Part 76. Free Mousetraps
"Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door."
Well, that's the theory of a free-enterprise system, but it is certainly not the
reality. With large corporations dominating the U.S. commercial scene, making a
better mousetrap is something like painting a big sign on your back that says, "Kick
Because many of these business enterprises have become so huge, they can afford
to do something very nasty: they can give away enough free (or at least reduced-price)
mousetraps to make it relatively inconvenient and relatively expensive for people
to beat a path to your door. If you have a better mousetrap, it must be far, far
better than what is currently available in order to get anyone interested. Then
you have to convince people that it is actually much better before they will bother
to get up from their chairs. In other words, you not only must build a better mousetrap,
you must do a better job of explaining it. Some of the world's finest inventions
have languished, and their inventors have remained impoverished and anonymous, because
people were not convinced that the new idea was really all that much better than
the status quo.
In the case of PC operating systems, Microsoft has used its preload monopoly to
make its operating systems appear to cost nothing. In reality, of course, the cost
of the O.S. is merged into the cost of the final product and hidden from sight.
It's never actually broken out as a separate expense on the price sheet, and it's
never available as an optional feature that could be eliminated. Therefore, any
other competing operating system usually appears outrageously expensive in comparison
(at least before Linux arrived, anyway).
The purpose of Microsoft's manipulation is simply to prevent other operating systems
from gaining a significant foothold on the desktop. Once people find out just how
poor Microsoft products really are, they could very well leave Microsoft behind
en masse. Microsoft fears this most of all, because they would be relegated to
the position of obsolescence which they richly deserve. Therefore, Microsoft has
positioned its creaky, decrepit mousetrap so as to be everywhere already -- meaning
that nobody has to bother beating a path to anyone's door -- as well as seemingly
"free" -- meaning that even if a better product is found, people will
not recognize its superior value and will settle for Microsoft's products instead.
Of course, the only way to break the cycle is at the source: prevent Microsoft
from maintaining its preload monopoly. However, the computer manufacturers are
willing accomplices in this, because the true nature of their own shoddy, unreliable
hardware is hidden behind the even worse condition of the Microsoft products which
they contain. Also, the hardware makers can let Microsoft do all the "heavy
lifting" of fooling each new round of consumers into buying yet another PC
to replace a theoretically "slow" or "obsolete" machine. This
is roughly equivalent to a house builder content to let mice run rampant through
the neighborhoods because the wimpy mousetraps he includes with his houses are marketed
so as to hide the superior alternatives. If every house came with the same set
of 20 cheap little mousetraps, how many people would bother looking for something
better -- or paying for it?
Most recent revision: May 15, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.