Understanding Microsoft

Part 78. Cola Wars

Imagine if there was one manufacturer of canned and bottled soda who had a monopoly position in the cola market. Yes, imagine going to McDonald's or Burger King or any steakhouse and only having one choice. You would be told, "Of course, you have LOTS of choices. You can get Mono-Cola in Regular, Lite, Classic, and Diet varieties."

Now you, being a healthy, sensible, honest person who loves life and all the choice and variety that life brings, you might be wondering just what kind of fool these companies take you for. Maybe you don't want Mono-Cola because you don't like the company itself. They will brand you as a jealous bigot. Maybe you don't want Mono-Cola because you remember the days when you could get Sunny Cola or Maximum Quench or some other drink. They will brand you as an old-fashioned, narrow-minded old fool for wanting such "old" things. Maybe you don't want Mono-Cola because you just don't like the taste. In that case, they will call you a liar, because "everybody" likes Mono-Cola. "Its monopoly position in the marketplace proves that everybody likes it!"

Yes, there is no sensible reason why everybody should be offered the very un-choice of "Mono-Cola, or die of thirst." Maybe every time a "technician" came out of the kitchen with your order, you would be force-fed the Mono-Cola or else kicked out of the store and told to starve. This condition would be intolerable, and would probably lead to a serious investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Particularly would this be even more so if competing cola vendors were denied access to any retail food stores and fast-food establishments because of special lockout contracts required by the cola monopolist. "If you sell even ONE alternative brand of cola to even ONE customer, we will cut you off forever!" That sort of extortion would not long be tolerated.

However, the computer marketplace seems to have fallen into some kind of twilight zone. Just as colas are often "preloaded" with certain meal packages at fast food joints, operating systems are preloaded on PC's. But you can get any version of Windows, as long as it's Microsoft Windows. They call it "choice." I call it "horse feathers!" There is about as much difference between the versions of Windows as there is between New Coke and Classic Coke. Or if you want to include all versions of Microsoft products, you're perhaps talking about Coke or Pepsi. Big deal; they are both carbonated water injected into a compote of high-fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring. Fortunately for us, they have not yet been able to effectively abolish water, milk, or coffee from the fast-food restaurants.... so far.

Meanwhile, however, you get less choice from the PC makers than you get at your local McDonald's. Most PC makers refuse to deliver a machine with no operating system installed, but I can still order a burger and fries and tell the "burgermeisters" to keep their high-margin, low-quality drinks. I'll take a cold glass of ice water, thank you, and if you don't like it then I will take my meal business somewhere else. Until I can get the choice of any operating system on a new PC, or no operating system at all, there will be no real freedom in the PC marketplace.

Most recent revision: June 7, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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