Understanding Microsoft

Part 64. Foundation of Sand

A building is only as good as its foundation. No matter how sturdy and expensive the materials used to construct an edifice, no matter how meticulous and craftsmanlike the work, no matter how well-planned and orderly the construction process, the underlying foundation can turn success into failure. If the soil is weak or sandy or subject to sinkholes, the entire project can collapse into a laughingstock.

Even worse is the case of the shady land dealer who sells property that is known to be substandard in its geological stability. If a piece of real estate is merely a carefully-concealed landfill or a toxic waste dump, then the seller is nothing more than a swindler, a grifter, a cheat. The victim may find out the error of their purchase only after a disastrous accident during an expensive building process. Pity the poor investor in such a nefarious scheme!

Not only physical buildings, but information systems need a solid foundation as well. A "virtual machine" is built of bytes of memory space allocated to certain core functions, topped off with features, user interfaces, and interconnections for data transfer. The "foundation" or core operating system must be stable and reliable, or else much expensive work will be lost, irreplaceable time will be wasted, and deep frustration will set in. A stable operating system is often the key difference between a reliable business process and one that is plagued with data losses, unpaid overtime, and anxiety-ridden users and managers.

Microsoft has decided that nobody else will be allowed to build on their "property," their "home field," the PC operating system market. By flooding the PC market with a cheap, poorly-designed architecture based on 16-bit DOS, Microsoft has done more than merely leverage their monopoly position. They have also ruined the foundation architecture upon which many intelligent software developers could otherwise have built products, as well as could have established successful businesses. For example, not only does Microsoft expressly forbid the PC makers to preload a helpful "shell" program on top Windows95 or Windows98; they also design these products so sloppily that any such shell is liable to crash the system. Windows is *not* a safe platform for add-on programs, and this is not entirely unintentional.

Windows thus serves as a kind of foundation of sand, allowing Microsoft to own large stretches of "real estate" in the PC industry while preventing them from being used productively by other companies, whom Microsoft views as mere squatters on its own self-styled "property," the PC marketplace. The purpose of this scheme is to remove long-term competition by preventing the development of long-term revenue streams by capable competitors.

Most recent revision: September 12, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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