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Microsoft Editorial

The Only Way Microsoft Can Die is by Suicide 1002

Posted by michael
from the a-friday-without-cringely-is-like-a-friday-without-bagels dept.
Bitseeker writes "Robert X. Cringley's latest article is online. He opens with: 'When I wrote last week about my conclusion that the legal system -- any legal system -- is unequipped to change Microsoft's monopolistic behavior, I had no idea that within 24 hours, Sun Microsystem would be throwing in the towel, trading its so-called principles for $1.95 billion in cash. So I guess I was right. Only now, a few thousand readers out there expect me to blithely produce an answer to the problem of what to do to bring Microsoft into the civilized world. Well, I say it can't be done.'"
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The Only Way Microsoft Can Die is by Suicide

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  • Public Awareness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:03AM (#8823595)
    I think that the public needs to be more educated about the alternatives to the monopoly which controls the machines all around us, as well as about the monopoly itself and the harm that it does. Then again, there have been such attempts made on various scales, yet on the whole, apathy seems to be the victor.
    • Re:Public Awareness (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jin Wicked (317953) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:22AM (#8823661) Homepage Journal

      Well, I'm probably much closer to "average consumer" or general public than a lot of posters here are... I know about this stuff because I have an interest in computer and tech, but I'm not really involved in it...

      Then again, there have been such attempts made on various scales, yet on the whole, apathy seems to be the victor.

      Is it really apathy? You need to find a way to make ordinary people understand why it matters what they run on their PC at home to check their email and surf the web, when they have to take their kids to the Dr, remember to pick up dog food on the way home, call their mother to talk about getting the family together for the weekend, pay bills... and so on and so on.

      I really would love to use Linux on my home PC, and I did my best to make myself a dual boot system but I couldn't get it running on my own. There are a lot of programs I have to have that are only on Windows, so Windows it was. But I work my butt off and don't really have time to devote hours learning a new operating system, when I already know my way around Windows, and on the list of Important Things Demanding Attention in my life, it's a pretty low priority. I used Mandrake on my ex-boyfriend's computer when I was staying with him, but he was always around to fix it when something went wrong. When Windows goes nuts, I can usually manage to get things working again on my own, at least.

      The main obstacles to Linux, or any alternative OS, in my opinion are making it easy to use and configure right out of the box for someone with little to know computer knowledge, like me, and not only educating people about the alternatives to the monopoly, but why they should care when there are so many other important things to worry about.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:42AM (#8823710)
        Yes, admittedly the open-source community does need to do their share to make the alternatives more friendly to new-comers, but it goes beyond that. I mean, most people don't install and configure Windows on their machines, either. It comes pre-installed from whichever manufacturer they choose for their PC purchase.

        Now, if the public were to speak up and say, "Hey, why can we not buy our computers with this alternative to Windows?", perhaps some effort would be made by OEMs to appease the masses.

        Unfortunately, to be realistic about it, this is not something that could happen overnight. In fact, for the bigger OEMs, it would be a huge gamble, because of just how Microsoft will not allow these distributors to offer a Linux alternative if they still want to keep their MS licenses. Perhaps some smaller companies could catch on, or even Joe Average's geeky friend may lend a hand and provide a sufficient machine and Linux install.

        Essentially, it comes down to the open-source community to inform the public, and to make certain aspects of the Linux-based operating systems (software installation, drivers, etc.) a little more streamlined for a point-and-click world, as seems to be the case with the current dominant family of OSes known as Windows.

        I just wonder if these efforts would catch on, as the public does tend to be weary to change, and with Microsoft so ingrained in our culture, people may naturally be reluctant or apathetic. We just need to keep fighting the good fight and not giving up, I suppose.
        • by Jin Wicked (317953) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:47AM (#8823732) Homepage Journal

          That's so true... I guess my main point was that I see a lot of comments on this site that amount to the public being apathetic towards alternatives, or not caring, that almost seem contemptuous of the majority of not terribly technical users (like myself). You don't blame the problem on the victim, the problem being the MS monopoly, and the victim being people that never even have the chance to know why they should use something else, or have a good alternative that's suited to their technical skills.

          If you want more people to use Linux, the best tool by far will be to make it usable by the general public, as easy and understandable as Windows is. I'd switch in a heartbeat if I didn't have so many problems with it before, and could get the programs I need to run my business.

