March 22, 2004

Harmed by Microsoft?

Paul Kedrosky asks:

Infectious Greed: Does anyone reading this column -- many using a browser -- really think they have been damaged by not having paid separately for the browser they are using?

And I raise my hand, and shout, "I do! I do!" I certainly think that I have been harmed by Microsoft's bundling Internet Explorer with its Windows operating system.

Remember the days when there was not one single dominant browser that came preinstalled on 95% of PCs sold? Back then there was ferocious competition in the browser market, as first a number of competitors and then Netscape and Microsoft worked furiously to upgrade their browsers and add new features to them. Most of these new features turned out to be idiotic. Some turned out to be very useful. Progress in making better browsers was rapid, because browser-makers wanted to make a better product and any new idea about what a browser should be was rapidly deployed to a large enough user base to make it worthwhile for web designers to try to use the new feature.

And now? There is no progress in browsers at all. Why should anyone (besides crazed open sourcies) write a new browser? Why should Microsoft spend any money improving its browser? The point of giving Internet Explorer away for free is to protect Windows's market, after all.

I would dearly love a return to the days when Microsoft and Netscape furiously spent resources like water to make better web browsers.


UPDATE: Dan Gillmor agrees:

Silicon Valley - Dan Gillmor's eJournal - Firefox May be Better, But Internet Explorer is Entrenched: Jon Udell says Firefox fills the IE void by being a better browser than Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which has stagnated since Microsoft destroyed serious competition in the browser business. I use Firefox, too,but unfortunately it doesn't fill the void enough to matter. Here's an example of why. Last week, a new product called Onfolio was released. The company describes it as an "application for collecting, organizing and sharing what you find online," and it's getting good reviews.

You won't be surprised, however, to learn that it works in only one configuration: Windows and IE. Now, I use a Mac, so this isn't even an issue for me, except to point out once again the increasing marginalization of the Mac and Apple's weak efforts to do anything about it. But even on Windows, IE remains the default because other applications rely on it. And one reason they rely on it is that it's the default choice; end users rarely change the defaults. This is one reason why it's hard to dislodge a monopoly, particularly one that's willing to break the law to maintain its position. Not that breaking the law seems to have any serious consequences...

Posted by DeLong at March 22, 2004 05:32 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Even without express bundling, Microsoft sweeps aside superior products just because of the perceived need for conformity. As one of the last wordperfect holdouts, I fret about the day I'll have to cave and use Word full time so that I can share my documents with others.

Posted by: pj on March 22, 2004 06:20 PM

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Brad:

There is some competition in the browser market - I use thee different browsers: Opera, Firebird, and IE. (Opera is far and away the best of these). It may not be as robust a competition as people would like, but it is there. Given how cheap these browsers are, in terms of price (free!) and computer resources required to store them (nearly free!), the competition is clearly on the merit of using each. And because I can use three browsers, I can have a favorite (Opera) and a standby for those websites or products that only work with IE.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim on March 22, 2004 06:26 PM

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I'd disagree with the car stereo comparison. Different manufacturers, even different models, come with different stereo systems. The desktop market is pretty much MS and apple, and MS has the commanding lead.

As a web developer I can't use things like CSS 2 or even some of CSS 1. I can't use things like Alpha transparency in PNGs without bizarre hacks. This is ignoring the countless other odd bugs I encounter when writing HTML for IE.

The features listed above have ALL been implemented in Mozilla and KHTML as well as opera. Let's also not forget the myriad bugs and security vulnerabilities found in IE. All of these projects have had far fewer resources than IE and have ALL managed to produce higher quality products than MS. MS has failed to innovate at anything but the slowest possible pace.

Posted by: Andrew Cholakian on March 22, 2004 06:30 PM

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theCoach writes: "It has, no doubt hurt the car stereo market some,"

Nah. It lets the car stereo makers market their products as status symbols and luxury items.

This has fed back into the system, so now you get automakers putting high-end name-brand stereo systems in their cars. At the extreme, you get Lexus putting Mark Levinson systems in their cars.

Posted by: Jon H on March 22, 2004 07:04 PM

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With all due respect,

Seems like everything on my desktop has a browser hooked into it-- SBC Yahoo, Quicken, Familty Tree Maker, Realplayer, Windows Media Player, Virus Scanners... Perhaps it's all Microsoft under the hood though the look and feel varies enough.

For now I don't much care because I'm too busy worrying about how to stop the automatic advertising that comes with every damn application I run, plus all the snooping that goes on behind my back. It doesn't seem to matter that I pay a few license dollars per app. plus a hefty subscriber fee to get onto the Internet. Those monies are apparently not enough to cover the cost of running a worldwide web.

Maybe my headache is part of the same problem, ie. Microsoft's monopoly, or some other problem, I'm not sure. I just know that "back in the day" we didn't take such liberties with our computer users, though then the software license fees were generally enough to cover the hardware along with software.

Score me as one looking forward to the post-capitalist enlightenment or whatever replaces our current everyone's got-a-hustle paradigm.

Posted by: dennisS on March 22, 2004 07:05 PM

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I use WordPerfect, mail with Pegasus (thus avoiding all of those viruses and worms designed to attack Outlook), and use Netscape Navigator or Opera. In all cases, these are better than their MS competitors.

Quite frankly, I think the failure of these programs to dent the market is at least partly due to the fact that people are lazy and won't try something new.

Posted by: Stuart Levine on March 22, 2004 07:06 PM

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Brad,

Your analysis is way off. First I really don't think that anything of value happened to the browser during the browser wars that would not have happened anyway. The biggest changes, stylesheets and XML were proposed long before Netscape existed. I have personal knowledge in this area since I worked on the Web with Tim at CERN.

Most of the Netscape 'enhancements' could have been done a lot better with a small amount of prior discussion with the community. Only once did Netscape ever share one of their ideas with me before they shipped, and that was the SSL 1.0 protocol which I broke in fifteen minutes by pointing out that it was easy for an attacker to modify the content of messages. They fixed the one problem I spotted without asking me if there might be any more. I then spent three months telling them that they had a broken random number generator - which they then ignored for over a year until someone else found the exploit and told the newspapers.

Netscape was every bit as monolithic as they accused Microsoft of being. It was a classic case of projection, they understood that the logical result of the network effect was consolodation on a single platform. Marc wanted to own and control that platform and "reduce Windows to a set of baddly debugged device drivers".

