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Joel: "you can't have it both ways"

From the foreword:

"Is this just superior marketing, as our imaginary geek claims? Or the result of an illegal monopoly? (Which begs the question: how did Microsoft get that monopoly? You can’t have it both ways.)"

Why not?

(Note: I'm not discussing the truth of those marking/monopoly assertions.)

Is that logically inconsisent for the geek to propose that, via *superior marketing*, Microsoft entrenched themselves as *an illegal monopoly*?

Once again, lest a flamewar start, I'm not debating whether or not MS is a monopoly.

Joe
http://www.joegrossberg.com

Joe Grossberg
Friday, August 01, 2003

What he meant is that Microsoft couldn't have built its monopoly by *having* a monopoly to begin with, not that it couldn't have been from marketing and then monopoly.

It is fairly common to see people on places like Slashdot claim that the reason Microsoft is such a huge company is because of their monopoly power -- when you ask them how Microsoft got the monopoly power to begin with they seem confused, as if it is common knowledge that Microsoft was somehow ALWAYS a monopoly, which doesn't make sense.

Mister Fancypants
Friday, August 01, 2003

I've been trying to figure that out all day. (I wrote the foreword many months ago).

Joel Spolsky
Friday, August 01, 2003

Yes! Thank you Mr. Fancypants. That's what I meant.

Joel Spolsky
Friday, August 01, 2003

I thought that Joel was insinuating that perhaps Microsoft's monopoly wasn't necessarily created by superior marketing alone, but by superior product management decisions.  MS did the best job of leveraging their existing programming manpower to deliver what the sales people were promising customers, more or less.  (And more or less on time.)

Granted, the products weren't always (and often still aren't) necessarily the best available, and much of Microsoft's success stemed from dirty little technological "gotcha" tricks, but would non-techies have been able to devise such tricks?

Tim Lara
Friday, August 01, 2003

Uh, product management is a function of marketing. :)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Friday, August 01, 2003

True, I guess, in an OfficeSpace "I take the requirements from the customers and bring them to the programmers because programmers aren't good at talking to customers" kind of way, but the fact that you don't really want a non-techie telling the programmers what to do still stands...

Tim Lara
Friday, August 01, 2003

Another way to put it:

I think of marketing as the responsibility of telling customers what your product can do, and product management as the responsibility of deciding what your product SHOULD do.

Tim Lara
Friday, August 01, 2003

Becoming a monopoly and staying a monopoly are often two different processes involving different tactics and skills.  Just as becoming a president often involves different qualities than remaining a president.

A company can become a monopoly through government legislation, like the utility companies.  Then after government opens the industry to competitors, the monopoly remains because market penetration for newcomers is too expensive. Thus the monopoly continues even though the conditions that created the monopoly no longer exist.

A monopoly be created because the company offered products that were significantly cheaper or better than the alternatives, or had much better marketing.  But once the monopoly is in place, the monopolist can use other tactics such as exclusive contracts to uphold the monopoly, even after it its products have ceased to be any better than the competition.

That a company became a monopoly on merit does not imply that it remains a monopoly based on merit.

T. Norman
Friday, August 01, 2003

True, but Microsoft's software is better now than ever before... So who cares?


Windows pre-2000 : Ugh
Visual Studio pre-6.0 : Ugh
Word, Excel, pre-Office 97 : Not too bad


Windows XP : Great
Visual Studio .NET : Great
MS Office XP : Great


I thus posit that being a monopoly in the desktop software market causes a company to create BETTER SOFTWARE than if they weren't a monopolist!  And if you disagree with me, you still can't prove me wrong, because no data exists to support your case!


Of course this probably has more to do with Joel's 10 year theory than being a monopoly, but I'm sure the large economics of scale that result from being a large enough player that people consider you a monopoly helps out too.

Mister Fancypants
Friday, August 01, 2003

In a sense though, Microsoft *was* handed a monopoly. IBM had worked themselves into a powerful position in business computers, and when they decided to make a PC, they picked Microsoft to supply the OS. At the time, IBM was the thing to do, so Microsoft just rode on IBM's coat tails.

Still, I do think they did lots of things well. I especially admire their persistence, and their ability to market to *programmers*.

Aaron Lawrence
Friday, August 01, 2003

"Windows XP : Great
Visual Studio .NET : Great
MS Office XP : Great"

I'm inclined to agree on all counts, but that resource manager bug that popped up in VS.NET 2003 and cost us 500 hours of work a week before the project was due, and no one seems to know anything about, still sucks :(.

  --Josh (Still exhausted from working 130 hours a week the last three weeks to fix things)

JWA
Friday, August 01, 2003

I mentioned in an earlier thread on somewhat the same topic, that you can't ever reach the state of monopoly by selling junk to consumers. It's like selling flashy stuff to natives-- you can only pull it off once, and chances are they'll come back with sticks and stone to beat you up.

Mickey Petersen
Friday, August 01, 2003

You can't become a monopoly with junk, but you can maintain your monopoly with junk.

T. Norman
Friday, August 01, 2003

Examples?

