Understanding Microsoft

Part 74. The Dilbert Rules

There's the White House economy, and then there's the *real* economy.

Similarly, there's the business-school theory of business, and then there's how business *really* works.

For example, most people who sell a product think that it's a good idea to find out which members of an organization know and understand that type of product, and then sell their quality, high-tech version of the product to those people. But the Dilbert rules, the rules of *real* management, say quite the opposite:

Dilbert Rule #1: Make sure the buying decision is made by the least-informed member of the purchasing organization.

Microsoft has used this rule to bring Windows 3.X into organization from the bottom-up (via endusers), ensuring that the decision was made by those least-qualified to appreciate the long-term costs of ceding control of software development to a company promoting ever-changing, closed, proprietary APIs. Then they used this rule to force WindowsNT into organizations from the top-down (via the corporate boardroom), ensuring this decision was made by those least-qualified to deal with the crashes, the data losses, the unpaid overtime, and the hair-pulling frustration of it all.

As another example, most people think that software versions are supposed to tell buyers something about what's in the box. You know, a full number increment in the version number means a major change; a point update means a minor change; a sub-point update means a bug fix. But the Dilbert rules say that you must hide such information from your customers, because the truth is too embarrassing:

Dilbert Rule #2: When you have nothing new to offer, change the name of the product; when the product changes radically from version to version, keep the packaging identical.

So when Windows95 came out, people thought it was a wonderful new product. In reality, of course, it was just DOS with a different mask. Similarly, by changing the name of WindowsNT 5.0 to Windows2000, Microsoft hopes to fool people into thinking that the next NT will be a "new" operating system. Of course not. Windows2000 will be the same old kludge with a few new twists and a lot of new bugs. By calling the next Windows98 "Windows2000 Personal Edition," Microsoft hopes to hide the fact that Redmond just can't kick the DOS habit.

Finally, look at the way most pundits and developers foolishly pant after every word from Microsoft's press-feeding machine. They think that a company praises products it likes, and downtalks products that it thinks are inferior. But the Dilbert rules state the opposite yet again:

Dilbert Rule #3: A market dominator must bad-mouth good products so as to scare off competing developers from supporting it; they must praise doomed products so as to guide competing developers into wasting their resources on it.

Look at the way Microsoft treats Linux. It is just the way the treated OS/2 years ago -- deny that it's important, then attack it with full force. Microsoft praised OS/2 at first, so that WordPerfect and Lotus began developing for OS/2 instead of Windows. Then MS pulled the plug on their OS/2 support, leaving themselves with a huge lead in the suddenly-important Windows 3.1 application development race. Similarly, MS will develop for Linux while simultaneously bad-mouthing it, hoping to drive competitors such as Corel and Lotus away from Linux -- leaving MS Office for Linux with no big-company competitors on the Linux platform. How well will this work? That depends on whether Corel and Lotus are run by a bunch of Dilberts or not.

Most recent revision: April 16, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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