Understanding Microsoft

Part 3. The Fish Farm

Take a nice trip out to the countryside sometime, and visit a fish farm. You'll get to see the little minnows, the nice robust fish, and the Big Daddies growing in well-tended pools of water, filled with all sorts of nice food. You'll hear tales of how big those really big fish grow, and how the weaklings are harvested to make room for the big guys. From the fish perspective, of course, everything is just fine, until the day when the overseer comes and plucks them for his own purposes.

Instead of letting Darwinism runs its course, the fish farmer -- like any good breeder -- wants to speed things up just a little. Of course, he never makes a new species (not being a genetic engineer), but he at least gets to optimize the breed for size and flavor by cannibalizing the little guys, or tossing them out of the pond so the big guys get more food. Eventually, a fine breed of big fish lives in the pond, and these winners are used to populate ponds everywhere.

When software companies sprout like minnows throughout the economy, they all have ambitions of success. Some are bound to succeed and others to fail, simply because not all companies have the stuff that it takes to make and sell a quality product that satisfies a significant need in the marketplace. But instead of fighting just the forces of a market economy -- competitors, overhead, and the like -- there is another nemesis who seeks their demise for a larger goal: Microsoft.

Like some kind of fish farmer intent on taking the best stock for himself, Microsoft constantly searches the software business for any company that outdoes Microsoft in something: in databases, in network management, or especially the Internet. Microsoft will not mess around and take the chance that this little company will grow up big and strong, having some kind of leverage in the marketplace. Instead, Microsoft will find the right moment to swoop in, cannibalize the little guy, and use the resources of the once-entrepreneurial company to build up its own stock of fish. First, of course, is the need to put that little company's former peers out of business. Then grow the harvested stock and use it to populate other Microsoft ponds.

Remember Fox Software? FoxPro is now a Microsoft offering, though not originally a Microsoft product. Faster and more robust than any Microsoft database, it threatened to leave Microsoft permanently in the backwaters of the database market. So Microsoft bought Fox, stripped out the programmers to feed its own software-design pond (Access), and grew the Fox code into an alternative Windows-based product. The other members of the Fox team? Accountants, managers, packers, and other staff were discarded like so many pieces of fishbone, having no "nutrient value" to feed Microsoft's pet projects.

Citrix is the latest in the series of acquisitions disguised as partnerships. Although currently maintaining a separate management staff, Citrix's resources are essentially now part of Microsoft's stable and will be used to leverage Microsoft's assault on PC networking. Microsoft picks the fish to grow, and uses its leverage to put the other fish into the food bucket, classed as marketplace losers. In reality, of course, it's just the Fish Farmer out tending his pond. This is Microsoft's view of the software marketplace: just a series of private, Microsoft-owned ponds to be used to grow and exploit programming talent, software code, and brand names, all of which to be used to grow Microsoft's favored stock of Big Daddies.

For Windows programmers, the self-deception has a simple cure: they must learn sooner or later that in Microsoft territory, there is no such thing as an "Independent" Software Vendor. Those that fail to learn the lesson soon enough will end up sleeping with the fishes.

Most recent revision: December 4, 1997
Copyright © 1997, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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