Philo

Philo
Friday, August 01, 2003

MS was made by the IBM's decision to license the OS for the new PCs from them, which later became a commodity market. So MS in fact did start being a monopoly in the OS market because while PC hardware could vary, the OS stayed the same.

All MS had to do was then to protect their core market (OS), and use the OS revenues to support assaults in various application markets. Any successful assault killed the main competitor due to their major reliance on that application revenues, and MS could then have that market to themselves.

While MS did played most of their cards right, they still were really really lucky.


Mr Curiousity
Friday, August 01, 2003

What's overlooked in a lot of the discussions about Microsoft's monopoly position is that it is in the nature of software that being the market leader in your niche in and of itself adds a tremendous amount of value. If you buy a car, it doesn't really make it better if it's the same car most other people drive. But for most kinds of software, using the one that most other people use is one of the most important decision criteria. All the top 5 software companies completely dominate their particular niche, and it's not necessarily because there isn't some small company somewhere that makes something better. There's just nothing else that is so dramatically better that its superiority outweighs the advantage of being able to easily share files with other users of the dominant software.

True, it's not everything, as the examples that Joel gave of Lotus 123 and Netscape losing their near-monopoly market positions illustrate. Stupid decisions can be disastrous, especially a stupid decision that keeps you from counter-attacking against a hot newcomer for a couple of years. A stupid decision like that allows the inherent value of being the most widely used software to gradually get eroded. But what's true is that you'll seldom see a sizable market split evenly for long. There is a very strong snowball effect that just about guarantees that once a product gets 60% of its market, it will soon have 90%.

Microsoft made enough smart decisions early on that they deservedly got the monopoly position in the most lucrative software category, the only one that's not optional, and once there, they would indeed have to make a string of monumentally stupid decisions to ever lose it.

Teri Pettit (a veteran of Xerox's famously stupid failure to make money out of its invention of the graphical user interface)

Teri Pettit
Friday, August 01, 2003

The graphical user interface, complete with windows and menus, was invented at NASA during the early space program, not Xerox. No mouse though -- light pens were used.

X. J. Scott
Saturday, August 02, 2003

>"Examples?"

Many local phone companies and cable TV companies are notorious for providing crappy service at high prices.

Another example is Microsoft itself.  Despite the crap they had before Windows 2000, they were able to fend off worthy challengers like OS/2 Warp and BeOS, thanks to the ability to flex their monopolistic muscles to disallow vendors from shipping other operating systems.

T. Norman
Saturday, August 02, 2003

I gotta say that I agree with Norman, and quite frankly sometimes the incredible amount of indifference at exploring the subject of Microsoft's success and how it happened appals me.

No, I don't want to have it both ways as someone suggested (and Joel for that matter) when it comes to think "how did MS go to be a monopoly."

  It is irrelevant if Netscape made a serious strategic mistake of rewritting the whole browser as to whether Microsoft attempted to uphold their monopoly illegaly or legally.  But I see that "oh , but Netscape screwed up" is brought to the table as THE REASON why Microsoft coudln't  certainly be doing something wrong (when talking about the browser wars).

  Well sorry, but I do remember very clearly Microsoft (in fact, Bill Gates) made a very stupid decision: the internet is a fad, it's irrelevant.  Remember that? That was Bill Gates himself, and Microsoft was not to pour a bunch of resources into this.  But the monopoly on the OS side allowed them to weather the mistake with no problems.

  And many forget here that Microsoft by then had the most important monopoly of all- the desktop OS.  So what happens then? Why Microsoft felt the need to tie the browser to the OS *AND the court evidence DOES SHOW* that some key people at the company didn't think they would be able to take Netscape out without leveraging on Windows?  Why is this and why is this ignored?

  Whoever suggested that "one big company is better" (monopoly, etc.), keep in mind that it was Netscape that popularised the concept of the browser, while Microsoft even said the internet wouldn't be important.  Whether Netscape screwed up or not is irrelevant to the factual truth of this point.  How much back in time would the world wide web be (I do believe it was a matter of time of it happening)?

  I don't want to come of as "everything that Microsoft does is wrong, " but it makes me feel that many very smart people just want to worship "a big god" or something, and totally ignore other events that have happened.  I am still a bit puzzled by this, although I find it less and less surprising every day.

- Raist


 

Raist3d
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Whilst the MS/IBM contract was the key that opened the door to the monopoly it isn't the whole story.

Following the shipping of the IBM PC and then the clones was the agreement between Intel and MS on 808x and above processors that each would promote the other to the point where every single motherboard with an Intel processor came right along with an MS DOS licence.

It became a clause in the contract between OEM and Microsoft that every single board produced had to be matched with an OS licence, whether it was shipped with the board or not.  Now the reason for this was not a manic pursuit of monopoly it was a simple accounting measure; if all motherboards had to have a licence working out how much the OEM owed MS was a simple thing to manage and police.

Now that is a monopolistic practice that can only really happen if there already is a de facto monopoly but that monopoly depended upon Intel's own monopoly of the time.

