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
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.