The Microsoft Situation - A Personal Viewpoint

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The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and as such do not represent the views of or any other individuals associated with

We all have choices. This is America; if you see something on TV you can turn it off or change the channel. The same holds true with computers – if you are using something and you don’t like it, don’t use it. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about politics. Windows is not the only operating system on the market; for example you have MacOS, BeOS, a thousand flavors of Linux, HPUX, OS/2, freeBSD, and openBSD to name just a few. It is not a “great day for the consumer” as Janet Reno said. I personally love Microsoft. I may not agree with all of their business practices but so what. But don’t get me wrong – a GUI OS is sometimes disgusting. I also run Red Hat Linux in addition to Windows. I grew up on the command line interface, so to speak, and still use it everyday.

In my opinion Microsoft has been very beneficial to the computer market. They have brought about many standards to the desktop market that have allowed many hardware companies to become extremely profitable. They are not doing anything that any other company would not do. They have actually, albeit inadvertently, helped to propel Linux to the mainstream. Everyone cries “Down with Microsoft, Microsoft sucks”, etc, and by focusing so much attention on Microsoft many people have actually started to believe this and have switched over to Linux.

Before any of the legal woes Microsoft has been facing over the last few years, almost no one outside of the Unix community had ever heard of Linux. And now today there are hundreds of different flavors of Linux in use. If you hate Microsoft, stop using their product – use something else; don’t just sit there and say,” There is nothing else.” That is such a cheap excuse and if you rally hated Microsoft you would do something about it.

Integrating features into a new product, sounds like a good idea right? I thought so, so did Microsoft. But apparently that is wrong – don’t give the consumers anything for free. Apple has been integrating features into their OS and no one complains – Why? Well because no one cares and they are not in the spotlight. Internet Explorer is a far greater web browser; Netscape just can’t do everything it can. One thing that I will give to Netscape is that it has support for many more streaming video formats than IE.

“In 1995, Netscape didn’t receive needed information about the underlying technology for Windows 95 until months after the operating system was released, excluding Netscape from most of the holiday selling season”, Jackson wrote. Do you think Apple gives out proprietary information about the MacOS? Well they really don’t.

By including some much with their operating systems Microsoft has made it real convenient for any user to be able to do anything. If programs such as IE, Outlook Express and Dial-Up-Networking were not to have been included in Windows, not nearly as many people as are online now would be online. Because Steve Case had a platform on which to publish software, he was able to become a multi-billionaire. If there had not been Windows, then there would have not have been a need for software such as AOL, and if there had not been AOL then Steve Case more than likely would not be as rich as he is today. Also the 20 million+ users that connect to the internet through AOL’s proprietary software would probably not be online.

So many people are online with AOL nowadays that maybe they should open up their software and allow anyone to do with it as they would see fit. Also by Microsoft giving away so many products at no cost (IE, Outlook Express, Media Player, MSN Messenger, and Front Page Express) they increased general familiarity with the Internet and reduced the cost to the public of gaining access to it. I remember back in the day when you talked about the Internet no one knew what you were talking about. I have been on the Internet for about 9 years now. I still to this day use Lynx. As I have stated before I love the command-line. I even for a brief period of time, way back in the day had AOL.

Mike Devlin, president of Rational Software, explained that Microsoft’s role as an operating system vendor is precisely to deliver system services to the software companies that build applications to work on its platform. Microsoft had done this with many other system services over the years, integrating new features (such as TCP/IP, and Direct X) into its operating system-and Internet Explorer was just one more service of this type (as a side note do you really want to have to have a different program to view each file type you have? I don’t, I like the fact that Media Player will play just about any movie file that I have).

The essence of the finding by Judge Jackson is that an extraordinary success in business is dangerous and must be stopped, and it is a notice to everyone that condemnation and punishment are the rewards if you become successful. What the DOJ is trying to do is anti-capitalistic. What first comes to the mind when you think of something that is not capitalistic? Communism, is that what you want our government to support?

You are probably saying “What if I don’t want Internet Explorer – Microsoft should also include Netscape, or I should be able to buy Windows without Internet Explorer if I choose”. No one has a right to buy whatever he wishes; he only has the right to buy what others choose to sell to him. The terms of any trade must be agreeable to both the buyer and the seller, or a sale does not and should not take place. If you don’t like Microsoft’s terms, then you are free to go somewhere else; you are free to buy an Apple Macintosh, a UNIX server, and so on-or you can get Linux for free. Microsoft has the right to sell whatever they want, and likewise the consumer has the right to buy only what is being sold to them.