The Web Consortium was set up to seize back control of the Web and make it open. It is a pity that it was necessary to do that. I would have prefered it to become a think tank to concentrate on facilitating development of the next big idea.

Microsoft got ahead by writing a better browser. They did that by taking all the good ideas from the whole web community, not just those from inside their company. The idea of integrating explorer into the O/S came from Tim's keynote at the Boston Web conference. I had previously written on the idea of the Web as operating system.

Posted by: Phill Hallam-Baker on March 22, 2004 07:11 PM

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To the question, "has anyone actually been harmed" by Microsoft's predatory bundling of IE, I have to ask...

...are you kidding me? I realize it's considered kind of gauche and slashdotty to bring up IE's monstrously long (and growing by the day) list of security holes in these sorts of airy discussions of "consequences", but as an IT professional, I can assure you that there are very concrete, real-world consequences of that list: real companies lose real money, every day, because Microsoft's 98% lock-in of the most used piece of software on every computer in the world has eliminated their business case for proactive code review and maintenence.

Not to dispute Mr. Hallam-Baker's assessment of Netscape's business model, but it's entirely orthogonal to Brad's point: two companies striving for dominance produce a completely different result than one company achieving and then ruthlessly exploiting it.

Posted by: Doctor Memory on March 22, 2004 07:21 PM

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Brad,

Your analysis is way off. First I really don't think that anything of value happened to the browser during the browser wars that would not have happened anyway. The biggest changes, stylesheets and XML were proposed long before Netscape existed. I have personal knowledge in this area since I worked on the Web with Tim at CERN.

Most of the Netscape 'enhancements' could have been done a lot better with a small amount of prior discussion with the community. Only once did Netscape ever share one of their ideas with me before they shipped, and that was the SSL 1.0 protocol which I broke in fifteen minutes by pointing out that it was easy for an attacker to modify the content of messages. They fixed the one problem I spotted without asking me if there might be any more. I then spent three months telling them that they had a broken random number generator - which they then ignored for over a year until someone else found the exploit and told the newspapers.

Netscape was every bit as monolithic as they accused Microsoft of being. It was a classic case of projection, they understood that the logical result of the network effect was consolodation on a single platform. Marc wanted to own and control that platform and "reduce Windows to a set of baddly debugged device drivers".

The Web Consortium was set up to seize back control of the Web and make it open. It is a pity that it was necessary to do that. I would have prefered it to become a think tank to concentrate on facilitating development of the next big idea.

Microsoft got ahead by writing a better browser. They did that by taking all the good ideas from the whole web community, not just those from inside their company. The idea of integrating explorer into the O/S came from Tim's keynote at the Boston Web conference. I had previously written on the idea of the Web as operating system.

Posted by: Phill Hallam-Baker on March 22, 2004 07:22 PM

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There also was large finincail harm to users who bought alternative software. Whether it was an operating system (ie OS/2, Netware, BeOS), office suite (Lotus, WordPerfect,etc) or other software. When the users bought these products they invested their money and training time to learn to use them. The useful life of thier (substantial) investments was dramtically cut short. Also users are now shy to invest in non-Microsoft products for fear that a new investment will be wasted.

Posted by: gh on March 22, 2004 07:29 PM

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But, aren't there benefits for software developers to know that they only need to support a single, dominant, platform, rather than many incompatible ones?

Lets assume features are available in one platform and not in another. The developer will either have to find mechanisms to compensate for missing functionality, or develop to the lowest common denominator. In the single platform case, I can still develop that mechanism for the missing functionality, if it is truly worth my while. And LCD is likely worse than any single platform. So, I benefit if I can limit the number of platforms constraining me, while getting to a large enough market.

We can talk about standards helping to resolve this, but they also work against the notion of benefits from having lots of choices in platforms with different features.

There are of course other points such as the explosion of the testing matrix.

Posted by: Anurag on March 22, 2004 07:31 PM

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"But, aren't there benefits for software developers to know that they only need to support a single, dominant, platform, rather than many incompatible ones?"

Yes, to the same extent that consumers benefit from a monopoly on telephone service. Isn't it so convenient only having to talk to one entity in order to get your phone service installed?

I leave the remainder of the analogy as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by: Armature on March 22, 2004 07:49 PM

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Buy a Mac. Use Safari. They aren't toys any more!

Posted by: SW on March 22, 2004 07:52 PM

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Anurag wrote, "But, aren't there benefits for software developers to know that they only need to support a single, dominant, platform, rather than many incompatible ones?"

Depends. I'm not a software developer, but my impression is that this is less of an issue if open *interface* standards can be developed.

Posted by: liberal on March 22, 2004 08:19 PM

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So far the focus here has been mostly on private use ("I use this or that") -- private in the sense that you, the end user, are making the decision what to use. And presumably this decision has been made on technical merit, what suits your needs, performance, price, installation effort, etc.

In a corporate environment things look slightly different from an end user perspective -- IT decides what standard platform (I bet you it's Windows/IE/Outlook) they support: you can still dissent and use alternatives, only they won't support them, which is mostly a non-issue, as you don't need support.

But then comes the kicker: with the increasing use of employee self-service and other intranet and outsourced vendor web services, they may only support IE and even purposely lock out other browsers! We are saving so much money by streamlining -- what, you have a Unix desktop? Don't worry, we buy you a Windows box (shit, no budget, how about Citrix and you log in to our Windows terminal servers we have to purchase ...).

People are, well, so far not forced but only "encouraged" to standardize on MS tools, with the obvious side effect of virus/worm/trojan attacks that take out complete corporate email systems worldwide. In my business unit, we have certain internal mailing lists that generate up to hundreds of messages daily, and Outlook users have trouble setting up filters that sort the emails by interesting/relevant to you and to-be-ignored stuff, and thus feel compelled to automatically delete everything from the list; several people who use Outlook first claimed it's fine, then after 1/2 year or so start reporting problems how their email archives get corrupted, stuff that used to work doesn't anymore, etc.

I use Netscape for email for the precise reason that it keeps its email archives in essentially RFC-822 text format, and I can access and search my archives over a telnet connection, or any tools handling RFC-822 that I may choose to employ.

Posted by: cm on March 22, 2004 08:54 PM

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1)Has anybody been damaged by not having paid separately for a browser. YES!!