The change came when AMD broke that monopoly and a reason why AMD became successful was because there was an alternate OS (DR DOS) to go along with it, though there was no compulsion.  Each DR DOS licence had to be sold hard to the OEMs and that was down to one man Dick Dixon, a salesman.

It was only when there was a real set of competitors that the monopoly became really apparent at all, before then it was just the way things were.  The problem was that MS had had a sufficient time to mobilise and capitalise on that monopoly to build the desktop monopoly which in itself allowed it gain the massive marketing lead in office applications.

I don't even think that until around 1997/98 MS itself thought in terms of defending a monopoly though by that time they were treating OEMs with open contempt.

Simon Lucy
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Ummm my fingers slipped I meant 1987/1988 naturally.

Simon Lucy
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Microsoft got places because they started off with an unfair advantage.

They were given the OS for IBM and a pricing mechanism that cut out the competition. Then they made all the companies that made personal computers pay per machine, whether DOS was installed or not.

When Windows 3.1 came out they put bugs in the code that deleiberately caused it to crash when other versions of DOS were used.

Now there are plenty of things they did right, the most important of which was making it easy for outside programmers to code for their platform, which caused the wintel platform to succeed over others.

Also remember that MS has made a load of dumb decisions. It's simply had the cash flow to get round it.

The fact that any attempts to get out of the PC market have been relative failures, does suggest that it's success has been based on a combination of technical excellence in a niche market it understands and has leverage in.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Monopoly, schamopoly.  Tying the the web browser to the OS was brilliant for technical merit alone and I can scarsely imagine going back to an OS where the file manager and a web browser aren't seemlessly integrated.

If the anti-Microsoft forces weren't living in denial, they'd realize the number one reason Microsoft is so dominate is that their competition is so f'in stupid.  Joel is completely right with regards to his foreword describing the stupid blunders that have held others back.

Mister Fancypants
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Tying the web browser to the file manager is different from tying the web browser to the OS.

Linux has file manager/web browser tie ins, but they aren't directly coupled to the underlying operating system.

The MS browser is so tied in that it's not just that the browser relies deeply on the OS, but the OS relies deeply on the browser code!  Marrying a browser to the OS was a bone-headed technical decision, even if it was a good marketing decision.

NoName
Saturday, August 02, 2003

There seems to be some confusion over various types of monopoly.  Cable and phone companies are generally government created and enforced monopolies. Microsoft is not.  These are fundamentally different from an economic perspective. A free-market monopoly is always in danger of losing its dominance --  from its own bad decisions and from nipping competition.  The only way a government backed monopoly loses its power is by legislation.

Paul Mansour
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Monopolies that started off with government backing often remain monopolies long after competition is legally allowed, even when they provide overpriced and crappy service.  Many of the factors that created a monopoly are different from what it takes to maintain a monopoly.

T. Norman
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Actually I don't believe MS was handed a monopoly by IBM

When IBM PC came out, IBM gave equal emphasis to MS-DOS, CPM/86 and UCSD.

CPM/86 had all the apps (at least initially, ported from Z-80, 8080) so many pundits thought it would rule after the stop gap of MS-DOS was overturned.

It's in numerous books, for example, Unmaking of IBM.

Anyway MS-DOS cost $40. CPM/86 cost $240 and came out long (months, maybe a year?) after MS-DOS.  So was almost dead on arrival (However I do remember using Turbo-Pascal on an IBM compatible with CPM/86 in early 80s).

I'm not sure why UCSD failed.

I have a feeling MS-DOS succeeded initially (as did IBM PC) because of Lotus 123, which was IBM PC's killer app, and left stuff like Visicalc dead in the water.

So MS got the DOS monopoly initially, by luck (how they got the IBM contract to do an OS and Lotus-123), seizing an opportunity (agreeing to do an OS despite no previous experience, but knowing where to buy the Q-DOS starting point), and competitors' mistakes.

Windows I think is a similar story.  Windows was late to market, and not very good in earlier versions.  It had lots of competition, TopView, something by the VisiCalc folks, GEM, etc.  I think GEM was the leader initially.  The competitors all messed up in various ways

OS/2 PM in late 80s was way better than Windows or other GUIs.  It should have won, but was ruined by a poor reputation (earlier OS/2 versions were bad), too heavy hardware requirements (needed expensive RAM), shackling to the 286, IBM's extended edition antics, and association the MCI + PS2 fiasco.  It was never going to recover from that IMHO.

Windows 3 was good enough on 386, comparable to OS/2 PM without the ugly baggage, and hit the market at exactly the right time.  It really was the best GUI so far on the PC by far at the time.  It was obvious to me it would win the first time I saw it. 

THe gap between Windows 3 (1990) and the first Windows version (1985) and the first PC GUI (1983) is so long - and Microsoft made so many mistakes along the way - that I think there was plenty of time for somebody else to own the GUI - nobody did a good enough effort, so MS won.

