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As I’m sure you already know, Bill Gates is pretty much removing himself from Microsoft, and everybody is taking the time to praise/curse his legacy.

How do we view this? To us, the big question is “Why did Microsoft succeed? Why DOS and Windows and Office and IE rather than CP/M or OS/2 or MacOS or Linux or WordPerfect or Lotus 1-2-3 or Netscape?”

We think the big answer to that is “Microsoft provided a good enough overall package for the average computer user. They’ve been the McDonald’s of the technical world.”

There are very few people who would describe McDonald’s as fine cuisine, yet almost fifty million people a day eat there. Why? Customers would say the food tastes good enough, the price is right, it’s convenient, you know what you’re going to get and you get it consistently. McDonald’s may not get stellar marks for many or even any of the criteria people find important, but they do well enough in enough of them to keep people coming. They’re like a decathlon athlete, not stellar at anything, but OK enough at a lot of things.

Microsoft has been like that, too. Very few people rave about Windows or Office, but it works OK enough for most people, the overall cost of a Windows computer is good enough, it’s more convenient when everyone else you deal with is using the same thing, and you don’t have the hassle and cost of changing everything at once to switch to something else.

In comparison, MS’s competitors have been more like sprinters. They can and often do blow away MS in one particular aspect or another, but they don’t fare so well in others, and even when they do take a big initial lead against MS, they often take a nap, and MS does this:

Tortoise

It’s important to realize that it’s the mass of average computer users who give the thumbs up to MS, and it is their values that apply. Not the techie’s. Not the person who’ll spend much more for something they find better. Not the person who’ll make much of a voluntary time or mental investment at all into a computer.

MS has relied more on certain factors than others throughout its history. Early on, during the critical early years, when computers were very expensive, cost was a big factor. DOS cost much less than OSs like CP/M or Unix, and DOS machines cost considerable less than Macs. MS also did what it had to do to bundle DOS into PCs so that anybody who might want something else had to usually do something extra to get it. It was the first “easy-to-use” program for the PC; not easy to operate, but easy to use since it was already there and you didn’t have to get it.

Once the standard became an IBM-compatible with MS-DOS, cost became less important and network effects became more important. MS certainly leveraged its status to the legal maximum and beyond, but you can’t say it was just cheating or just getting there first. After all, WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 were the first big IBM PC standards for word processing and spreadsheets, yet both were slow on the trigger for Windows, and MS wasn’t.

Netscape got there first, too, and MS certainly did everything it could to strangle that infant in its crib, but the merits of IE 3.0 did more to convince existing users to switch than any conspiracy, and for those just coming to the Internet, well, it was another “easy-to-use” program. 🙂

So one way or another, or eventually a few wayes, MS’s greatest successes have happened because they have had mass appeal. You might say, “You have mass appeal when people are too lazy/unaware to download another browser?” Sure, just like people are too lazy to walk an extra block for a better hamburger.

MS has triumphed when they’ve been able to give the average computer user some things greatly valued by them but not valued or maybe even perceived by competitors or detractors. Sometimes it’s a better price, more often, it’s minimal effort to get and safety in numbers. Just like MickieD’s.

You may think these are terrible reasons for MSs domination, that this is Revenge of the Non-Nerds. That and (check here for your country’s price) will get you a BigMac.

And maybe that’s the real reason why many spew such hatred about Gates and MS. It’s precisely because their side’s opinions and preferences and values don’t count in the minds of the vast majority of computer users.

Ed


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