- Why does every opening every email potentially expose me to a potential exploding cigar that will destroy my system and erase my data?
- why do I have to waste hours/month on patches, and pay what amounts to protection money to anti-virus companies, due to dangerously unprotected/insecure web Win/IE programing interfaces
- Why do corporations waste literally billions on anti-virus, firewall and security software, and massive administrative overhead, to try and stop (or fix the damage from) malware before it gets to inherently dangerously architected web browsers or email, ?
- Why I am constantly bothered by pop-ups, and privacy destroying and dangerous web attachments (spyware/malware, cookie tracking, viruses) which are automatically downloaded unless I degrade IE browser functionality to the point of uselessness, or have to pay for awkwardly bolted on utilites which don't integrate smoothly with IE or the OS?

The issue is not simply that MS's IE was a better browser and therefore won (it wasn't and isn't). Or that Netscape was also similarly proprietary. Rather, recall that MS used (and continues to use) brute force tactics( see a & b below ) leveraging their Windows monopoly to compel computer mfg's, software developers, consultants and others to preferentially use/sell/develop-on IE, and explicitly exclude competitors, thus driving them out of business. The result was that browser innovation and user interface development effectively stopped, leaving a huge static monoculture target for every virus writer/spammer/sleazy marketer to exploit.

2) Re: harming general innovation. One can make an even stronger case that the entire computer industry has been severely harmed by multiple instances of MS abuse of their monopoly. For about five years now, the Windows environment has not had any new major "killer apps". This is due in large part to the fact that entrepreneurs don't see any compelling ROI in major development investments on the Windows platform, which is 90+% of the total computer market (by units). This is because if the resulting market builds to any signficant size MS has proven repetitively that they will either copy, and in several proven cases outright steal the innovation to produce a competitive product which is then coercively marketed and/or bundled with the OS. The result? Customers have found that there's no reason to upgrade their old computers, since there's no new software that really requires more than what they bought 3-4 years ago. The entire computer industry has thus had 3+ years of stunted growth (i.e. post Y2K). Certainly this is partially due to market saturation and post bubble market hangover, but in large part (especially in the last 2 years) this is also due to companies delaying refresh cycles for want of any compelling S/W innovations that require H/W upgrades.

In short, MS has most definitely directly and indirectly harmed everyone who is effectively forced to use IE because of MS's abuse of their Windows monopoly to drive competitors out of business.

(a)MS "right to innovate". Few question whether MS has a right to add functionality to their OS. That's not the key issue. The issue at hand is whether MS has (and continues to) illegally leverage their Windows monopoly to threaten and coerce partners to preferentially adopt their products or specfications, and actively exclude competitors. Secondly, they design products with proprietary and confidential API's to hamper or exclude the ability of competitors to compete with their products, which is fine in a competitive market, but isn't in a monopoly situation (akin to a electricity utility telling you that you have to use their electic appliances, and if you want to use someone else's they won't share with anyone how to plug it in). Isn't it odd that MS has failed in every market they've tried to enter where they can't use the Windows monopoly to disadvantage/hammer their competitors?

(b)Having worked for a major PC mfg in past years, I can state definitively, from direct experience, that when 80-90% of your H/W revenues come from Windows based products, the mere suggestion that you might get (or not get) preferential access to new product info (enabling one to be feature competitive or fall behind), or lose kickbacks (umm, I mean Market Development Funds - aka co-op $$) i.e. be profitable or lose money in a H/W universe of razor thin margins, based on your doing what MS tells you, this constitutes an offer you can't refuse.

Posted by: kevin walsh on March 22, 2004 09:05 PM

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1. Nobody is forced to use IE. You can get Opera or Mozilla. If you are unhappy about IE and still use it, why?

2. We pay for IE when we buy Windows. However the only place we are sometimes (not always) forced to use it is at work. Buy Mac or buy a PC with preinstalled Linux for your home and be happy. If you choose to run Windows, why are you complaining?

Posted by: bubba on March 22, 2004 09:42 PM

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As a former IT marketing person who's startup IPO was smoked by MSFT stealing our thunder and bundling it for free in IE, and as someone who converses regularly with former MSFT programmers and spamware virus protectors, all I can say is:
Get Opera! Then pay a Far East buddy to backship one of HP's Asian Linux machines here to CONUS.

There's a Linux software product out that reads all MS Office formats, so you don't have to own XP or the new MS "upgrade" in 2005 that won't be backwardly compatible for ANY of your software. Any of you who've upgraded your XP to the new service pack know what I'm talking about. Good software just stops working. You're s&*t out of luck with MS. http://www.geocities.com/rcwoolley/

Microsoft stole Apple's desktop interface, they stole Netscape's web browser, then "borrowed" Sun Java, free public domain code, and rewrote it in their own image, they reverse engineered Real Networks and bundled Media Player for free.
These MS guys are crooks, pirates, monopolists.

Seriously! This is like late 1999, when everyone in the know was whispering "bail out", all of us thinking, God, stocks might go up another 10%!
Stocks didn't. And MS won't. Migrate now, or you'll be Bill Gates collective pay-per-viewer, so Paul Allen can contribute your tithes to his stellar search for asteroids from Uranus, and buying more Seattle politician votes for South of Lake Union real estate shenanigans. ;)

All hail Emperor Gates and Overlord Allen!

www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/seti_funding_000801.html
www.space.com/news/allen_rutan_031217.html

You think I'm kidding on this? Type "migrate from Windows to Linux" in Copernicus or Google.
You'll get more webpages saying "migrate from Linux to Windows", all from Microsoft.com. And those Linux websites? They're all 404, dead.

This is serious s&*t. Read Sun Tsu, then migrate!

Posted by: Sam Hain on March 22, 2004 09:44 PM

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Armature, I don't understand your analogy. Could you explain further? My understanding is that competition in phone service is between carriers all providing (approximately) the same (standardized) service. Presumably, you would be less happy with competition in this environment if your hw and sw only supported rotary calling because some carriers hadn't started supporting touch tone or had incompatible tones or even had different numbering systems for phone numbers (each with its own advantages). Standards can be a good thing, but I don't see how they emerge from feature-war competitions.

