Understanding Microsoft

Part 41. No Brainers

"Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft products."

What used to be a saying about IBM products has now become a saying about Microsoft products. The idea that all one has to do is pick a particular *brand* of product, regardless of the consequences, leads to the same kind of head-in-the-sand mentality that nearly put IBM themselves out of business. But more and more, managers are mentally unequipped and psychologically unprepared to make decisions based on technical issues like reliability, expandability, and openness of standards. More importantly, managers are unequipped to deal with the deep issues of intellectual property licensing and what those issues mean to the long-term viability of a product.

For example, when a hardware purchase is made, the equipment becomes the property of the purchaser. If a company buying some business equipment decides they don't like the way they are being treated by the supplier, they can go elsewhere for service. The main reason for this is that the essential properties of the physical machine are predictable and consistent, and they do not change dramatically with age. Machines wear out, but they do not expire.

On the other hand, software that is poorly designed has built-in expiration properties. That means sooner or later, the software code becomes unreliable and/or unrepairable. The Year2000 design flaw is one example of built-in obsolescence. Furthermore, unlike physical machinery, the "pieces" of an off-the-shelf software package are not reusable. You can't take it apart and repair it yourself like you can with a piece of office equipment. You can't hire a repairman to fix a poorly-designed off-the-shelf software package; besides, you'd probably get sued by the software maker for trade secret violation. No consultant can guarantee the reliability of code against some future data problem, or some data error, or some computer virus. A software program does not degrade gracefully the way an aging machine does; it typically just fails to process data reliably.

Furthermore, there are opportunities for unscrupulous vendors to willfully obsolete licensed software products. If a piece of machinery is discontinued by the manufacturer, this does not make the equipment suddenly useless. But a software developer, particularly a monopolist like Microsoft, can flood the market with incompatible new versions of products, making even working versions of software products worthless overnight. Unable to exchange data with customers or suppliers, companies are forced into needless so-called upgrades at the whim of the software monopolist.

Not only is Microsoft already perfecting this process of treating the customer like a rat on an exercise wheel, but they are even turning up the speed of the churn rate. Microsoft captain Jim Allchin has threatened to bring new operating system versions to market *faster* after the year 2000, meaning a never-ending treadmill of needless product turnover. The no-brainers who are blindly making decisions to buy Microsoft products, without thoroughly investigating the alternatives, will learn a hard lesson. With software more than with any other kind of purchase, you are not just buying a product; you are also buying a company.

Most recent revision: March 8, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

E-MAIL: os2headquarters@mindspring.com