Understanding Microsoft

Part 45. Tonya Harding

To this day, former U.S. Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding denies any prior knowledge of the assault on a rival skater at the U.S. Nationals just prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics. Whether that is true or not is known only by a handful of people. But the goons who carried out this sabotage on a fellow competitor had in mind the success of Miss Harding by the removal of a superior talent from the contest. This attitude of winner-by-exclusion is very much the prime motivation of most so-called "innovations" at Microsoft.

For example, the original Windows95 release regularly disabled Netscape Navigator and other non-Microsoft browser software. It was important to make sure that superior products like Netscape could not co-exist in the same competitive space (the PC). It was also important to make sure that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who signed up with Microsoft had to implement non-compatible, proprietary website features so that Netscape users would be unable to view the ISP's homepage effectively. In this case, Microsoft attempted to remove Netscape from the competitive space of the Web itself. Similarly, giving away Microsoft's Internet Server software by bundling it with WindowsNT, as well as dumping a free MSIE into the desktop competitive space, are examples of Microsoft's using its monopoly money to attempt to drive superior competitors like Netscape out of business.

But this is not a new practice; Microsoft rigged Windows 3.1 so that DOS competitor Digital Research would be unable to compete in the market for Windows loaders. Another case of pushing out superior alternatives so they never get the chance to compete involved the restrictive Windows-only preload licensing policies with PC manufacturers. Also, the Windows-only contract policies with many software developers (under the guise of "trade secret protection") kept superior products like OS/2 and Unix out of the desktop application competitive space. Microsoft even tried a heavy-handed announcement that they would refuse to support Novell's powerful NDS directory system on the WindowsNT platform, a direct attempt to scare off potential users before they could even try NDS.

Microsoft is now teamed with Intel and Compaq on the bogus "PC98" and "PC99" specifications, which are designed to limit the appeal of new PCs to alternative software users by having them "tuned" for Microsoft operating systems instead of being open and compatible with all systems. This way, hardware vendors who must spend time and money redesigning their interfaces and driver software will have to choose between Microsoft and openness.

It's much easier to look like a winner if the top competitors have all had strange "accidents" or are otherwise unable to compete. That way, Microsoft wins by default because the consumer never gets the chance to make a direct, fair comparison in an unbiased competitive space. Someday Mr. Gates may be given the opportunity to speak out about these practices in court. He will likely claim "no prior knowledge" much as Tonya Harding has done. Given the long-term nature of Microsoft's exclusionary practices as opposed to the one-time assault in the Harding case, that excuse will likely have Mr. Gates skating on thin ice.

Most recent revision: March 28, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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