          • by macgyvr64 (678752) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @06:38AM (#8823863)
            It's so true, though, that a lot of people simply _do_not_care_. Many just want to use their computer to communicate with people and get some basic tasks done with it. They don't realize just how configureable a computer is. They get it from any standard PC retail place, and most often it runs Windows. People accept Windows as the only way they have to interact with it, and go about their business. I think the problems facing Linux are:

            1) Consumer awareness
            2) Ease of use
            3) Compatibility

            People have to know about Linux to get it, and know exactly what it does. If I asked the people I know who are just-getting-by with a computer what Linux is, they wouldn't have a clue. And IF they'd heard the name, they assume it's some uber-geeky computer "thing" they'd rather not (and/or don't need to) know. See #2. Finally, since MS already has such a big monopoly that's not going away in the blink of an eye, Linux has to work with MS products.

            ...as I write this on my PowerBook. I'd go into the wonders of OS X here and how it's begun to accoplish all that goodness, but it's been done.

            .02
            • by SmackCrackandPot (641205) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @08:27AM (#8824077)
              I think the problems facing Linux are:

              1) Consumer awareness
              2) Ease of use
              3) Compatibility

              The last item is the biggest obstacle. Just about every newspaper has now published at least one article about "Linux" being of concern to Microsoft, and that it looks just like the Windows desktop. However, ask your average home user about switching over to Linux, and you will probably receive the following objections:

              [1] We wouldn't be able to access our files
              [2] We wouldn't be able to use our existing ISP.

              Internet providers such as Telewest don't provide direct support for Linux. The best users have been able to do, is to use a dual boot system with Windows used to configure the account, and Linux used once everything has been set up. Sure, there are Linux friendly ISP's out there, but Telewest more or less have the monopoly on 2 Megabit Internet access.
            • by HeyLaughingBoy (182206) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @09:51AM (#8824336)
              But the thing you and other posters except Jim Wicked seem to be missing is "why should they care?" And the answer is not some idealistic belief in shutting down unreasonable monopolies. The gas company in most areas is a monopoly. Ask your neighbors if they really think about that on a daily basis.

              I mean, really, do you think the average person wants more speed and cornering ability out of the family car? It's certainly possible and usually not that hard. But most people see computers, like cars, as appliances. It does what they need when they take it home,and you can even add functionality to it later by installing more software in the case you need to.

              The average person really has no need to be concerned about these details, and unless a compelling reason to care comes along, all this handwringing is pointless.

              Business, on the other hand, does care because of the annoying and expensive (and usually unwanted) upgrade cycles. And anyone looking to reduce Microsoft's market share should concentrate their efforts on demonstrating the effectiveness of Linux to business.
              • by JordanH (75307) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @10:07AM (#8824392) Homepage Journal
                • Business, on the other hand, does care because of the annoying and expensive (and usually unwanted) upgrade cycles. And anyone looking to reduce Microsoft's market share should concentrate their efforts on demonstrating the effectiveness of Linux to business.

                MS has a war chest of $60 Billion. They add to this at around the rate of $1 Billion/month. If business really cared, they would use alternatives and MS couldn't charge so much.

                MS has it figured out. They know exactly the point of pain where they can charge high prices and require subscriptions but still make it more painful for businesses to migrate. Sometimes, they push that point just to get an accurate idea of how high the pain should be. To them, the Linux migrations that are occurring now are just feedback in their marketing plans.

                Make no doubt about it, MS can afford to and will make drastic price cuts and offer free upgrades if Linux becomes a serious competitor.

                The only real threat is that a tipping point will occur which will precipitate a major shift in the market that will get out of their control.

                • Re:Public Awareness (Score:5, Interesting)

                  by gregmac (629064) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @04:41PM (#8826455) Homepage
                  Make no doubt about it, MS can afford to and will make drastic price cuts and offer free upgrades if Linux becomes a serious competitor.

                  One of the interesting comments in the article was that MS's cash reserves are big enough that they can operate for 5 years with zero revenue. That means they could give away Windows (competeing with open source), probably not run into antitrust problems since they're matching competition prices, and at the same time wipe out any other vendors that are selling at a non-zero price.

