Saturday, May 31, 2008

No Microsoft!

Non-enthusiast computer users are probably unconcerned about what goes on behind the scenes in the computer industry, but among knowledgeable professionals, disdain for Microsoft goes back years, if not decades. Few companies provoke the visceral hatred that Microsoft does. More than just technical problems, and lack of innovation account for this attitude about the company. Long known for it's ruthless attacks on competitors, disregard for even it's own customers and ongoing security problems, Microsoft is the "Evil Empire" of the computer world. Despite some hypocritical posturing about "openness", Microsoft is the same old company with deep pockets and shallow ethics.

With Windows loaded by default on almost all new PCs, they have a captive market which is mostly unaware of better and safer options. Most users, especially home users, don't even know they have a choice of other operating systems, word processors and office suites for example. This is beginning to change though, and there are those who think Microsoft's domination is coming to an end. No longer able to make everyone fall in line with it's FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) the company may finally have to compete on the quality and value of its products, like everyone else. (Well, with Vista being the flop that it is, maybe that's not a good idea. Even Microsoft itself is tacitly admitting it).

A convicted monopolist, they showed contempt even for the US Government in one of the many court cases that judged them guilty of illegal practices. The European Union has also condemned and convicted Microsoft of anti-competitive activities on more than one occasion. Microsoft's arrogance and deviousness knows no bounds, as evidenced by numerous incidents over the years. Apparently bribery, deception, coercion, and paying for biased media articles are not beneath them either.
Being a monopolist may not be illegal itself, but it does bring certain responsibilities and certainly cannot be good for consumers. Competition is what drives innovation and value, but Microsoft is feared for trying to kill any competitor. More, Microsoft uses all it's considerable money, lawyers and influence to drive it's own agenda at the expense of computer users both at home and in business. Infamous for dirty tricks, they are desperate to "lock in" users to their own software and services so as to stifle competitors, and deny users choice. Their actions in Boston are typical of their strong-arm tactics.

"Obscene" comes to mind when thinking of Microsoft's business practices. A recent scandal involving open standards for office documents makes this clear. The International Standards Organization approved a freely shareable file format, ODF, so that users, business's and governments could exchange data without being dependent on one company's proprietary products. This is essential in the digital age, so that data, particularly government data, is available to all who need it without relying on a single vendor. Microsoft, sensing a crack in their dominance, aggressively fought this standards process both openly and covertly. Allegations of bribery and misconduct soon surfaced as they tried to get their own "open" standard approved by the ISO. Following their "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" play book Microsoft ultimately succeeded in gaining approval of their own overly complicated format, but protests in the streets and government calls to reconsider the approval provides hope that Microsoft may not always be able to bully the world like they have in the past.
(Update: maybe there is still hope this will be overturned).

Allegations of "back doors" haven't helped "The Beast From Redmond" gain trust with foreign governments or privacy advocates either, and even Microsoft's friends are beginning to have doubts about the software giant. There are books ("Just Say No To Microsoft") and articles ("Microsoft Free - One Year Later") written about kicking the habit, and mainstream publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are starting to point out alternatives too.

There are those who say we should cooperate with Microsoft, be "fair", but Microsoft has never been fair, either to competitors or it's customers, and appeasement or pacts with the devil rarely turn out well.

“Monopolies become their own worst enemies—particularly in businesses that live or die by technological innovation,” wrote James Gleick in The New York Times Magazine. “They get soft. They make poor research choices. They bleed both profit and invention. They poison the marketplace that created them.”

As more and more people learn the truth about it's shoddy products and unethical activities, hopefully the power and influence of this greedy and unscrupulous corporation will continue to decline.