Part 60. Injection Molding
There's something about operating system preloads that just seems to overarch all
the other issues in the computer marketplace. Concerns about product tying, extortion,
and sabotage are just extensions of this one single element of monopoly positioning
that gives Microsoft its tremendous leverage. Let me use one simple example to
explain what the consequences of owning an operating system preload monopoly are.
I will use the example of the injection-molding process used to fabricate plastic
Injection molding involves taking a very fluid plastic compound -- usually at moderately
high temperature to give it an appropriate level of viscosity -- and using hydraulic
pressure to force the plastic to flow into the nooks and crannies of a product mold.
As the plastic is forced into position, it gradually takes on the shape of the
mold container. This means that properly applied pressure forces out air bubbles
and allows the plastic to conform to the minute edge details of the desired shape.
Even if the shape is not directly vertical from the direction of pressure, the
plastic flows smoothly around into crevices, around edges, and into hidden corners
of the molding surface. All sorts of interesting shapes can be created by a clever
two-piece mold and the careful application of just the right combination of viscosity
Similarly, Microsoft could never afford to find every little "nook and cranny"
in the enduser software marketplace. To attack the markets for quilt design programs,
beekeeper applications, and sewing machine utilities would take far more individual
contact, research, and funding than any company could reasonably afford. The return
on investment for each tiny niche is just not there. Thus, Microsoft attacks these
markets *collectively* by use of the preload monopoly. It pressures PC companies
into selling Microsoft products to all these little markets by forcing out the alternatives,
just like the plastic oozing its way into tiny crevices and forcing out the air
bubbles. The Microsoft method is basically "attack by exclusion"; it
forces its way into these markets by forcing out all the alternatives.
The "viscosity" of Microsoft products is their relative ease of installation,
while the "pressure" is the combination of marketing, product tying, and
preload monopolization that forces these products into the stores. And what's more,
just like the plastic compound that gradually cools and hardens to form the desired
shape, the Microsoft products eventually develop a momentum and an inertia of their
own, making them hard to dislodge in favor of superior products. For government
regulators to then attempt to "break the mold" is a fruitless endeavor,
for the products have already lodged themselves firmly in place and the preloads
have done their dirty work already.
Most recent revision: July 23, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.