Understanding Microsoft

Part 66. The Name Game

Archibald MacLeish did it. Many others have done it, such as AT&T Bell Labs and Borland. They have changed their names in an attempt to change their image. Archie's plan worked really well; the name "Cary Grant" is the one most people remember.

However, Microsoft is changing the name of things to do more than merely enhance its image; it wants to own the Internet. For example, looking at a Windows screen will show an HTML file with an "e" icon, for Microsoft's browser. The associated name for this file type is "Microsoft HTML file." This means that the consumer is being brainwashed into believing that HTML is a Microsoft-owned file format, and that an Internet file is a Microsoft file. This also means that when Microsoft adds proprietary extensions to HTML, the consumer will be unaware that they have been pulled out of the safe, open world of public standards and fenced into a closed Microsoft world. There is no logical, technical reason to name a public standard after a private company. This tactic only serves to confuse the public and draw an imaginary Microsoft fence around the Internet.

But Microsoft does not use such tactics only once. The recent advertisements for a "Digital Nervous System" should have raised a few eyebrows and sounded a few alarm bells, but thus far nobody seems to have noticed the key ingredient to this phrase. This name was selected by Microsoft not because it has any particular meaning or intelligence, but merely for its initals: DNS. Perhaps you know that DNS is also the abbreviation for Domain Name Server, the main Internet addressing scheme, which is publicly documented and beyond Microsoft's ability to control. Therefore, Microsoft wants the term "DNS" to become synonymous with Microsoft products, not open standards. Later, Microsoft can rig its own proprietary "DNS" to prevent non-Microsoft platforms from using the Internet, and the public at large will have no idea that a boundary has been crossed and a takeover has begun.

Yet another example is Microsoft's cunning theft of the term "explorer" for its browser, a term that was originally used by IBM in the OS/2 "Web Explorer" browser, the first Internet WWW browser to be bundled in a consumer PC operating system. By leveraging its monopoly market share to distribute its own version of this name, Microsoft has covered up the innovative and successful IBM initiative of moving into the Internet space. Therefore, people wrongly give Microsoft credit for a product that was in reality given to the public by IBM. Reputation is at stake here, and Microsoft does not want its position as a follower and a copycat to be exposed.

The same way that "DOS" became synonymous with "MS-DOS," Microsoft wants to control the minds of the computer-buying public by manipulating the names used in public discussions and literature. By craftily manipulating public perceptions, Microsoft blurs the lines between public and private ownership of standards, allowing it to move stealthily into positions of technical control without people even being aware of it.

Most recent revision: October 9, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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