Understanding Microsoft

Part 19. Bridge Players

Most games have a simple objective: outscore the opposition. Usually, this involves achieving some identifiable objective or goal, such as completing a set of matched cards or reaching a board position before the opposition does. Occasionally, however, we run across a game that can be won or lost in spite of who reaches the stated objectives first. One such game is the card game "bridge," which involves two sets of partners battling to reach 100 points first.

Each hand or round of bridge can involve point totals of as little as 20, or as great as hundreds of points. Often the players will compete in a best-two-out-of-three manner, so that achieving 100 points first must be done twice in order to complete the victory. Since the hands are worth such a wide range of points, it may take quite a few hands of play to finish a match. The most interesting scoring is what happens during an unsuccessful bid, however. There is a proportional penalty of 50 points and up for failing to accomplish the stated goal or "bid" for any of the rounds. In this case, the opposition "defenders" attempting to spoil the "contract," as it is called, may also challenge for double points. The pair attempting to complete the contract may "re-double" or challenge the defenders for quadruple points.

By now you may have noticed that the penalties for failing can often outstrip the rewards of winning. Since the game continues until one side or the other has reached 100 points -- and usually this must be done twice in three tries -- there may be a large number of "failed contracts" and the associated penalty points. Since final victory is accomplished by whichever side has more total points -- penalty points included -- it is often more lucrative to simply benefit from successfully preventing the opposition's attempts at achievement than to produce direct success. It is quite possible to win convincingly in total points without ever having accomplished a single victorious round!!

This strategy of cashing in on the opposition's losses -- without producing a quality achievement on one's own part -- is very similar to the Microsoft strategy of making life difficult for companies that have products superior to Microsoft's. For example, if a company has to expend extra time, money, and resources to place its products in front of the customer (for example, because of Microsoft's monopoly control of operating systems), then Microsoft itself does not have to produce a good product at all. Instead, by continuing to erect barriers to success, they can wait until the opposition has run out of resources and is too weak to continue the challenge. The consumer never knows about the opposition's superior sotware products, because the opposition has weakened itself by expending extra resources to overcome the market obstacles erected by Microsoft. Eventually, many companies with superior products find themselves able to win only an occasional small round while doling out the monetary equivalent of penalty points just to stay in the game.

Thus in the long run, Microsoft does not have to produce quality products, it only has to prevent the opposition from making a profit on their products. Sooner or later the other guys run out of money.

Most recent revision: January 3, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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