Liberal suggests that variations can still be supported if there are uniform interfaces. This is true, but doesn't address the point of the post, which was about innovation in features, not in competing internal implementations. Features only available on one platform would, I think, imply non-uniform interfaces.

We may have lost in the feature sets of browsers, but I would argue that we have gained in content delivered (since it can be generated at lower cost). This is not a defense of how Microsoft achieved its market share. The same would be true had Netscape retained its dominance of the market.

Posted by: Anurag on March 22, 2004 09:58 PM

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Using Microsoft products is character-building, like IKEA. I say embrace the irritation. This way you learn the value of things, and not just the price.

What does "You have committed an illegal action" mean?

Posted by: Matthew Bristow on March 22, 2004 10:49 PM

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By the demi-gods, let AT&T dredge up a patent on the telephone handset and the switch, or at least claim the talkie interface! Standards, people, standards! Then cut the Singular -v- Sprint -v- T-Mobile -v Cingular -v- QWest crap!
All hail AT&T and MicroSoft! Now for that service pack upgrade we mentioned you'd need ... oh, and sorry, your old cell phones and software products are now worthless. That'll be extra.

Posted by: Uber Alles on March 22, 2004 11:00 PM

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I heard from an Austrian friend today that MS has just been slapped with an antitrust fine by the EU, somewhere on the order of $600 million.

My previous job was for a company that, after it folded due to an inability to get penetration into the PC market, sued MS for antitrust violations. MS eventually settled out of court.

Posted by: ctate on March 23, 2004 12:35 AM

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I see responses to my post, but no post. Hmmm...I forgot what I wrote. Did I write something offensive or off topic? I remeber writing that Brad did not understand the market in question...

Andrew Cholakian,
All browsers still have problems with the standards, and there are real legacy problems with the standards. Essentially, HTML is a mess. It is a bad spec that was very useful for bootstrapping everyone onto the Internet, but now that the net is commonplace, we now longer should be pouring resources into the freaking browser. The browser should die a slow death.

Posted by: theCoach on March 23, 2004 04:13 AM

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Tomorrow (Wednesday 24), the European Commission will vote on (and very probaly approve) a fine of 600 million $ proposed by Competition commissoner Mario Monti for MS as a punishment for abuse of a dominant market position (MS explorer and media player), and for refusing to open up some of the cource codes for competitors to be able to improve applications.

Posted by: gerhard on March 23, 2004 05:12 AM

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Sam Hain

"Microsoft stole Apple's desktop interface, they stole Netscape's web browser, then "borrowed" Sun Java, free public domain code, and rewrote it in their own image, they reverse engineered Real Networks and bundled Media Player for free."

Ya know, for all MS has done, you don't have to make stuff up. Of the above, all are patently false but one, and that last one is just innuendo that has no shred of evidence to support it. But it's OK to lie 'cause they're Microsoft, eh?

1) Win and the Mac interface originate from the same place - Xerox PARC. Essentially, Steve Jobs "stole" it from the same place Bill did.

2) MS IE is based off of Mosaic, which predates Netscape. In fact, Netscape is based off of Mosaic. BOTH companies were exploiting free software for thier own gains. I find it appropriate that Mozilla is now where it's at, commercially.

I have no love for MS, but ya know what? Non techy people should stick to the non-techy reasons, which are many and obvious.

Posted by: grimmtooth on March 23, 2004 05:48 AM

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Meself I use Mozilla, and for a single handy feature, tabbed browsing.

All the other stuff, really handy multi-lingualism, a good macro language, and nice design, are just gravy.

It's free, for Linux, Windows, and Solaris, at http://mozilla.org

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on March 23, 2004 06:37 AM

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All software will have weak spots. That being said the best thing is as far as possible not to use what the crowd is using. The special weekness of IE is that it IS integrated with the OS, and also with the core office suite.

MS's Bush like attitude to security (all bluster no substance) is merely the whipped cream.

Posted by: Eli Rabett on March 23, 2004 08:02 AM

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Anurag wrote, "Liberal suggests that variations can still be supported if there are uniform interfaces. This is true, but doesn't address the point of the post, which was about innovation in features, not in competing internal implementations. Features only available on one platform would, I think, imply non-uniform interfaces."

Not sure you understand what I mean. I don't mean user interfaces, I mean programmer interfaces (APIs, etc).

The hardware world is amazingly competitive at least in part because of industry standards. Not true in the software world, to the best of my knowledge.

Posted by: liberal on March 23, 2004 08:36 AM

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" Netscape was every bit as monolithic as they accused Microsoft of being. It was a classic case of projection, they understood that the logical result of the network effect was consolodation on a single platform. ....

" Microsoft got ahead by writing a better browser. "

Yes, this is the highly amusing irony that the Arthur-David thesis still misses. Microsoft overtook the leader that should have been "locked-in" due to path dependence.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on March 23, 2004 09:16 AM

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It is not the case that single-browser dominance makes web development more efficient. The public standards that exist are clearly defined and well thought out, and are a pleasure to work with. Achieving browser compatibility with these standards is easily achievable. They are not at odds with innovation, which should always add to, rather than altering, existing functionality.

The problem is that Microsoft, with its monopoly, has no incentive to respect these standards, and in fact has disincentive, since better intercompatibility would facilitate the penetration of competing browsers. Through some combination of malice and negligence, IE violates HTML and CSS standards in all kinds of ways, forcing web developers to deviate from these standards ourselves. Perpetuating this kind of proprietary, ad hoc development harms the consumer.

Personally, I find Mozilla/Firefox to be so far superior that I develop for these initially, even though I work on an intranet product that will only ever be used on IE. Once it's working on a standards-compliant browser, I insert hacks and workarounds that pander to IE.

Posted by: matt butler on March 23, 2004 09:20 AM

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Yes, this is the highly amusing irony that the Arthur-David thesis still misses. Microsoft overtook the leader that should have been "locked-in" due to path dependence.

Posted by Patrick R. Sullivan at March 23, 2004 09:16 AM

Patrick can't conclude anything about the Arthur/David lock-in hypothesis based on IE not being "locked-out" due to its one-time zero market share -- or, similarly, Netscape not being locked-in based on its former lead in adoptions.

Technology lock-in in the Arthur sense depends on the cumulative number of adoptions, the market shares, and the heterogeneity of user preferences (noting that unbounded increasing returns is neither necessary nor sufficient for the monopoly lock-in result). So to know what sort of incumbency advantage (if any) Netscape might have had over IE, it would be necessary to know more about the increasing returns mechanism and how far along the adoption process was.