Word/Excel/Access won because they were on Windows before the previous market leaders.  Business wanted Windows regardless of what changes they had to make in 1990/1991 - I remember it will - it was a great time (as I was in a company one of the first in Windows).  Word/Excel were quick into Windows 3, and the reason is the other companies were developing OS/2 versions.  Some say they were suckered by Microsoft - but I have to say - they must never have compared Windows 3 to other PC GUIs at the time to be so easily suckered.

Access did not appear on PCs for quite a while. I remember a huge hole in the Windows database area for a long time. Products like Superbase filled the gap for a while, but weren't complete enough IMHO to win dominance (and perhaps didn't have the resources behind them). Borland's dBase for Windows could have won - the demos I saw were impressive, but the wait for it to arrive seemed eternal.  I think Access won as a PC database by default - it was the first good-enough PC database.

Maintaining the monopolies may be a totally different issue, but a good part of the establishment of the story is Microsoft's good luck, persistance, and their competitors' failures.

S. Tanna
Saturday, August 02, 2003

The issue of technical merits Joel points out is VERY  important.

It is only when you get the right mix of marketing and technical mix do you win. I mean, gosh, any company can hire a first rate marking company. You think MS is the only software company that knows how to market? Heck, their marking actually is quite bad.

Who the heck things MS’s marketing is good? Yuk!

What is good is their product direction and their use of technology to win.

Lets take the above mentioned issue of ms-access VS dbase. Fact is, dbase got a good foot hold in the market place much sooner then access. This was both good, and bad. It was good for dbase since they had a large user base. However, from a technical point of view, the ARCHITECTURE of dbase was NOT designed correctly. I suppose by being first, it means you generally don’t have the best architecture. (crappy and limited hardware for example). However, Austin-Tate COMPLETE failed to upgrade the product from a technical point of view. The failure of dbase was not a bad windows version. The REAL failure of the product was the bad ARCHITECTURE..

Microsoft on the other hand is full of forward thinking developers. In addition, the PRODUCT PEOPLE share this vision, and as Joel mentions, they can UNDERSTAND the implications.

I mean, gee everyone knew at the time that a GUI was going to be needed for pc desktop database. You could have been a soda pop salesman to figure that one out!

Ms-access on the other hand is now 10 years old, and is going strong. (the MS newsgroups answer in EXCESS of 1000 posts per day!). The team at MS is already hard at work on the next version of ms-access, and is having us developers compete surveys on what needs to be done with the product. (they don’t quit improving the product). And boy, are the surveys the have well done!)

The reason why ms-access survives today is NOT marketing. Fact is, today, the database model is complete client to server. However, 10 years ago, the product people did three things with ms-access that separated it from the popular database systems of the day. Remember,we are taking about pc based systems here, not the networked world we live in today.

Forward Thinking #1
    They utilized the com object model. Remember, this is was REAL new fancy concept 10 years ago. The DAO object library was a brilliant idea. By moving out major parts of the database system, then parts of the system could be upgraded over time. Of course this was the promise of products like ms-access. Again, that forward thinning of company to realize how important com object was gave that product a HUGE leap in the market place DOWN THE ROAD.

MS as company is not afraid to utilize and figure out what architecture  is going to be needed to solve the problems of the computing industry for the next 5, or even 10 years. They do this constantly and better the their opponents.

Forward thing #2

Added engine level Referential Integrity. While other database products in 92 did have RI, the major ones like dbase did not. Again, this forward view that MS had won the day. In addition, they went full bore on the use of SQL as the underlying language. IBM was really big on SQL. For some reason companies like Austin-Tate failed to realize the importance of SQL, and but the time they did...is was too late. MS has NEVER been afraid to go looking for good technology. Every other company can also look for good technology, but the product direction people are too busy playing with their sail boats. They need more people in the product direction/marketing part that eat, sleeps and loves software. Not a love of marketing. (that is the easy part!).


Forward thing #3

Separated the database engine from the software. When I say separated, I mean both from a programming architecture, and ALSO FROM  a conception point of view. This is  actually the #1 reason why the product still remains to day. Thus, the data engine was  SEPARATE from the application (yes, things like com object allowed this, but the conceptual concept was important...not the fact of com objects). Of course, again this is classic MS using both conceptual ideas, and also the latest technology to realize this concept idea. Thus, you had a abstracted engine that could accept SQL. That engine DID NOT have concepts like record numbers etc. And, with client server to be coming down the road, the concept of record numbers did not make sense anymore. Record numbers make sense when you design a desktop database with a calculated off-set into a file on the hard disk.

With a separate engine, the design was not only different, but correct for the future coming of client server where the client and the data would NOT be on the same pc. Also, with multi-user systems, again the concept of a “engine” and a application were very important. (ms made this split long before client server became the rage).

Further, for the last two versions of ms-access, the office cd has shipped with a 100% compatible sql-sserver engine. Again, they are paving the way for users to adopt true client-server technologies in ms-access.

Also, by office 97, they gave ms-access the same programming language as VB. Thus, now we as a matter of development in ms-access use, and create class objects. In fact, one of my interview questions when hiring ms-access developers is:

    What did the last class object you wrote in ms-access do?