            • by Bendebecker (633126) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @02:17PM (#8825668) Journal
              Linux has to work with MS products

              Which is one of the reasons Linux may never catch on. The format of M$'s products have parts that are proprietary - no one but M$ knows how to interpet those parts. As a result, no linux products will ever work 100% with M$ products. However, since linux is open source and the formats are totally in the open, M$ can make their products easily work with Linux. End result: Linux will never have the usability of windows. Even if someone came out with a great new product for linux, M$ could simply change their OS so that it also works on windows. I hate to say it, but for Linux to catch on, open source has got to go. Other than that? Maybe if Apple started allowing their OS to run on non-apple computers, we might have a real alternative or maybe IBM can come up with something (Sun just sold out to M$ so they are out of the fight), but Linux? At this poitn it still can't compete at the level of the average user.
          • by Joe Tie. (567096) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @08:41AM (#8824118)
            If you want more people to use Linux, the best tool by far will be to make it usable by the general public, as easy and understandable as Windows is.

            It's not going to happen, ever. The only reason windows is easy to use is because people are used to it, they've been trained to understand the feel of it and some of the logic behind how it works. The reason I have for thinking this is because I'm on the opposite side of the fence. I've been using linux so long at home that I have a hard time doing anything beyond the most basic level with windows. I installed windows on my computer recently in order to ensure one of my programs would properly build there. I don't think I've ever been more annoyed trying to get something working. Which is weird because I remember thinking the exact same thing at one point about linux before moving to it from windows. Sure, both have changed to some extent since then. But I think the main difference is just being in the groove of the particular style of one when trying to talk to the other.
            • by mytec (686565) * on Saturday April 10, 2004 @11:24AM (#8824685) Journal

              If you want more people to use Linux, the best tool by far will be to make it usable by the general public, as easy and understandable as Windows is. It's not going to happen, ever. The only reason windows is easy to use is because people are used to it, they've been trained to understand the feel of it and some of the logic behind how it works.

              I don't entirely agree with that. Take a USB Flash drive. If I put that into a USB slot on OS X an icon appears on my desktop. If I have Finder open I see the same icon appear. There is feedback. I know that something happened. If I take the same USB flash drive over to Windows XP (Home Edition) I see: found new hardware and then your new hardware is installed and ready to use. If I open up Explorer or double-click on My Computer I see the icon representing the device under removable storage which makes a lot of sense. When I do the same with this SUSE 9.0 I get zero feedback. Zilch. I have no idea if my action was successful or not and worse I have no idea where this device was mounted. The process with SUSE isn't any where as intuitive as it could and should be.

              Let us take that same Toshiba notebook and deal with video. The first time I put SUSE on it my card wasn't recognized. That didn't bug me so much. I had a low resolution but I could use the GUI and search for an appropriate driver. I found a package by nVidia. I run the package and it needs the kernel source code? What?! How many regular users will be like, WTF is kernel source code? Then what version? Oh, the source code corresponding to the version I'm running. Hmm, what version am I running? So we get by that and find out I cannot stay in the GUI to get my driver configured and working. Instead I have to boot into a text mode (again...regular users will love that) and run sax2. Great... I don't know what the preferred resolution is for the LCD display my laptop has. I no longer have my manuals but shouldn't the driver have an idea? Even the display is smart enough to tell me I'm in a less than optimal resolution. Great, boot back into the GUI and do a Google search for my laptop and find out the preferred resolution is 1280x800. Exit the GUI and set the resolution using "Expert Mode" (or whatever the tab was).

              The point being that things like this can be made far easier and they should be. Using any Linux distro, you shouldn't be required to have a deep understanding of the hardware you are using when other OS's more often than not don't require that knowledge.

              In my humble opinion I think that Linux distros, in particular the GUI's, will be come easier and easier to use and will actually exceed the usability of Windows as in general the community of Linux developers tend to listen to their users and that will make all the difference in the long run.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @12:47PM (#8825047)
              I think a previous slashdotter summed it up best...
              Is Linux good enough for your Mom?

              Somewhere in Linux-land, a phone rings....

              Hello? Oh, hi mom.

              Yeah, I can help you install a program on your computer. What do you want to install?

              Oh, cool. Have you downloaded it? Good job. OK, open up a terminal.... it's the command line interface, where you type commands.

              Where did you save the file? You don't remember? Hmm. Just type "cd". Now type "ls". Do you see the file name?

              Great! OK, type "tar -zxf "

              It didn't work? What does it say? OK. What is the name of the file you downloaded? Oh, well, that is a bzip file, not a tar and gzipped file. So type the same thing as before, but use "bzip2" instead of "tar".