Gruesome mathematical details proved here, among other places (Bassanini & Dosi, "Competing Technologies, International Diffusion, and the Rate of Convergence to a Stable Market Sttucture"):
http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/cache/papers/cs/5764/http:zSzzSzwww.iiasa.ac.atzSzPublicationszSzDocumentszSzIR-98-012.pdf/bassanini98competing.pdf/

Posted by: Tom Bozzo on March 23, 2004 10:31 AM

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The only reason the two competitors "spent money like water" was to secure a firm market footing, not to say dominance, for themselves: while I would give Netscape a smidgen more credit than MSFT, the goal of giving away the browser was to sell server applications that the browser could then leverage, making the OS a marginalized commodity (why else would netscape spend all the effort on making versions for every OS under the sun, from WIN32 and MacOS to the myriad UNIX/Linux variants?).

I don't think Netscape would have turned a chance to own a 90+ share of the market, but I don't know that they would have stopped at nothing, even cutting off their competitor's air supply[1], as was reported, to get there.

And while MSIE is based on the Mosaic source code, licensed to SpyGlass and by them to MSFT, Netscape was not based on Mosaic: it was built from scratch, though admittedly by some of the same people. You can see the license details in the "About" box in your browser: it underscores that MSFT's real innovation is in deals and distribution channel management, not software.

As for innovation, there's still plenty going on: tabbed browsing is enough to make me drop IE like a hot rock, but better standards compliance, evidenced by faster and more accurate rendering, is a good reason as well. And there's the matter of security and reliability.

1. http://www.businessweek.com/microsoft/updates/up90129a.htm and many others: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=microsoft+netscape+%22air+supply%22&btnG=Google+Search

Posted by: paul on March 23, 2004 10:54 AM

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I won't allow IE on my machine at home. It's Mozilla or Netscape.

Posted by: vachon on March 23, 2004 11:50 AM

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Anurag: The analogy is simple. In the short term, developers benefit from having a single platform. In the long run, they are hurt because the monopoly provider has tremendous leverage and becomes less responsive to market pressure. There's a reason the phone company had to get busted up.

You raise the separate question of how/why standards emerge from feature wars. Standards emerge from feature wars because people get sick of gratuitous diversity, and political and market forces drive providers to get together and agree.

At first, this seems like an inefficient way of arriving at standards, compared to having a benevolent dictator hand out standards from on high. However, probe deeper, and you realize the following three points:

1. Not all diversity is gratuitous. Competition helps hash out the relative merits of competing proposals.

2. Dictators are not always benevolent. (This is essentially what most anti-Microsoft posters in this thread have been saying.)

3. When standards emerge from a multilateral body (like W3C) rather than a unilateral body (like MS or Netscape), the standards are openly documented, and not owned by any one entity. This has the effect of making the corresponding layer into a commodity, thereby producing a platform on which anyone can produce innovative products without paying rent to a monopoly provider.

Compare the web's XML/HTML melange to Microsoft Office file formats. If you have a great idea for software that massages web content, you can go implement it right away. If you have a great idea for software that massages office documents, be prepared to sink many developer-years into reverse engineering those file formats. Or, alternatively, pay rent to Microsoft and use their embedding APIs --- but that assumes those APIs give you access to all the features you need. (Maybe if you ask nicely, and have lots and lots of money, Microsoft will change their APIs for you. Eventually. If it pleases them.)

Is it an accident that Office development is relatively stagnant, whereas the web's innovating rapidly through RSS and the constellation of Mozilla projects?

The only reason Microsoft has not succeeded in causing web software to stagnate as wholly as office productivity software is that the web's relatively open core technologies (HTML/XML, HTTP) have proven rather hard to corrupt.

Posted by: Armature on March 23, 2004 01:33 PM

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I disagree. There is progress in browsers. I mainly use Opera, but some for things - blogging, ebanking - I do have to use IE, simply because the host of my blog and my bank have 'optimised' their sites for IE. I think you should direct your attention to IM's. Most people I think are using the MSN and I'm not sure every upgrade of that is an improvement.

Posted by: Rik on March 23, 2004 02:41 PM

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I don't understand the economics of bundling. It doesn't seem to be in the monopolists interests.

Say Microsoft has a monopoly on an operating system and sells the OS on its own for $100. It bundles a browser with the OS and sells the combined package for $120. Now assume that Microsoft is not the most efficient producer of browsers. Netscape can make a better one at the same cost as Microsoft. Consumers would pay $5 for the Netscape version. Then Microsoft could sell the OS on its own for $105 and let consumers buy the Netscape browser.

It seems to me that, to the extent that consumers are getting screwed from bundling, the monopolist could just raise its price on the original product instead. I don't think it would be a valid response to say that consumers have little choice and will simply go along with whatever Microsoft does. If that were true, Microsoft would be charging more for Windows independently.

Can someone explain where I'm wrong or pose a hypothetical where a monopolist is better off bundling instead of just raising prices?

Posted by: Xavier on March 23, 2004 05:47 PM

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I second Paul's comments on tabbed browsing. I can't stand to use IE at all on any machine; it just feels broken without tabbed browsing. It's good for downloading Mozilla or Firefox if you're using a Windows machine, I guess.

Posted by: John Thacker on March 23, 2004 07:57 PM

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Was there ever a browser market? Both Netscape and IE are based on Mosaic, after all, which was ultimately a product of the anarchist collective that's produced just about everything worthwhile about the 'net. Without the collective, data networking would probably be a lot like wireless voice networking--overpriced, unreliable, and inconvenient.

Meantime, Bell Labs has Plan 9 (really: see http://plan9.bell-labs.com) 10 years old, revolutionary, and nowhere near wide deployment, the PARC work on ubiquitous computing is near 10 years old, revolutionary, and nowhere near wide deployment, our ability to network graphics and audio via computers is still appallingly limited, and so on...

The revolution seems to have been defeated, or least is taking a break.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on March 23, 2004 09:38 PM

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The British "Independent" writes today:

http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/story.jsp?story=504377

US backlash fear after hefty EU fine on Microsoft
By David Usborne in New York
24 March 2004


Tensions between the United States and the European Union are set to be inflamed as the European Commission prepares to release details this morning of a record €497m (£331m) fine to be imposed on the American software giant Microsoft for allegedly impeding free competition.