Again, what desktop database for the pc today allows the programmer to develop class objects in the programming language used?  Hum?

Access also has full  use of com object libraries (and certainly competing products to access allow that!).

However, it does not take much to start understanding why ms-access is so popular?  With the push for a true client server edition of ms-access, we now see an actual INCREASE in companies at the corporate level adopting ms-access (something the IT departments would not touch with a 10 foot pole just 4 years ago).

Time and time again MS has shown that using forward thinking to direct BOTH the products and the UNDERLYING technology is the winning formula. You can try and sell ms-access from a marketing point of view, but unless the product is true client-server, and can easily scale to a 1000 users, then the corporations will not use the product no matter HOW SLICK the marketing is.

Simply put, corporations need a scaleable client-server database product, and MS has given that ability to ms-access. MS access is NOT a database product anymore, but simply a client to a database (it was that way 10 years ago...but noboday got it back then!). So, the now access is being changed from a architecture point of view, and the corporate sales will follow, NOT the other way around!

MS continues to make brilliant design decisions today with .net. The architecture and the ability of the company to develop forward thinking products for the next 10 years will be set by adoption the .net technology.

I will guarantee that is MS was run by a bunch of soda pop sales man, the company would be right loosing market share to sun and other companies. For sure those pop salesman’s would have got great  pay checks and huge stock options, but in 10 years the party would have been over due to LACK of vision and lack of re-investment of money to create forward thinking technology. Worse, is that most don’t even know WHERE to invest their hard earned money.

If you don’t know where you are going, then any train will get you there! The problem is that you will wind up at the wrong destination!

10 years ago I could not write class objects in ms-access, but today I can. Competing products to ms-access don’t seen to understand WHAT new features needs to be put into the product. Well, stuff like class objects was good idea. Stuff like true client-server for the corporate adoption of the product...this list goes on and on. The competitors just don’t get it do they?

Notice how all of these features are based on UNDERLYING TECHNOLOGIES that MS adopts?

Starting to get the picture now?

The .net undertaking is HUGE right now. Many companies would not even bother. They would have continued to cost on the great money they have now. However, the great money ms has now is due to making those right decisions 10 years ago.

In 10 years from now...the .net stuff will again look like a brilliant decision.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. Kallal
Saturday, August 02, 2003

> The reason why ms-access survives today is NOT marketing. Fact is, today, the database model is complete client to server. However, 10 years ago, the product people did three things with ms-access that separated it from the popular database systems of the day.

Actually I think in the case of Access, you under estimating just how bad (and late) other Windows database products were

I think if they had done none of the 3 things, but just done a good-enough product iit might still have wiped the others out. It may not have retained leadership, but it would have got it initially.

S. Tanna
Saturday, August 02, 2003

I'd just like to point out that bundling doesn't work if you have a crappy product. Win3.1 had a file explorer built in, yet XTree made a LOT of money selling a better one. Win2k has notepad and wordpad, yet have no problems convincing people to shell out $35 for Ultraedit. WInamp used to be the default MP3 player until Media Player got better.

Let's face it - for 99% of the people out there IE does exactly what they want - surf the web. I don't see popups as Microsoft's fault any more than the blink tag was Netscape's fault.

If Opera blocks those javascript/dhtml popover ads that are all the rage now then they need to find some money for some TV advertising - I think a few well-placed TV ads, print ads, and editorials and they could really have MS nervous about browser share.

"Would you pay $35 to stop popup ads forever? www.opera.com"

Philo

Philo
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Are you talking about those stupid animated popups that don't appear in a new window but appear over the window and scroll with the text?  How can I get rid of those?  Is there any popup blocker that works on those?  Mine doesn't.

Andy
Saturday, August 02, 2003

"Monopoly, schamopoly.  Tying the the web browser to the OS was brilliant for technical merit alone and I can scarsely imagine going back to an OS where the file manager and a web browser aren't seemlessly integrated."

  The idea didn't come as a technical merit, but to make sure Netscape marketshare dwindled.  If Netscape didn't provide for this competition, they wouldn't have done it at least for a while.

"If the anti-Microsoft forces weren't living in denial, they'd realize the number one reason Microsoft is so dominate is that their competition is so f'in stupid.  Joel is completely right with regards to his foreword describing the stupid blunders that have held others back. "

  No, I don't think I am living in denial.  I think there's plenty of court evidence of illegal acts and considering Microsoft was held guilty unanumously no less by an appeals court, I don't think I am the one living in denial.

  It is true that many Microsoft competitors have made serious blunders, but this doens't make it less true whether Microsoft did things against the law or not.  To conclude on the competitor's blunder's alone, Microsoft did everything right does not follow.

  For the record, no, I don't think everything Microsoft does is wrong.  But many point at Netscape's blunders but conveniently also ignore what Microsoft did to take them off the desktop.  I would like to sell a bridge to hoever thinks that not trying something to the OS gives them a huge market advantage vs having to download a competitor product.

  I am sure that if Microsoft started to bundle a very easy to use FrontPage with the OS, Joel would sing a different tune.