              What? Why didn't it work? Oh, it doesn't have the same syntax. Crap. Go to the man page. Oh, man stands for manual. Type "man bzip2". What does it say?

              (20 minutes later)

              OK, now we have uncompressed the files you need. No, not yet. Type "./configure" No, it's OK, it is figuring out what kind of computer and software you have.

              OK, now type "make" OK, call me back when it is done.

              (15 minutes later)

              OK, now type "make install" What? Why not? What does it say? No, not that. Oh, wait, you have to be root. It is an administrator user. Because not just everyone can install programs, for security reasons. Look, just change to the admin user by typing "su". OK, now enter the root password. I DON'T KNOW! You mean you don't know your root password?

              (10 minutes later)

              Mom, you should NOT use the dog's name as the password. Because it is insecure! Nevermind. Just type "make install". There. Now it is installed.

              No, there is no icon, you have to type the name of program to run it. Type it. What? I don't know, what was the name of the binary after you compiled it? A binary file is a program you run. You compiled it when you typed "make". Hmm, let's look in the Makefile. Type "vi Makefile". What do you mean it is blank? Oh, wait. Use capital M. Type ":r Makefile" with a capital M.

              OK, now you are in vi, the most powerful editor ever. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU PREFER EMACS!!!!
          • by MasonMcD (104041) <`moc.cam' `ta' `dcmnosam'> on Saturday April 10, 2004 @08:43AM (#8824121) Homepage
            I think the geeks might be less contemptuous if the majority of America hadn't laughed at them most of their lives about

            1) how stupid their interests were
            2) how they didn't understand computers anyway, though
            3) how everyone was just jealous of Microsoft for their success, and allowing the Justice department to ride that wave of public sentiment.

            I don't get how most people say they don't have time to be informed about computer issues, yet are so quick to offer their opinion. And this, rather than the experts, are seen at the more valid voice.
            • Re:Public Awareness (Score:4, Interesting)

              by naelurec (552384) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @09:40AM (#8824286) Homepage
              I don't get how most people say they don't have time to be informed about computer issues, yet are so quick to offer their opinion. And this, rather than the experts, are seen at the more valid voice.

              Don't think it is just with computer issues, but rather, MOST issues. Everyone has an opinion on something, most are uninformed and made out of ignorance.

              When someone comes at them with something that offsets their uninformed beliefs, the first reaction is to defend at all costs their "choosen" platform. Needless to say, this doesn't work very well. However, slowly introducing people to FOSS DOES work. Infact, when people have issues with their computers, I try and use a FOSS solution when possible. Change IE/OE with Mozilla, AIM with GAIM, throw OpenOffice.org on there, etc.

              The idea? eventually their #1 complaint "my software doesn't work on Linux" is a non-issue because infact, it IS cross platform.
          • Re:Public Awareness (Score:5, Interesting)

            by CherniyVolk (513591) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @09:02AM (#8824176)
            If you want more people to use Linux, the best tool by far will be to make it usable by the general public, as easy and understandable as Windows is.

            I will not be modded up for this, becuase it's truth. Truth, people actively ignore.

            It burns me up every time someone claims that what is written on the chains holding Linux down has anything to do with ease of use.

            Have we forgotten computing history? Are we that afriad of what needs to be done, we blatantly walk straight into a wall head first with ignorance?

            Ease of use, has never to this day played a role in the popularity and market dominance of a computer operating system. Or, VCR, automobile, cell phone or any other interactive device.

            Maybe, the problem is, most people here used to be Macintosh haters just three or so years ago. Oh, you heard about how easy the Mac was, so easy infact trolls still try to make a wise crack about the one-button mouse. It's always been a wonder to the Mac community, how Microsoft managed to surpass Apple hiding behind the command prompt. While we all have our business and economics degrees that give us a lame authority to try to define Apples blunders, the fact remains many geeks criticized Mac users because THERE WASN'T A COMMAND LINE!

            Now, we point at the crippled Windows command line interface, and cry about Linux's ease of use!

            Linux's ease of use is irrelevant. I don't care how many people scream otherwise. Linux has so many other qualities that if we focus on them, we will prevail. Who here started using Linux becuase it was "easy to use"? Noone. Who here started using Linux becuase of the liberty entailed in Open Source, the efficiency of Open Source, the control? I wonder if there is a high percentage of Linux users driving cars with manual transmissions... I do! I don't find it a coincedence either! When I was concerned with ease of use, I used a Macintosh. To this day, when ease of use is heavily on my mind, I recommend a Macintosh.

