SYSTEMS FROM EXPANDING MARKET SHARE
Resist <1k PC royalty price decreases firmly"
"We expect the following to happen:
1. Moderately more volume by finding new buyers who can now afford to buy PCs (This
should be true for consumers as well as small biz).
2. Acceleration of replacement cycles (knowing that 80M cannot run NTW or WIN98)
3. Shortening of PC "life time" in general."
SOURCE: DT OS Pricing Strategy: Memorandum from Joachim Kempin to Bill Gates, December
Well, what have we here? In order to understand
just what Microsoft is doing to the PC marketplace, let us translate this memo into
more mundane terms. Instead of an operating system being licensed to PC makers,
we will consider the case of automobile tires being licensed to car manufacturers.
Now imagine the following memorandum from the tire company's chief licensing officer
to his CEO:
"Our plan is to prevent the growth of the sub-$20,000 car market. We must resist
price decreases in our tire deals with these low-cost car makers, forcing them to
sell expensive cars instead. That way we can charge even more for our tires! As
a result of this plan, we can influence the auto makers to sell only to the upper-middle-class
car buyer. In fact, growth in the market for cars will be mostly due to rich people
buying second or third cars. Forget the poor saps who cannot afford a $20,000 car!
Also, we will change our tire design every few months, forcing the wealthy suckers
to buy new cars more often just to be able to find tires that fit. Eighty million
drivers cannot use our latest tire designs, so they will have to buy a new car as
soon as their tires wear out! Hahahahaha! The life cycle of a car will become shorter
and shorter, so we will be able to sell more and more tires to these car makers."
Could things be any clearer than that? Microsoft is apparently engaged in a conspiracy
to commit price-fixing in the market for personal computers. Note that: price fixing
not merely in the O.S. marketplace, but in the P.C. marketplace itself. Note also
that Microsoft is not practicing collusion with any O.S. competitors because it
does not have to. Microsoft has a literal monopoly on the price of P.C. operating
systems; otherwise, this scheme would require collusion with their competitors.
Microsoft has thus crossed over from a type-2 criminal who has the silent blessing
of a rebellious public cheering for an industry underdog. The ruffians from Redmond
now firmly occupy the position of type-1 crook practicing monopoly price-fixing
in addition to their other dirty deeds. This is no longer a case of smarmy sneaks
whose tactics are open for debate; this is now a clear-cut case of a full-blown
monopolist engaged in price-fixing, with the public interest thrown into the dumpster.
The mask is off.
Most recent revision: February 26, 1999
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.