Understanding Microsoft

Part 67. Winner By Default

"When all other alternatives have been excluded, that which remains, however unlikely, must be the truth." -- Sherlock Holmes

The process of elimination is a powerful deductive tool. Instead of attempting to prove something directly, it is often easier to eliminate the alternatives one by one, until only the item in question remains. Then, despite the lack of direct evidence of its condition, that one remaining item must by default become the answer. Of course, this method of reasoning requires an ironclad certainty that any alternative which is being removed from consideration actually merits such disqualification. Otherwise, a perfectly valid answer may be cast away, leading to an erroneous conclusion about what remains.

A similar line of reasoning is often used to select a software product or other business solution. When faced with a long list of alternatives, managers often whittle the list down by attempting to find obvious flaws in the alternatives. For example, when choosing a computer operating system, most businesspeople have absolutely no idea what to take into consideration. The laws of system engineering, the importance of reliable internal design, and the necessity for long-term stability of data structures are meaningless gobbledygook to the majority of decisionmakers -- a result of years of poor training in the world's most mediocre school system. Therefore, they resort to faultfinding and nitpicking as the favorite method of selecting products.

This means that all a product has to do is to avoid any obvious flaws, and it is likely to succeed. Meanwhile, unscrupulous software vendors need only plant false rumors about a particular competing product to have it struck from the list of approved items. This is why Microsoft's FUD tactics -- Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt -- are so effective; people are already predisposed to look for an obvious flaw in hopes of reducing the number of available choices. Yes, strange as it may seem, businesspeople are so risk-averse that they prefer having no choice at all instead of having the possibility of making a bad or incorrect choice. Freedom of choice is only meaningful when the buyer has a real understanding of what they are getting. In today's high-tech world, how many buyers really understand the operative principles behind anything any more?

Thus one of the main Microsoft strategies is to become the winner by default, simply by making sure that no alternative product can maintain a clean reputation. Unix? Oh, that's too hard. OS/2? Oh, there are no applications. Mac? It's for kids only. These are the kind of pat answers that software buyers in corporate America love to hear, even though they are lies. This is because these kind of phony answers make it easy for them to cut the list of alternatives down, without really knowing what they're talking about. Instead of making deep, intellectually-strong explanations of the relative merits of various systems, the typical influencer is now intent on avoiding the technological realities and instead focusing on comfortable myths that make them sound knowledgeable.

Like the stock car driver who won the race because everyone else had crashed, Microsoft gets its products in the door based not on technology, but rather on the perceived absence of choice, the demise of alternatives, and the spread of convenient stories that oversimplify to the point of lies and deception. You don't have to be the best if you can find a way to prevent the alternatives from getting a fair chance.

Most recent revision: October 13, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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