Pressure will rise on the White House to challenge the decision, which will be approved at a full meeting of the European Commission today on recommendations from the EU competition chief, Mario Monti, after a five-year probe. It will be the highest fine ever imposed by Brussels on a foreign company.

"This ruling is yet another example of the EU assaulting a successful American industry and policies that support our economic growth," said US Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Microsoft's home state of Washington. She called on President George Bush to "engage" with Brussels on the case.

More important may be the reaction of the US Justice Department, which negotiated a settlement with Microsoft in 2001 after a similar investigation into claims that its Windows software was unfair to competitors in the industry. As details of the impending EU decisions have leaked out, officials in Washington have maintained a more or less tactful silence.

Last week, an official at the Justice Department said it believed its settlement "provides the appropriate framework for marketplace competition in this important sector". But Senator Murray insisted the EU "has now directly attacked the authority of the United States and our economy in general. American jobs and economic interests are threatened".

There was similar controversy three years ago when the EU took the unusual step of overriding regulators in Washington and blocking a proposed merger between General Electric and Honeywell. Although both were American companies, the EU is entitled to intervene in cases where the companies in question do substantial business in Europe. In the latest case, Europe accounts for 30 per cent of Microsoft's revenues.

Microsoft's chief lawyer in Europe, Horacio Gutierrez, signaled its intent to appeal against today's ruling, which also includes provisions requiring the company to offer stripped-down versions of Windows without its media player software.

"We believe it's unprecedented and inappropriate for the Commission to impose a fine on a company's US operations when those operations are already regulated by the US Government," Mr Gutierrez said, referring to the 2001 Justice Department accord. "The conduct at issue has been permitted by both the US Department of Justice and a US court."

The fine, though very large by European standards, would barely dent Microsoft, which reportedly has more than $50bn cash in hand. The restrictions on its ability to bundle extra features with Windows is a far more threatening prospect. Yet the effect of the EU decision could be delayed by months or even years if the company pushes ahead with an appeal.

Posted by: gerhard on March 24, 2004 02:11 AM

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http://europa.eu.int


IP/04/382

Brussels, 24 March 2004

Commission concludes on Microsoft investigation, imposes conduct remedies and a fine

The European Commission has concluded, after a five-year investigation, that Microsoft Corporation broke European Union competition law by leveraging its near monopoly in the market for PC operating systems (OS) onto the markets for work group server operating systems(1) and for media players(2). Because the illegal behaviour is still ongoing, the Commission has ordered Microsoft to disclose to competitors, within 120 days, the interfaces(3) required for their products to be able to 'talk' with the ubiquitous Windows OS. Microsoft is also required, within 90 days, to offer a version of its Windows OS without Windows Media Player to PC manufacturers (or when selling directly to end users). In addition, Microsoft is fined € 497 million for abusing its market power in the EU.

"Dominant companies have a special responsibility to ensure that the way they do business doesn't prevent competition on the merits and does not harm consumers and innovation " said European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti. "Today's decision restores the conditions for fair competition in the markets concerned and establish clear principles for the future conduct of a company with such a strong dominant position," he added.

After an exhaustive and extensive investigation of more than five years and three statements of objections(4), the Commission has today taken a decision finding that US software company Microsoft Corporation has violated the EU Treaty's competition rules by abusing its near monopoly(5) (Article 82) in the PC operating system.

Microsoft abused its market power by deliberately restricting interoperability between Windows PCs and non-Microsoft work group servers, and by tying its Windows Media Player (WMP), a product where it faced competition, with its ubiquitous Windows operating system.

This illegal conduct has enabled Microsoft to acquire a dominant position in the market for work group server operating systems, which are at the heart of corporate IT networks, and risks eliminating competition altogether in that market. In addition, Microsoft's conduct has significantly weakened competition on the media player market.

The ongoing abuses act as a brake on innovation and harm the competitive process and consumers, who ultimately end up with less choice and facing higher prices.

For these very serious abuses, which have been ongoing for five and a half years, the Commission has imposed a fine of € 497.2 million.

Remedies

In order to restore the conditions of fair competition, the Commission has imposed the following remedies:


As regards interoperability, Microsoft is required, within 120 days, to disclose complete and accurate interface documentation which would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers. This will enable rival vendors to develop products that can compete on a level playing field in the work group server operating system market. The disclosed information will have to be updated each time Microsoft brings to the market new versions of its relevant products.
To the extent that any of this interface information might be protected by intellectual property in the European Economic Area(6), Microsoft would be entitled to reasonable remuneration. The disclosure order concerns the interface documentation only, and not the Windows source code, as this is not necessary to achieve the development of interoperable products.


As regards tying, Microsoft is required, within 90 days, to offer to PC manufacturers a version of its Windows client PC operating system without WMP. The un-tying remedy does not mean that consumers will obtain PCs and operating systems without media players. Most consumers purchase a PC from a PC manufacturer which has already put together on their behalf a bundle of an operating system and a media player. As a result of the Commission's remedy, the configuration of such bundles will reflect what consumers want, and not what Microsoft imposes.
Microsoft retains the right to offer a version of its Windows client PC operating system product with WMP. However, Microsoft must refrain from using any commercial, technological or contractual terms that would have the effect of rendering the unbundled version of Windows less attractive or performing. In particular, it must not give PC manufacturers a discount conditional on their buying Windows together with WMP.

The Commission believes the remedies will bring the antitrust violations to an end, that they are proportionate, and that they establish clear principles for the future conduct of the company.

To ensure effective and timely compliance with this decision, the Commission will appoint a Monitoring Trustee, which will, inter alia, oversee that Microsoft's interface disclosures are complete and accurate, and that the two versions of Windows are equivalent in terms of performance.

The investigation

In December 1998, Sun Microsystems, another US company, complained that Microsoft had refused to provide interface information necessary for Sun to be able to develop products that would "talk" properly with the ubiquitous Windows PCs, and hence be able to compete on an equal footing in the market for work group server operating systems.

The Commission's investigation revealed that Sun was not the only company that had been refused this information, and that these non-disclosures by Microsoft were part of a broader strategy designed to shut competitors out of the market.

