Understanding Microsoft

Part 70. Death of a Scoundrel

In a classic 1940's black-and-white movie, a sinister brute escapes a troubled past in an East European country by emigrating to America. Upon arriving, this crook gets a hot stock tip, writes a bum check for $20,000 to a stockbroker, and soon has made enough money to buy back the bad check and still reap a huge profit. But there's only one problem: the broker he gave the check to has figured out his little scheme, and decides to cut himself in for a piece of the action.

The story progresses to its climax through a series of scams, swindles, and dirty deals. The escapee makes tons of money on phony land deals and investment con jobs, yet raves angrily that he could make even more money if his timing was just a little better. Meanwhile, his crafty sidekick from the original stock market deal has become a veritable ball-and-chain, leaching off the crook's successful escapades while always holding the threat of exposure as an intimidating menace to maintain his share of the action. The swindler just can't seem to find a way to rid himself of the ever-present shadow resulting from that original deal. Finally, the two creeps kill each other in a shootout.

In some ways, this scenario is similar to the situation that Microsoft finds itself in. Having made a pact with IBM that gave Microsoft its original success, no amount of wheeling and dealing has been able to shake off IBM. By hook and by crook, Microsoft seeks to sever itself from the perceived ball-and-chain of IBM and its mainframe heritage. However, IBM seems determined to cash in on a piece of the action, even stooping so low as to ride Microsoft's coattails by using the watered-down, copycat technology of Windows NT instead of less popular but far superior products of IBM's own making. Ashamed to admit its continued dependence on IBM for its core accounting technologies (AS400's, for example), Microsoft would love to be able to permanently damage IBM without suffering any loss itself. But the flaws of the ruthless Redmond grifters keep IBM in the game.

The implication of reality following fiction, then, is that sooner or later Microsoft and IBM will likely have a full-blown battle with no holds barred. A great deal is riding on the outcome of the current antitrust trial, particularly with IBM executive John Soyring about to testify about Microsoft's dirty deals and illicit acts. Just how this testimony plays out -- as well as the Microsoft response -- may go a long way toward showing how close the final confrontation is.

Most recent revision: November 14, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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