- Raist


 

Raist3d
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Sorry I didn't read carefully, I think you're saying opera blocks them.  But I would rather not pay and not switch browsers.

Andy
Saturday, August 02, 2003

"But many point at Netscape's blunders but conveniently also ignore what Microsoft did to take them off the desktop"

Sincerely, I don't think that had anything to do with it. I think it was because, quite simply, NS sucked. One of the top features in a windowing OS: the ability to resize application windows. Worst thing a browser can do (esp. in a dialup world): reload pages when it doesn't have to.

What happened when you resized a Netscape window? It reloaded the page.

That was the only reason I switched. I avoided IE like the plague. But you can only sit through so many reloads of graphics-heavy pages* because you nudged the window border instead of grabbing the scrollbar before you really, really hate your browser.

Then you have IE with all these cool web features when web sites are in ascendance, and developers telling managers "if you want IE & NS, then we basically have to build two websites." Dynamic content in NS was painful.

I am NOT a MS apologist - I'll list my personal Windows annoyances at the drop of a hat; but I honestly believe that Netscape needed killin'.

Philo

*Art photos. Honest.

Philo
Saturday, August 02, 2003

I remember awhile back there was another "is microsoft a monopoly" discussion, and someone elegantly ended it by noting:

1) Microsoft has engaged in illegal monopolistic practices.

2) Microsoft has many superior products.

3) Microsoft's competitors have made many foolish mistakes.

These are not logically incompatible.  Quite the contrary, I think that together they explain Microsoft's incredible success, while any one of them alone would not.

I agree Joel has emphasized 2 & 3, while not talking about 1 too much.  But let's stop thinking either/or.

Andy
Saturday, August 02, 2003

"1) Microsoft has engaged in illegal monopolistic practices."

Should be:

1) Microsoft has engaged in what the law and MS' competition considers illegal monopolistic practices.

Just because it's popular to jump off cliffs doesn't mean it's a healthy or advisable thing to do. If someone has determined that Microsoft has broken the law, then it has - but that doesn't make [the law] fair OR just. (But you should still follow it).

Mickey Petersen
Saturday, August 02, 2003

WHAT?!  What the LAW considers ILLEGAL monopolistic practices?!?  By DEFINITION, what is against the LAW is ILLEGAL.  What is "considered illegal by the law" that is not "illegal"?  What is "illegal" that is not "considered illegal by the law"?

OK I'm done with this thread... just trying to inject a little sanity here.  But if you want to spin your wheels over a stupid argument, go ahead.

It comes up every 3 weeks, by the way.

Andy
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Actually, Microsoft made one very good marketing move. Everything else they have done since has only marginal impact on their corporate size.

In the 1960s, IBM demonstrated that computer economics favors a single dominant operating system. That is, at any given time there will be one operating system that is the preferred system to develop applications for, to educate oneself to use or program and so on. Anyone choosing another operating system would incur a variety of external costs. That operating system was OS/360.

Such an economic state is called a natural monopoly. It is a property of the economic goods, rather than the result of an explicit effort to form a cartel. There are a variety of natural monopolies such as road and highway systems, war making ability, and electrical power distribution. Monopolies are not necessarily harmful, but, like Lagrangian points, they tend to be stable and they can inhibit moves to higher economic efficiencies.

In the late 1970s, 1979 I think, I was walking down Fifth Avenue not far from Saks. I was discussing the IBM anti-trust case with a friend of mine when we were accosted by a wild eyed, middle aged lawyer in an expensive looking suit. He had heard us mention the IBM case and needed to vent. There are a lot of people who need to vent on the streets of NYC, but they are rarely well paid corporate lawyers. He explained that he was part of the case, he was part of a large group of lawyers managing groups of lawyers managing groups ... and so on. He had never worked on a case like this before. It was like building the pyramids with tens of thousands of workers cutting stone, crushing fill, filing briefs, responding to motions and so on.

I don't even know if he was with Cravath, Swain and Moore. He was probably working for a subcontractor.

The anti-trust case was clearly wearing down the rock of IBM.

A year or two later I saw my first IBM PC. The motherboard was nailed to a piece of wood, sort of like Jesus Christ, except that it was all hush, hush. We called it them Florida Computing Systems because they were working out of Boca Raton and we were porting a program called VisiCalc which they considered vital for their release.

The operating system was MSDOS and we knew we were probably looking at the new OS 360, the natural monopoly operating system that everyone would develop for, take training course for and so on. There was a small chance some other operating system would dominate, but even then we knew it was a slim shot. This had nothing to do with its technical capabilities. It was a CP/M clone like so many other operating systems back then, except, of course, CP/M was a sort of clone of something else like just about every other operating system since they invented the bootstrap loader.

MSDOS had one big thing going for it, sort of like King Arthur when he pulled the sword out of the stone or Harry Potter with that zigzag mark on his forehead. IBM had decided to get out of software. In truth, they were lousy at it. OS 360 was so bad people were setting off bombs over it. (I'm not making this up). They had shoved their sword into the stone and Bill Gates pulled it out.

