Understanding Microsoft

Part 48. The Venus Flytrap

Flying in for a quick taste of a succulent, sweet-smelling juice oozing from the center of the flower, the fly notices how open and inviting the fronds of the plant appear. Laid back in an almost inviting position, the Venus Flytrap's leaflike appendages seem harmless and lazy. The fly begins sampling the nectar-like food, but WHOOSH -- the fronds close quickly, trapping the fly. The poor little guy never has a chance, and he ends up being "assimilated" or digested by the surprisingly carnivorous plant.

Whenever Microsoft wants to attract business in a new area of investment, it will shower its attention and help on any small company who is busily generating wealth and producing innovations there. The APIs that Microsoft offers will be open, inviting, and harmless -- not to mention force-fed by their being bundled with a monopoly product such as Windows or Office. The sweet smell of success, the lure of easy money and a helpful "sugar daddy" from Redmond, these are additional "bait" to lure in unsuspecting little companies who have great ideas but little capital and almost zero leverage. Who can argue with being force-fed an open standard? The unification of a platform (such as a databases via ODBC) can offer many opportunities for small companies to drop their own designs and gear everything toward a Microsoft pattern.

However, the trap springs closed after the second or third generation of the Microsoft product is delivered. Having used the enticing combination of monopoly leverage and a freely-documented data format standard to chase off any alternatives, Microsoft is then able to add proprietary extensions and force-feed them into the stream of business. Now the fronds are closed tightly around the little companies who trusted the apparent openness of Microsoft, thinking that they would be smarter than the previous victims in other types of software -- utilities, word processors, spreadsheets, ad nauseum. The little companies don't stand a chance -- they are assimilated, digested by Microsoft as their innovative software products are merged into the appropriate product in Microsoft's stable. The developers become Microsoft vassals or even worse, Microsoft employees. The software code becomes just another Microsoft "feature" or self-styled "innovation" to be used to lure the next round of victims.

This illustration shows the grave danger of trusting "standards" to a proprietary company with a history of bait-and-trap changes to APIs and file formats. A *real* standard is managed by a third party such as the ISO (International Standards Organization) so that software developers and customers won't have the rug pulled out from under them at the whim of a monopolist. By now, any company with a grain of intelligence will recognize the Venus Flytrap modus operandi of Microsoft, both in terms of companies (wake up Citrix!) and APIs (ODBC isn't very open any more). The only reason Microsoft ever opens its mouth is either to lie or to eat.

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

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