Thursday, April 10, 2008

SSC #61 The merits of Microsoft

    This week I was having a heated discussion with a colleague of mine about Microsoft versus Linux and why I hold such an inherent dislike for MS Windows and generally every other product that Microsoft puts out.

    And during this debate he challenged me to write an article saying something good about Microsoft, stating that I was so biased against them that he didn't think I could accomplish it.

    This is that article.  Wish me luck. 

    I must confess, when I received the challenge, I was absolutely stumped.  And I thought I might just have to concede the point.  But after I thought about it, I began to realize some things that had not occurred to me previously.

    Simply put, without Microsoft, and without their backhanded double-dealing monopolistic tactics, computers would not be anywhere near as advanced and as versatile as they are today. 

    When Microsoft came on the scene, there was a plethora of early operating systems such as SCOPE, CP/M, Pick, Unix and a slew of others each with different design scheme and hardware configurations, and each one was vying for dominance in the computer field.

    With the introduction of MS-DOS, and later on MS Windows, Microsoft began its history of interface stealing, bribery, and its habitual "embrace, extend and extinguish" policy, which enabled Microsoft to come out on top and become the de-facto standard operating system for the majority of people around the world. 

    And within this framework of one single dominating operating system, software programming has been able to achieve things that were completely unthinkable just a few short years before.

     Microsoft Windows enabled computers to become popular enough to leave the realm of the hobbyists and businessmen and enter into our collective daily lives.  Without Microsoft, there could still be fifteen or twenty different completely incompatible computer systems out there, and you most likely would not have one in your living room.  If a market leader had never emerged, none of the competitors would have gotten enough money or attention to make the great strides and successes that Microsoft has facilitated.

    Without this growth and expansion of the general computing populace, we might not have such everyday things as webcams or VOIP.  Even the video game industry might not be as advanced as it is today without the massive growth of the personal computing market pushing processor technology to innovate.  This is not because Microsoft themselves invented these things, but because Microsoft integrated computers so far into our lives that innovation of the computer field became a necessity and a natural progression of ideas. 

    We owe thanks for a big part of our culture and daily convenience to Microsoft.  So thank you Microsoft.  Seriously. 

    Does this mean I've changed my mind?  Am I now a Microsoft fanboy? No.  And I doubt I ever will be again. 

    While we may have needed a company like MS to unify the computing industry and innovate and integrate cool technologies into our everyday lives, I personally believe we do not need them anymore. 

    There are very few people left in the world who do not know what a computer is.  They may not own one, they may not know how to use one, but they've likely seen one, or at least could recognize one if they saw it.

    As an agent of unification and emissary of technological achievement, Microsoft's task is complete.  And as a result of this, Microsoft is one of the richest, most powerful and most influential companies in the entire world.  Unfortunately, they are also among the most ruthless of companies in the world. 

    Time and time again Microsoft has demonstrated its willingness to bully competing technologies and companies into extinction.  Sometimes Microsoft even uses its monopoly power to crush its competitors even though they were superior to its own offering.  If anyone can remember the wars between Netscape and Internet Explorer, at the time, Netscape was actually a superior product.  And to this day, the pre-release codename for Netscape Navigator, Mozilla, is still used by browsers when surfing the net to denote that it is a modern full-featured web browser.  Yet due to Microsoft's monopoly power enabling them to give away Internet Explorer for free, Netscape, a clearly superior product was nearly lost.  Netscape has only survived by licensing their code as open source, and as a result of this, the Netscape code provided the backbone for the amazingly popular Mozilla Firefox web browser.

    No fine has ever been levied against Microsoft that was so great as to dissuade them from their unfair business practices and monopolistic tendencies.  Every time they're faced with a penalty, Microsoft simply takes it on the chin, forks over a big cash settlement or fine and then resumes business as usual, completely unrepentant.  No fine has ever been high enough to  compete with their profits made using these business strategies, so why on earth would they stop?

    Microsoft is the big bully on the block.  Linux is the group of nerdy little kids who have had enough and have decided that its time to band together and make a stand.  And you know what?  Microsoft is scared.

