Understanding Microsoft

Part 54. Corn Syrup

Freedom of choice is one of the foundation elements of a capitalist society -- at least in principle. This is based on the idea that an "invisible hand" resulting from the collective good choices made by consumers will lead to the eventual success of the best products. However, the reality of the corporation-dominated economy of the 1990s is much different.

Let's take soft drinks, for example. Have you ever read the ingredient lists on the labels of various brands? You will find one ingredient listed on just about everything: corn syrup, or its high-octane equivalent, high-fructose corn syrup. Amazingly, what you buy at any store anywhere turns out to be essentially the same product: corn syrup, plus a selection of flavor and color additives designed to give the appearance of choices. You choose a different brand, but you still must settle for the same matrix ingredient across the board. The fact that there are plenty of colors, flavors, and package designs is of little comfort to someone who is allergic to corn products, who desires to abstain from them for dietary reasons, or who just doesn't like them. Try the same test with barbecue sauce, sweet snack foods, and even chips. You will see corn, corn oil, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup behind almost every facade of variety.

How could this happen? Is corn syrup the "best product" in every category of snack food and soft drink? Or is there another reason? Yes, the reason is that huge multinational conglomerates like Monsanto and Archer-Daniels-Midland dominate the sources of the food supply in this country, and in many others as well. The monopolies occur so far back up the distribution line, most people are totally unaware of them.

Similarly, the software market gives the outward appearance of freedom of choice, of alternatives, of significant differences between products. But if software packages were required to include ingredient labels, you would find a pervasive content monopoly of Microsoft .DLL files, Visual Basic extensions, and other corn-syrup-like base ingredients. The monopoly occurs behind the scenes, at the development level, so that your computer's "diet" of software codes is not dictated by your own "invisible hand" of free choice, but rather by a distribution lockout monopoly at the development and operating system levels. Microsoft is the software equivalent of Archer-Daniels-Midland, a company intent on expanding its behind-the-scenes domination worldwide, while hypocritically implying that it is offering freedom of choice to the benefit of consumers.

What happens in the food marketplace as a result of this flood of corn products, has also happened in the software marketplace: the equivalent of "health food stores" cropping up in various cities, offering alternative "diets" for your PC. Although marginalized from participating in the so-called mainstream of consumer activity, companies like BMT Micro and various Apple product vendors offer the wise consumer a *real* choice and *real* alternatives to the behind-the-scenes monopoly of Microsoft and its cohorts. OS/2 might just be considered the "granola" or the "oat bran" of the PC world.

Most recent revision: May 23, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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