Understanding Microsoft

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 products.

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 and pressure.

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.

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