Discourse 101: A Defense of Microsoft
There are a lot of terrible arguments in the world -- for example, yesterday I heard some talking head claim that "Timothy McVeigh ... is the exception that proves the rule [about the efficacy of preventing terrorism through racial profiling]." I don't mind dumb arguments when it's a position I don't like -- shit, if you're still listening to a guy after he says something like that, you aren't interested in logical discourse, you're interested in simple advocacy.
But this guy puts me in an uncomfortable position. I think he's right. But I also think he's completely incapable of explaining or defending his opinion.
First, the errors. I'd like to list them, to get them out of our collective systems. I shan't mention them in my defense.
- Linux does not survive out of spite. It survives because it fills an important niche: it is ultra-customizable. This appeals to engineers seeking to eke all the performance they can out of available hardware, and is something Microsoft can't currently do. Linux on the desktop is a diffent matter, and while it does indeed owe some of its popularity to spite.
- Early Windows (<3.0) was not a pioneering effort. As a graphical system, it coexisted not only with Apple's Macintosh operating system but also with Amiga's Workbench, Berkeley Softwork's GEOS, and of course IBM's OS/2 Presentation Manager (as well as a number of simpler graphical management systems such as Norton Commander). It was, at all stages of its life, completely evolutionary, borrowing popular features from its contemporaries.
- I seriously doubt that the people who develop core Linux software sit up at night writing Windows exploits. I think most Linux users were disatisfied (or unimpressed) with the control Windows gave them. But Windows offers you LOTS of control -- if you're a developer willing to hack around in other people's DLLs. Anybody capable of designing an effective exploit for Windows should have a pretty strong grasp of Windows internals, and thus a very tight grip on the internal workings of the OS. Thus, they're not the type that Linux would appeal to.
- Linux may be behind Windows XP, but it's not "light years" behind. It's only about as far behind as Windows XP is from (oh say) Mac OS 10.4. Vista is going to be an impressive release, and the most up-to-date system on the planet. But it god damned should be, coming out in 2006. Finally: we are only talking in terms of modernity of user interface and layout. When it comes to operability, stability and customization, Linux wins handsomely and it's the other players lost in another solar system.
- Actually, what the courts said was that Microsoft's decision to tie a web browser into its OS was anti-competetive, and it was. Never mind that it was a really good idea -- a web browser is a fundamental function of modern computing, comprising a number of important reusable widgets and a system should not be considered "operational" without one -- or that Netscape was complete and utter garbage at the time. Microsoft DID use their desktop monopoly to quell a competitor, and that's wrong. It would be wrong if it had failed, too.
- Microsoft hardly "single handedly created the market for Personal Computers." Microsoft has never even SOLD a Personal Computer. Indeed, this is like saying "Bridgestone single handedly created the market for cars." Indeed, none of the items listed (tablet PCs, handheld PCs or media centers) were created by Microsoft and none of them is sold as a Microsoft product, either. Microsoft offers products that service common demand, but that is not the same as CREATING demand. Indeed, it's sort of the opposite.
There. Now, on to the defense.
Microsoft is a software company that has made its trillions not by selling better software, or by selling cheaper software, but by selling it to more people. One might call them the Sears of software. Their software creates a baseline system on which you can do literally anything.
There is an appeal to the concept of the baseline system which is hard to deny. For software vendors, it vastly decreases the support costs associated with introducing complex features. For users, it offers a level of choice and assurance no other product can tough. And for IT personnel, it offers utterly cellular growth -- any machine can do any other machine's job (not withstanding licensing and performance issues) WITHOUT an extreme makeover of the underlying software.
Posted by das at August 5, 2005 05:23 PM