            Microsoft displayed that market control can be easily acheived without ease of use. Or senseable use for that matter, they still haven't mastered cut and paste. But, we don't like how they did it. So we think we are better than they are, and we should come out on top if we don't stoop to their level. That's just plain fantasy, it never pans out in the end. There's a reality here, the man willing to kick the other in the balls will always be left standing. If you want to defeat such a person, you had better drop some morals otherwise you'll be hunched over in agony.

            We can do this without zealotry, blind advocacy... but we can't do it if we constantly try to find a cause to the problem, we feel most comfortable with. Linux doesn't lack 95% of the market becuase it is hard to use. Linux lacks 95% of the market becuase it's users are hunched over on the side-walk thinking they are in pain becuase their shoes weren't tied right.
            • by markalot (67322) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @09:46AM (#8824309)
              No no.

              Your absolutly correct when it comes to COMPUTER USERS. But we are talking about the need to make the shift to computers as appliances. We don't call people that can operate microwaves 'microwave users'. If you want to be successful you have to make it usable by the majority of people. Just turn it on and it works. Microsoft realized this so to win the game they mae everyone pre-install and then tied everything to the OS. This makes it easy for the typical person to just turn it on and have everything work.

              If you want to set back personal computing by 5 or 10 years then successfully argue that the end user must install all of their software and Microsoft can't include it. Make it so when they want to watch a video they have to choose to install Real or WM or QT. In other words ask the questions to the exact person who is least qualified to answer them, and then make fun of them for not being able to figure out what to do.

              Oh, but watch out, if you do win then you can expect lawsuits over those monopolistic bastards at KDE including their own browser instead of giving the user a choice.

              This is not to say, though, that Microsoft was not wrong to threaten vendors with penalties for bundling other op systems with computers. They were wrong and it was quite stupid because I don't believe it would have cost them any sales. As far as Windows goes, however, I support their right to bundle whatever they want with it. Usability IS the key for non computer types. This usability argument you make is only true for people who are what we consider the typical computer user, or techie.
            • by zaphod8829 (754076) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @10:50AM (#8824541) Homepage
              I happen to think you're dead wrong. If ease of use weren't attractive to the average consumer, why did AOL dominate?

              Also, I'll grant you that VCRs, DVDs, etc. weren't terribly easy to use when they came out, but one of the major things that helped people out was that they were all completely consistent in the interface, at least the primary one. Play, pause, stop, fast-forward, rewind, next chapter, previous chapter. I know there are tens of other features on most DVD players, but how many average-joe type people use them?

              This discrepancy among interfaces is also what has kept Apple alive in the past. People were unwilling to learn Windows as an alternative. Granted, OS X is wonderful, and I'd argue much better than Windows, but that hasn't always been true of MacOS.

              Finally, I think a major portion of what keeps Linux off of most people's computers is lack of software compatibility. OpenOffice.org is nice, but most average-joe users don't realize how close to compatible with MS Office it is. Also, there are so many little things -- the CDROM that comes with textbooks, the stupid little games packaged with breakfast cereals, etc. that simply won't work in Linux.

              I think things like this, far more than driver compatibility or any such thing, is important. If I had more time, I'd be throwing it at helping develop wine. Until people can switch, and keep all the little niceties that come with software compatibility (I know viruses, spyware and such fall into this category, but it goes with the territory).

              That's the important thing in my mind. Average Joe doesn't want to keep a table in his head of Linux equivalents for Windows software. That's all they know about. Most people don't even know they have Windows, because it's not in the Programs menu.

              Also, this will get many PHB types to switch. If they can keep using the same apps, it's easier to argue the switch. After that, argue to switch the apps one-by-one if you like. Once people get used to using it at work, they'll clamor for it at home. It worked for Microsoft!

              So, a good, solid Wine layer is a majorly important thing if what we really want is desktop dominance. I'd chuck my Windows partition in a second if I thought I could run Half-Life 2 under Linux.
            • by copponex (13876) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @11:01AM (#8824591) Homepage
              I work in a Pro Audio store, and I'm a script level nerd. I work on Macs, X and 9. I work on PCs with windows. In 2000 I installed a small redhat server that shared 20 gigs of space, and also acted as a firewall and dhcp server.

