Understanding Microsoft

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 Me!"

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.

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