We all knew that the BIOS was going to be cloned. There would need to be a laundering operation, but the spirit of the RCA Spectra and the Amdahl would carry on. (Of course those machines only existed because of the anti-trust case).

IBM had set the hardware standard. You could tell. They hated machines with simple addressing schemes. The 360 and the 8088 were both suitably complex.

IBM had set the operating system standard. Everyone using their hardware or one of the clones would have to follow suit. Developers would have no choice but to support the system. If you wanted a job in computer software, you really had to learn MSDOS.

Now, all Bill Gates had to do was rake in the bucks. He had the essential item that EVERYONE using computers had to have. He ran the toll booths at every Interstate high entrance and exit. If you wanted to wheel power from Nimo down to Lilco you had to give him a cut.

It is possible that Bill Gates could have somehow built a smaller Microsoft given this advantage. However, operating systems aren't like oil. When OPEC raises its prices, other producers are willing to dig more expensive holes. Once those holes are operating it takes a while before low prices shut them down. Microsoft can increase production or drop prices in a second or two.

Imagine trying to clone MSDOS, or worse, Windows. Even if you could get a working version, the instant Microsoft announces a new update you are out of business.

So, can you have it both ways. Sure. Microsoft made ONE good marketing decision. They took over IBM's operating system monopoly. All further Microsoft marketing was nearly irrelevant.

A Kaleberg
Sunday, August 03, 2003

Andy, splitting words won't really change what I said. What you added wasn't really constructive to my argument, but more in the lines of senseless flaming. If you disagree, then please tell me with what. We're discussing this in a friendly manner(at least I am!) and I certainly hope you would too.

Mickey Petersen
Sunday, August 03, 2003

Am I the only one that hates long posts?

PLEASE, can people stick to making one point succintly. I don't want to read 1000 lines to understand a point that could be make in 10 lines.

Yanwoo
Sunday, August 03, 2003

Alright, sorry for the bad tone... but I still don't understand what you're saying.  I'm going to presume you meant that Microsoft's practices were not "illegal" but determined to be "wrong by the law" (rather than "illegal by the law", which is a tautology).

There is no right and wrong here.  There's only what's legal and illegal.  I'm no lawyer, but I will digress a bit... Is it wrong to have a monopoly?  Not really, it's something that is determined to be illegal by the government.  An analogy: if you only pay 41% taxes, when you actually owe 43% taxes, is it wrong?  It's only wrong because the government decided that you owed 43%.  There's no inherent right and wrong in the situation, outside the law.  Same thing with monopoly power.  The government could decide that owning over 50% of a market is bad for competition and deem it illegal.  Then microsoft would be a monopoly with no argument.  And I'm not going to argue specifics, but I believe it has been determined to be a monopoly under the current laws.  So I think you're splitting hairs more than I am.  I said that Microsoft has engaged in illegal monopolistic practices, *which is true since the court decided that*.

Saying that they didn't do anything illegal, but the courts said they did, seems absurd to me, because the courts decided what is in fact legal and illegal.  They create de facto laws when they rule on cases.  That's why lawyers have to go back on precedents so much.

So I don't see where you're getting your concept of 'fair' and 'just'.  Maybe Microsoft is a monopoly in Europe but not in the US.  Does that make Europe's laws "wrong" or vice versa?

Note: not going to argue anything specific to Microsoft, but if I am wrong about this philosophy of law thing, I will discuss.

Andy
Sunday, August 03, 2003

It's not illegal to have a monopoly

It's only illegal to behave in certain ways if you have a monopoly.

S. Tanna
Sunday, August 03, 2003

"Is it wrong to have a monopoly?  Not really, it's something that is determined to be illegal by the government. "

That's really all I meant, Andy. I'm sorry about the ambiguity of my post.

Mickey Petersen
Sunday, August 03, 2003

This is an interesting thread, with some spot on observations and just as many historical howlers. 

One of the reasons I wrote "Stupidity" (other than my desire to make money) is that high-tech lacks an institutional memory.  The book attempts, from a marketing standpoint (with several asides into development blunders) to provide you with one.

In this spirit, I'm going to take up some of the comments I've read and inject some history and real world analayis.

+++Microsoft made enough smart decisions early on that they deservedly got the monopoly position in the most lucrative software category, the only one that's not optional, and once there, they would indeed have to make a string of monumentally stupid decisions to ever lose it.

MS was made by the IBM's decision to license the OS for the new PCs from them, which later became a commodity market. So MS in fact did start being a monopoly in the OS market because while PC hardware could vary, the OS stayed the same.+++

This is true as far as it goes.  HOWEVER, even in 1981 (as I say in Stupidity), MS-DOS was regarded by many as a toy OS.  No one thought it was going to stick around for over 10 years!  IBM always had the ability to write its own "clone" and made several abortive attempts to do so.  For MS to make the kind of money it did on DOS/Windows took monumental stupidity on the part of IBM.