    From Wikipedia:  "The Halloween documents, internal Microsoft memos which were leaked to the open source community beginning in 1998, indicate that Microsoft perceives open source software — in particular, freely available Linux kernel-based operating systems — as a growing long-term threat to Microsoft's dominance of the software industry. In marked contrast to the company's public statements, which tend to downplay or ignore open source software, the Halloween documents acknowledged that parts of Linux are superior to the versions of Microsoft Windows available at the time, and outlined a strategy of 'de-commoditize[ing] protocols & applications.'  Opponents of Microsoft have dubbed this strategy 'embrace, extend, and extinguish'."

    Linux is the underdog.  It is for this reason that I love Linux as much as I do.  It is not because I am a geek.  As a geek, I love what can be done with MS Windows.  You can do some really really cool stuff with Windows.  I do not begin to pretend otherwise.  I cut my techie teeth on Windows XP.  I used Windows exclusively for years and its how I got so good at this stuff.  But Windows has flaws.  And if I were to try to crack into it and modify the core of Windows to fix these flaws myself, I would be violating the license agreement, and thereby breaking the law.

    Simply put, I love Linux because I love freedom.  I am motivated to spread Linux and open source software because I believe individual rights are more important than corporate interests.  I believe that sometimes long-standing institutions lose their primary justification for existence.  Sometimes a company or industry just simply isn't needed anymore, such as the music industry and the RIAA.  Corporations or legal entities entering this situation seldom accept this fact and usually spend a lot of time and effort (and often ruin a lot of people's lives) fighting the inevitable.

    Also, I love Linux because I love the community of people who use Linux.  There is an army of volunteers waiting there to help me learn new things, or fix problems day or night.  Linux is not locked away behind activation procedures, CD-keys or Licensing agreements.  I am free to copy it, I am free to give it away as much as I wish, I am free to improve upon it as I see fit.  It is this self-same love of freedom that has me so distraught over the controversies surrounding habeus corpus.  But this is not a political column so I will leave that alone.

    And lastly, I love Linux because it is an operating system that is designed to be beneficial to me.  Not beneficial to its maker.  Open source software did not entice me into the fold to further itself or its agenda.  It was made as a gift by volunteers who only wanted to help make the world a better place.  And that is something that I can believe in.

    Right now there are over five hundred different distributions of Linux.  With Windows you find you are constantly forced to upgrade your hardware to meet its specifications.  With Linux, there is undoubtedly a version that will run on whatever computer you have at hand.  There are versions of Linux that will run on an old 386.  Linux doesn't abandon old hardware.  It is not picky, it is not proud.  This is not to say that any version of Linux will run on any machine.  You have to find the version that is right for what you have.  But at least that version is out there somewhere.

    And there's not much that a Windows machine can do that a Linux machine can't do.  If your computer can run Vista, it would likely run better with Ubuntu Linux or Red Hat or Debian.  If your computer is so old it can only run Windows 95/98, Puppy Linux or DamnSmallLinux would run so fast it would make you think that machine had grown wings.

    It is a diverse planet we live in filled with billions of people with many different needs.  One operating system cannot meet all of those needs.  In light of this, I think 500+ versions of Linux is a low number.  I believe MS Windows should have a place in all of this.  I just don't believe it deserves to be #1.

    Here I am almost finished, and I'm not sure I successfully completed the challenge I was given.  Saying nice things about a company that you pretty much despise is not an easy task.  I did my best.  I leave it up to you, the reader, to decide how I did.

    In summation, Thank you Microsoft.  Without you our lives would not be as rich with technology and convenience.  I appreciate everything you have done for the computing world.  It wouldn't have been the same without you.  Now please go away.  We don't really need you anymore.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

No comments:

Vote for my Ubuntu Brainstorm Idea!!!

Do you think it would be a great idea to have a specific version of Ubuntu designed for kids and parents? Filled with fun games and parental control features to keep your little ones safe? Join Ubuntu Brainstorm and vote!