Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oops, I said it again

Over the Easter weekend I engaged someone in conversation that once again created an assumption that my dislike for Microsoft was based upon an evangelism for the Linux operating system. So Michael, allow me to immediately put that misconception to rest. Do I dislike Microsoft's Windows operating system? Yes, I do. Okay, I admit it. I'll go as far to say, though, that I actually like some of it in concept (just not in implementation). However, that is not the reason I dislike Microsoft and the state of computer technology as they are today.

My gripe, religion, evangelism, and so on is not about the operating system wars, it's about choice. Under Bill Gates' reign, Microsoft used its financial influence to manipulate the playing field so that people would need to go to them for, well, just about any computing application. I don't really care how many charitable causes Bill is now contributing to -- the ends do not justify the means. When you fuck-over the computer industry by making open standards and a new communications media proprietary, no amount of charitable contributions can undo that action. Sorry Bill -- You and your company still feel that it should own the computing (and Internet) experience and I don't feel that is morally right. Some Microsoft proponents would say that if Microsoft didn't do it, then someone else would. That's probably correct, and if they did I would be sitting here saying the same thing about them. It's wrong no matter who does the bidding.

The reason I continue to be so incredibly pissed-off about this is because, as a community, we've allowed this to happen. Residential Internet providers almost unanimously require that it's customers use Microsoft Windows (and maybe limited support for the Macintosh). Business-class providers are not far behind. If it were just a matter of software support, I'd say, "Okay, fine." It isn't though - I remember being on DSL and SBC's sign-up screen wouldn't even work without using Internet Explorer. If I call Time Warner RoadRunner technical support for an Internet connectivity related problem, their national technical support will effectively refuse to talk to me unless I do the same test commands under Windows. Computer companies and software manufacturers have been bullied into exclusive relationships with Microsoft under the threat that Microsoft wouldn't provide them with advance information about Windows -- information that was necessary to write drivers for computer hardware or programming interfaces that would allow software development. Saying that these were all business decisions necessary for Microsoft to be profitable doesn't justify the damage that has been done.

It doesn't really stop there either: Microsoft's actions have created a template for other companies to follow. As I have repeatedly stated here and elsewhere, Adobe is doing similar things to the Web with Flash technology. Now that Flash has become ubiquitous in so many web sites, Adobe essentially controls how people experience the web and, more importantly, what hardware and operating system they use for that experience. What stops them from putting something unrelated into the Flash player that we don't like, thus forcing us to accept that in order to continue accessing web sites? Large corporations now massively control
access to the Internet, as indicated previously, and can dictate how we access the Internet, what services we can provide, and are talking about controlling who we actually can communicate with (see "net neutrality"). These are just two examples of the kind of manipulation that has evolved.

This can be expressed as Murphy's Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. It's nothing new, but many of the people who were Internet pioneers (like myself) back when it was just emerging as a non-military, non-academic media had a utopian view that the Internet would remain an untainted media.

So, Michael, this is my gripe. My jabs at Windows as an operating system are little bits of OS evangelism, but I really can see that there may be some value in Windows (not much, but some). Personally, I like the Windows graphical interface (GUI) far better than the one on the Mac. My dislike for Microsoft as a company though goes straight to its core (and isn't just due to a distaste for the Windows OS internals and the building of an OS on top of a GUI instead of the opposite). Microsoft has done serious damage to the computer industry and the Internet that they will never recover from in the current socio-political environment. I don't have the answer on how to fix this nor even a way that it could have been prevented. I can be disappointed and saddened by what greed effectively did to an otherwise open environment.

1 comment:

Speck said...

Do you want me to email this to Michael?