+++Despite the crap they had before Windows 2000, they were able to fend off worthy challengers like OS/2 Warp and BeOS, thanks to the ability to flex their monopolistic muscles to disallow vendors from shipping other operating systems.+++

This is not true.  IBM bears total, complete, absolute responsibility for the failure of OS/2.  As I document in the chapter in the book that deals with OS/2, there is hardly a marketing/sales/development mistake that IBM didn't make with OS/2.

+++Microsoft got places because they started off with an unfair advantage.

They were given the OS for IBM and a pricing mechanism that cut out the competition. Then they made all the companies that made personal computers pay per machine, whether DOS was installed or not.+++

How can anyone seriously claim this?  When the original IBM/MS deal was made, MS was a pimple on the butt of computing, IBM a mega-giant that dominated every aspect of the market (except for microcomputers).  IBM was, at the time, infamous for being willing to crush smaller companies, promising liitle guys major opportunities in return for their sinking precious development resources into projects, then leaving these companies high and dry when IBM had a "change in strategic direction."

MS was simply a smart negotiator.  There was nothing "unfair" about them trying to get the best deal they could.  And it turned out they got a great one.

+++When Windows 3.1 came out they put bugs in the code that deleiberately caused it to crash when other versions of DOS were used.+++

No.  They had a bit of detection code that sniffed out whether you were running DR DOS and poped up a warning that said they couldn't insure Windows would run properly on your system.  (A rather nasty little trick, though.)

+++When IBM PC came out, IBM gave equal emphasis to MS-DOS, CPM/86 and UCSD.+++

Excellent point and quite true.

+++CPM/86 had all the apps (at least initially, ported from Z-80, 8080) so many pundits thought it would rule after the stop gap of MS-DOS was overturned.

Anyway MS-DOS cost $40. CPM/86 cost $240 and came out long (months, maybe a year?) after MS-DOS.  So was almost dead on arrival +++

Another great point!  However, people don't realize that it was Kildall, not IBM, that set that price point and he refused to change it even after he was warned about what was happening in the market.  (Documented in "Stupidity.")

+++I'm not sure why UCSD failed.+++

Several reasons.  It cost about $700 bucks.  The early version was buggy and slow on the original PC (I owned it).  Softech, the company that had commercial rights to the product, tried to charge onerous royalties.  And, most important of all, since the p-System was an early write once, run anywhere environment, what happened to Java on the desktop happened to it.  No one wanted to write generic, slow applications that no one wanted buy.

+++ Lotus 123, which was IBM PC's killer app, and left stuff like Visicalc dead in the water.+++

123 did play an enormous role, but VisiCalc could have played the same role.  However, Bricklin and Fylstra were too busy suing themselves into (relative) poverty to notice (documented in "Stupidity.)

+++ However, Austin-Tate COMPLETE failed to upgrade the product from a technical point of view. The failure of dbase was not a bad windows version. The REAL failure of the product was the bad ARCHITECTURE.+++

What destroyed Ashton-Tate was not the fact that the original version of dBASE IV sucked (though it did).  Lots of people have created bad major upgrades of databases; just ask some Oracle users.

What destroyed AT was the most complete PR meltdown ever created in high tech.

rick

rick chapman
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"No.  They had a bit of detection code that sniffed out whether you were running DR DOS and poped up a warning that said they couldn't insure Windows would run properly on your system.  (A rather nasty little trick, though.)"

Minor point but AFAIK this was only in a beta, never in released product.

Overal my impression was that troughout the history MS had a better grasp of the pricepoints for the offerings. Same with Intel. Sure, some of the competition was technogically superior, but MS/Intel provided a better value for money, and that is why they captured the market.

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"No.  They had a bit of detection code that sniffed out whether you were running DR DOS and poped up a warning that said they couldn't insure Windows would run properly on your system.  (A rather nasty little trick, though.)"

Minor point but AFAIK this was only in a beta, never in released product.

Quite true:  From "Stupidity":

In 1989, Digital Research obtained a more solid measure of revenge when it released DR DOS, a “clone” of MS-DOS (though who was the actual clone is a legitimate matter of dispute). Though no major PC vendor ever picked up the product, for a couple of years Digital Research did a brisk business selling DR DOS to second- and third-tier manufacturers while simultaneously giving Microsoft and Bill Gates minor fits. The fun came to an end when Microsoft struck back by placing messages in beta versions of Windows 3.1 that warned users of possible “problems” that might occur if you used DR DOS with Windows.

This was all nonsense; DR DOS worked fine with Windows 3.1 and public pressure eventually forced Microsoft to back away from this unsavory tactic, but in the interim a great deal of marketing damage had been done.

More significant were the changes Microsoft made in its licensing agreements that made it difficult to buy MS-DOS without also purchasing Windows, and tied discounts to exclusive purchases of Microsoft products. These were tough tactics and they would come back to haunt Microsoft during its defense against the U.S. government’s charges of predatory and monopolistic business practices. But even if Microsoft had been a kinder, gentler opponent, unless a major player such as IBM had intervened, DR DOS could never have amounted to more than a minor presence in a market moving inexorably to a GUI model of computing
à la the Macintosh.

rick

rick chapman
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

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