This relegated to a secondary position competition in terms of reliability, security and speed, among other factors, and ensured Microsoft's success on the market. As a result, an overwhelming majority of customers informed the Commission that Microsoft's non-disclosure of interface information artificially altered their choice in favour of Microsoft's server products. Survey responses submitted by Microsoft itself confirmed the link between the interoperability advantage that Microsoft reserved for itself and its growing market shares.

In 2000, the Commission enlarged its investigation, on its own initiative, to study the effects of the tying of Microsoft's Windows Media Player with the company's Windows 2000 PC operating system.

This part of the investigation concluded that the ubiquity which was immediately afforded to WMP as a result of it being tied with the Windows PC OS artificially reduces the incentives of music, film and other media companies, as well software developers and content providers to develop their offerings to competing media players.

As a result, Microsoft's tying of its media player product has the effect of foreclosing the market to competitors, and hence ultimately reducing consumer choice, since competing products are set at a disadvantage which is not related to their price or quality.

Available data already show a clear trend in favour of WMP and Windows Media technology. Absent intervention from the Commission, the tying of WMP with Windows is likely to make the market "tip" definitively in Microsoft's favour. This would allow Microsoft to control related markets in the digital media sector, such as encoding technology, software for broadcasting of music over the Internet and digital rights management etc.

More generally, the Commission is concerned that Microsoft's tying of WMP is an example of a more general business model which, given Microsoft's virtual monopoly in PC operating systems, deters innovation and reduces consumer choice in any technologies which Microsoft could conceivably take interest in and tie with Windows in the future.

Note to editors

The European Commission enforces EU competition rules on restrictive business practices and abuses of monopoly power for the whole of the European Union when cross-border trade and competition are affected.

The Commission has the power to force changes in company behaviour and to impose financial penalties for antitrust violations of up to 10% of their annual turnover worldwide.

Commission decisions can be appealed to the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg.

(1) These are operating systems running on central network computers that provide services to office workers around the world in their day-to-day work such as file and printer sharing, security and user identity management.

(2) A media player is a software product that is able to play back music and video content over the Internet.

(3) The interfaces do not concern the Windows source code as this is not necessary to achieve the development of interoperable products. The interfaces are the hooks at the edge of the source code which allow one product to talk to another.

(4) A Statement of Objections marks the opening of a formal investigation as the Commission states its charges or objections to the company(ies) concerned.

(5) Microsofts operating systems equip more than 95% of the worlds personal computers.

(6) The European Union plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

MEMO/04/70

Brussels, 24 March 2004

Microsoft - Questions and Answers on Commission Decision

Microsoft is a US company. What gives the European Commission authority to decide whether its behaviour is legal or not?

Microsoft sells its products globally including in the European Union, which is one of its main markets together with the United States. It must therefore respect EU competition rules in the same way that European companies must respect US law when operating on the other side of the Atlantic.

What exactly must Microsoft do to comply with EU law?

The company has been ordered "to disclose complete and accurate specifications for the protocols" necessary for its competitors' server products to be able to 'talk' on an equal footing with Windows PCs, and hence compete on a level playing-field.

It must also offer a version of Windows for client PCs which does not include Windows Media Player. This applies to Windows sold directly to end users or licensed to Original Equipment Manufacturers - i.e. PC manufacturers.

Does this go beyond what was agreed between Microsoft and the US Department of Justice?

The US case presents certain similarities with the EU case, and the Commission did take on board those points where the US settlement had addressed its own concerns.

But the EU case also presented different facts, and given the European Commission's duty to uphold EU law in the European single market, the remedies are designed to fit with the specifics of the EU case. As regards interoperability, the Commission requires, inter alia, the disclosure of certain server-to-server protocols not covered by the US case. As regards tying, the US remedy did not contain provisions on code removal as it was designed for a monopoly maintenance and not a tying liability.

Did the Commission co-operate with the United States on this case?

The Commission and the United States Department of Justice have kept each other regularly informed on the state of play of their respective Microsoft cases, including holding meetings at regular intervals. These meetings have been held in a co-operative and friendly atmosphere, and have been substantively fruitful in terms of sharing experiences on issues of common interest.

Does Microsoft have to pay the fine immediately?

The fine needs to be paid within three months of the date of notification of the Decision.

Where does the money go?

The money goes into the EU's central budget.

Does Microsoft have to pay the fine if it appeals to the European Court of First Instance (CFI) and seeks interim measures?

In case of appeals to the CFI, it is normal practice that instead of paying the fine outright, companies, with the agreement of the Commission, provide a bank guarantee. Any fine that is paid subsequently has interest payable on it. The interest rate is that applied by the European Central Bank to its main refinancing operations on the first day of the month in which the Decision is adopted, plus 3.5 percentage points. In the present case, that is 5.50%. This is normal practice in all Decisions with fines.

What happens if Microsoft does not disclose the specified information or offer a version of Windows without WMP within the deadlines outlined by the Commission?

The remedies outlined in the Commission's Decision are legally binding, and Microsoft is therefore obliged to comply. Experience shows that companies respect such Decisions taken by the Commission, and the Commission has no reason to believe that it will be any different this time. If a company does not comply with the provisions of a Decision, it is liable for daily penalty payments.

What is the geographical scope of the remedies?

The Commission is competent to ensure the maintenance of effective competition within the borders of the EEA. In this respect, even if markets are defined as world-wide in the Decision, the geographical scope of the remedies is EEA-wide.

Does the Commission's Decision seek to protect competitors?

The Commission does not look at the specific interests of individual companies, but is charged with ensuring that competition on the merits is safeguarded. This creates an environment where consumers can benefit and where innovation can flourish. The Commission in its Decision has not taken up all the elements of Sun's original complaint.

Are the Commission's legal theories in the case in any way novel?

The legal underpinning of the Commission's case is not in any way novel. Both parts of the Commission's case are based on a consistent pattern of Court jurisprudence (interoperability: inter alia, Commercial Solvents, Telemarketing, Magill, and tying: inter alia, Hilti and Tetra Pak).

Why does the Commission believe that the normal competition rules should apply to fast-changing technology markets?