Also when a company makes money it likes to expand. This is what Microsoft is doing. As I previously said they have not done anything that another company would not; they are ensuring that they will be around in the future. One thing that many people seem to forget is that Microsoft employs thousands of people and that Microsoft does need to pay them all.

As a private corporation, Microsoft has no power to force anyone. The entire case against Microsoft (and, indeed, the entire case for the antitrust laws) is based on an equivocation between economic power and political power. The difference between these two forms of power must be kept strictly in mind-for it is a difference with life-and-death consequences.

In “The Dollar and the Gun” (The Objectivist Forum, June 1983), philosopher Harry Binswanger defines the difference between these two forms of power:

“‘Political power’ refers to the power of the government. The special nature of that power is what differentiates government from all other social institutions. That which makes government government, its essential attribute, is its monopoly on the use of physical force. Only a government can make laws-i.e., rules of social conduct backed up by physical force. …The penalty for breaking the law is fines, imprisonment, and ultimately, death. The symbol of political power is a gun.

“Economic power, on the other hand, is the ability to produce material values and offer them for sale. E.g., the power of Big Oil is the power to discover, drill, and bring to market a large amount of oil. Economic power lies in assets-i.e., the factors of production, the inventory, and the cash possessed by businesses. The symbol of economic power is the dollar.

“A business can only make you an offer, thereby expanding the possibilities open to you. The alternative a business presents you within a free market is: ‘increase your well-being by trading with us, or go your own way.” The alternative a government, or any force-user, presents you with is: ‘do as we order, or forfeit your liberty, property, or life.'”

The only power Microsoft has to induce customers to give it money is the value of its products. If Microsoft started to produce an inferior product, or even if it chose not to update Windows to incorporate new features, it would eventually lose the market; equipment manufacturers and consumers would seek out a better operating system. By contrast, the only power that the government (and those of Microsoft’s competitors who are calling for government interference) has to offer is a threat: “We’ll dictate what can go into the Windows operating system-and you’d better toe the line or we’ll throw you in jail.”

In the case of Web browsers-the specific issue in the current court case-the equivocation between the dollar and the gun becomes utterly absurd. Microsoft is seeking to gain predominance in the Web browser market by giving its product away for free. To talk of giving a product away for free as an act of force is a frightening instance of Orwellian “doublespeak.”

The consequence of this “doublespeak” is truly disastrous: In answer to the pseudo-force of showering consumers with free products, the antitrust case against Microsoft threatens to introduce the genuine coercion involved in government regulation of operating systems.

The Difference Between Microsoft’s Power and the Government’s Power:
One Wields the Power of Production, the Other the Power of the Gun.

On March 3, 1998, Bill Gates was summoned before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing to determine whether Microsoft constitutes a dangerous “concentration of power” that threatens the American consumer. The irony here is that the inquisitors examining him were politicians who wield a power far beyond Bill Gate’s reach: the authority of a bloated, omnipotent government-an authority backed, not by the production of a useful product, but by armies of regulators and tax collectors wielding the threat of physical force.

To grasp this contrast fully, consider the source of Gate’s alleged “control” over the software industry. This “power” consists of Microsoft’s production of Windows, the operating system used in more than 90% of the world’s personal computers. But Microsoft cannot force anyone to buy its products. Its only power comes from its ability to sell its operating system to computer manufacturers, who pre-install Windows on their machines. These manufacturers, in turn, cannot force their Windows-equipped products onto a defenseless public. Computer buyers can decide whether to accept or reject Windows-as some still do when they opt for Unix, Linux, or for the Macintosh operating system.

My main point here is that Microsoft has been beneficial to the computer industry. How has Microsoft caused damage to you as a consumer? No one can ever say exactly how. Everyone seems to know that Microsoft has caused damage, and by what means, but they don’t seem to know what the damage is exactly. I am not saying that Microsoft makes the best stuff no matter what, but that in the majority of their products they do seem to have the best. Nothing comes close to Microsoft Office (at least in the GUI environment) and Microsoft Visual Studio is the best suite of programs if you wish to program in the Windows environment. I personally use it when I wish to make something for myself, but when I need something that has an Internet application I tend to go towards Perl. Microsoft makes some great products, and some not some great ones such as B.O.B. And I personally will continue to use them until there is something better. And that is my right to do so.

– Aaron

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