Now this could almost be a good alternative editorial. Better than anything
I can write! In here is the explanation of exactly *why* we should all cry
out "Fuck Bill Gates!"And here is also the justification for why we
should continue to do strange and amazing things on our groovy Fuji boxes!
This 'Gus' isn't related to the occasional columist and ranter, 'Gus Spank'
that I created by the way, he's some different and totally real 'Gus' who
lives on the world wide webby thing!
CiH - August '01
Without taking the time to explain this characterization, it wouldn't be
fair to dismiss Microsoft simply as a force of evil. As a corporation
whose principle goal is survival, it's much safer to say that Microsoft is
selfish. By similar logic, I am selfish and you are selfish, the
Backstreet Boys are selfish, the Mormon Religion is selfish, and so is the
state of Surinam.
Where Microsoft differs from you or me, the State of Surinam and even the
Mormon Church is that most of us are forced to deal with its products in
one way or another on a daily basis. Not only has Microsoft on the browser
wars, it's also won the desktop office suite wars, mostly because it first
cornered the market in personal computer operating systems. As a
consequence of their success, I use Microsoft products for nearly every
aspect of my professional life. Completely independently, my fiance
Gretchen also uses Microsoft products for every computerized aspect of her
very different professional and artistic life.
For example, all Gretchen's poems exist as files in the proprietary format
of Microsoft Word 2000, a format that is probably already intentionally
obsolete with the release of the latest version of the Microsoft Office
Suite. The fact that all of Gretchen's work is stored in a format that a
single company can arbitrarily make obsolete leads me to my next point.
The particulars of the beast known as Microsoft take it inexorably beyond
selfishness and down the path of evil.
The struggle for survival, the selfishness, of individuals with limited
power is a beautiful thing; we cheer the little bookstore scratching out a
living in the face of Barnes and Noble discounts. The enlightened among us
seek out quality music made by unknown musicians as we drown in radio
airwaves dominated by bubblegum schlock. But no one should find any joy
whenever a company as large and powerful as Microsoft succeeds against a
much smaller adversary, using its deep pockets to assimilate and destroy.
Not only is diversity replaced with a monoculture of compromised, shoddy
software, but once one company has control of the file formats and the
protocols, it will tend to manipulate these in ways that support the
company's interests. Thus in Microsoft products we find decreasing support
for open standards such as MP3 and deliberate infidelity to past
internally-developed standards so as to coerce increment l version upgrades
by users. Though their marketing copy states otherwise, there is no real
interest in improvement and evolution of products over time. Increased
processing power and connectivity are seen as ways to further proprietize
and commercialize the computational experience, in trends completely
opposed to the inexpensiveness, inter-operability and freedom brought about
by the openness and community of the internet.
In all fairness to Microsoft, I do not think that the monopoly they've
established would be any better or worse if it had been established by Sun,
AOL, Oracle, IBM, Apple or Yahoo (full disclosure: I work for Yahoo). The
nature of unregulated monopoly is that it tends toward society-exploiting
evil. This is why we have laws against it, laws that will hopefully be
enforced. But even if these laws are not enforced, I believe that
Microsoft (and all who follow its model) will lose in the end.
I believe this because I believe that ultimately the most successful and
accessible solutions to computational and networking problems will come
from people who do not want to monopolize or be paid for their solutions.
Such people have no interest in rendering their old file formats
incompatible with their new ones or ignoring openly-agreed-upon standards.
They might constitute an underfunded minority of those developing code, but
less of their efforts are wasted, especially in such a well-networked
world. And they have a number of advantages, most particularly the fact
that their free products can out-compete the expensive proprietary
competition. Of course, part of the reason I throw my backing behind a
future run by open-source software is my, well, optimism. To loosely
paraphrase something Michael Pousti (CollegeClub.com's erstwhile EO) used
to tell us at rah-rah Monday morning meetings, it doesn't serve my purposes
to anticipate a future where evil has succeeded.
By the way, it bears mentioning that my computer skills are limited mostly
to the proprietary Microsoft platform, but I ve succeeded in directing most
of my non-work-related output to the non-proprietary world of Apache
servers. I plan to do this in a much bigger way in the near future.
Anything short of this is to bet on a future where evil has won.