The specifics of the particular industry in question (be it "hi-tech" or "old economy") must be taken into account when conducting any anti-trust analysis. Differing characteristics will have an influence on the specific assessments that are reached. This, however, does not mean that a soundly conducted anti-trust analysis cannot be applied to "new economy" markets. In fact, the specific characteristics of the market in question (e.g. network effects, applications barrier to entry) could mean that there is in fact an increased likelihood of positions of entrenched market power compared to certain "traditional industries".

Does Microsoft have intellectual property over the interface information to be disclosed?

The Commission is not seeking disclosure of Microsoft's source code. The Commission does not exclude that the information that the Decision obliges Microsoft to disclose might be protected by intellectual property rights in the EU. To the extent that it is, the Decision finds that in line with the relevant jurisprudence, the exceptional circumstances of the case (Microsoft's overwhelming dominance, indispensability of the interface information, risk of elimination of competition in the market) would mandate such disclosure.

How will the Commission ensure that Microsoft does not exclude competitors from the market by setting very high royalties for the information in question?

To the extent that any of the information in question is protected by intellectual property rights in the EEA, Microsoft is entitled to reasonable remuneration. It will be the role of the Monitoring Trustee, under the authority of the Commission, to ensure that Microsoft does not charge too high a price for the information.

Is the Decision compatible with international rules on the protection of intellectual property rights?

The Decision is fully consistent with the Community's international obligations, in particular with those resulting from the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). The TRIPS Agreement allows the Commission to order the remedies to bring to an end the abuse of a dominant position identified in the Decision.

Is the Commission's case in line with US law as far as unbundling of the WMP is concerned?

Yes. The Commission has followed a "rule of reason" approach in order to establish whether the anti-competitive effects of tying WMP outweigh any possible pro-competitive benefits. This is precisely the framework for tying cases that US Court of Appeals laid down in 2001.

Does the remedy on the media player mean that, in the future, Microsoft will be forced to offer two versions of all the products it integrates in the Windows operating system?

No, as any future case will be examined on its own merits. Having said that, the Decision provides a framework within which allegations of future tying in software markets can be examined.

When is the Decision going to be published?

The Decision in English (the official language version of the Decision) will be made available shortly on DG Competition's website (once Microsoft's business secrets have been taken out). French and German translations will also be made available on DG Competition's website in due course. A summary of the Decision will be published in the OJ L series in all languages (once the translations are available).

Were the two sides ever close to a settlement?

Whilst there was significant progress towards resolving the issues of the present case, the Commission cannot comment on the specifics of the settlement discussions. The Commission believes that it is essential to establish clear principles for the future conduct of a company with such a strong dominant position in the market.


Posted by: gerhard on March 24, 2004 06:49 AM

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One word: Siebel.

Siebel Systems makes multimillion-dollar web-based enterprise applications built entirely on ActiveX. They could do this because their customers were mostly-- no, entirely-- using Internet Explorer.

Any company using Siebel *has* to use IE 5.5 or 6, and nothign else. Not IE 4. Not IE 5. Not Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, or anythign else. Not IE for Macintosh or IE for UNIX. Not Linux.

Application developers benefit from standards; when those standards are merely de-facto standards, things are worse than if they are real industry standards. That's why TCP/IP is good, why XML is good, and why MAPI, ActiveX, and DirectX are not. For some purposes, MAPI, ActiveX, and DirectX work OK, because the developers writing to them know that they are de-facto standards as supplied by Microsoft. However, it cuts Microsoft competitors out: the real winner is MS, not the app developers and certainly not the customers, who then end up tied into specific app-and-OS combinations.

Posted by: verbal on March 24, 2004 08:37 AM

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Hah! Wrong and Wrong. On my Mac I have several browser choices. Safari, iCab, Camino. All are better than IE. Move away from the evil empire Brad, and buy a Mac. I bet you'll like it.

Posted by: Mcwop on March 24, 2004 09:19 AM

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grimmtooth

Ya know, for all MS has done, you don't have to make stuff up. Of the above, all are patently false but one, and that last one is just innuendo that has no shred of evidence to support it. But it's OK to lie 'cause they're Microsoft, eh?

1) Win and the Mac interface originate from the same place - Xerox PARC. Essentially, Steve Jobs "stole" it from the same place Bill did.

You know, you can make a point without rewriting history.

The Mac interface now, and in 1983/4 bears only some similarity to that at XEROX PARC, and the Mac interface was in development by the Lisa team before anyone had been to PARC.

Furthermore, unlike Microsoft, Apple paid XEROX for the use of key concepts.

What Microsoft stole was Apple's IP, not the conceptual framework.

There is, after all, a difference from stealing a loaf of bread from the store and going through the checkout and paying for the bread.

One entitles you to the right to own and eat the bread, the other is theft.

Posted by: 16 on March 24, 2004 01:06 PM

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Brad, on my Mac I have installed:

Safari, Camino, Explorer, Firefox, iCab, Mozilla, Netscape, OmniWeb, Opera and Lynx running in the terminal.

I also have MovableType powering my blog.

I also have MS Office installed, and AppleWorks and OpenOffice and AbiWord and…

It ain't that hard to use a Mac in a world gone mad with Windoze.

Posted by: roleary on March 24, 2004 01:11 PM

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"Why should anyone (besides crazed open sourcies) write a new browser?"

And those OmniGroup guys must be really nuts, to have their own browser and *sell* it.

Posted by: Jon H on March 24, 2004 01:59 PM

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verbal / Siebel

Of course standards are necessary for innovation. The question is, really, WHO SETS THE STANDARDS?
Standards should be agreed upon, and then enforced (and it is a pity, for instance, that you need some really scary devices to plug in your European-continental laptop to get electrical current in, say, the UK or southern Italy or Switzerland!) - not set by a monopolist to protect his own interests. That's where the state (or the international community) comes in. This is, in the end, why we need institutions to make our market economy feasible.


This is exactly what the European Commission was saying. Yes, we do need standard interfaces so that different systems can communicate. This is where Microsoft has to make public the protocols. And since they are not willing, they have to pay a fine.

Posted by: gerhard on March 25, 2004 12:23 AM

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There is no end to the adventures we can have if we seek them with our eyes wide open.

Posted by: Townsend Maya on May 3, 2004 11:07 AM

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dice

Posted by: online casinos on May 31, 2004 07:40 AM

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People who do not think far enough ahead inevitably have worries near at hand.

Posted by: Jessica Lampros on June 30, 2004 11:40 AM

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