              I have installed and used: Slackware, Redhat, Mandrake, Debian, Gentoo, and unsuccessfully tried to install yellowdog on an old (and apparently unsupported) Mac clone.

              This is the reason I have no problem in saying that the ease of use in Linux is absolutely the reason it isn't popular. People are cheap, and they love free anything, and they'll deal with a lot of headache to save money. A free Linux desktop that was easier to use than windows would be more popular than windows. But there isn't one.

              Here's the bottom line:

              1. You won't win the desktop until you have a solid GUI platform where a completely encapsulated installer requires ONE COMMAND to begin the install process.

              2. You won't win the desktop until you have POLISHED and COMPLETE business applications. QuickBooks, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and the like have absolutely no equal in Linux.

              3. For the above to happen, there need to be standards in Linux. It's really that simple. Windows may be bad, but it's consistent. I can write an application that will work in Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP. Will a .deb work in yellowdog? Does emerge work in Fedora? Do you realize how few people can even comprehend why there's a difference, let alone what the differences are?

              If you make Linux better than windows and keep it free, it will become more popular. Just remember that 95% of your audience doesn't give a shit about games, or how fast pieces of backend code work, or how revolutionary it will be for them to have a limitlessly configurable desktop. They're at work. They want to sell things, communicate with their customers, keep track of their finances, stay organized, and then turn the thing off and go home.
    • Re:Public Awareness (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NanoGator (522640) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:22AM (#8823662) Homepage Journal
      "I think that the public needs to be more educated about the alternatives to the monopoly which controls the machines all around us"

      I think there needs to be a much stronger effort by these alternatives to effectively replace Microsoft. It's not like I can just switch to Linux and automatically be happy.
    • by mek2600 (677900)
      I disagree that apathy has been the victor so far- we're just fighting a very uphill battle. Microsoft got lucky in the fact that the time in which they came "into power" was when the industry was very open to someone rising up and dominating. Now we just just have to do what most of us are doing- dispelling FUD, contributing to the open source community, and doing other activities that generally chip away at Microsoft's base.

      Remember, Rome not only wasn't built in a day, but also wasn't destroyed in a d
    • by Cloud K (125581) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @07:34AM (#8823954)
      Apathy might not be too far off the mark, but I think it's a little deeper a problem than that.

      Linux (for instance) doesn't really *do* anything new that the average consumer cares about. That includes stability, security and neat GNU tools. Most people I've spoken to and failed to "convert" aren't bothered that they have to reboot once in a while. Some are concerned that they might get hacked, in which case they get a geek friend to install a firewall and do all the updates. Others aren't bothered at all ("there's nothing important on here anyway"). And they certainly don't care about geek tools that they'll never even try to understand.

      On the desktop, it's generally seen by the public as a free "imitation" of Windows that's always trying to play catch-up. As slashdotters we know better than that, but even still... strictly in Linux's desktop capacity (and thinking of average users, not geeks)... it's largely true.

      Linux needs to do something *groundbreaking* that Windows doesn't, that Microsoft can't suddenly copy, *and* that the public actually care about. That is no easy task, especially given Linux's open source nature. Microsoft can easily make a development top-secret (just look at information on their new Longhorn interface, or lack thereof) but how can an open-source project be kept secret?

      Put simply though, Linux needs to stop playing catch-up and overtake - borrow Microsoft's buzzword and "innovate".

      Until that happens, yes it'll continue taking over the server market, but for Desktop Joe it'll always be a product that does exactly the same things but with less support, less compatibility and always playing catch-up.

      A positive example of hope is Mozilla Firefox. That is an example of how Linux should be. It's way better than IE, and I know a lot of general public users who do actually use it. My parents use it, friends, fellow board visitors that I've helped to convert etc. This is because it features built-in tabbed browsing, it's extremely easy to "clean up", isn't succeptable to popups, spyware, self-installers etc, it's easy to use and it looks good. These are innovations or features that Desktop Joe *does* care about and that Internet Explorer doesn't actually do. This is a perfect example of the combination of innovation on the OSS side and suicide from Microsoft. The suicide being that they were too greedy - they were determined to keep the next version of IE for the next version of Windows so that they could list it in the features and essentially charge for it. Unfortunately for them, they seemed to forget that Longhorn is dragging ass. Finally they have a new version planned for XP SP2, but is it too little too late? Time will tell.

      Microsoft's suicide on the desktop OS market *could* be Longhorn, but Linux developers need to work at it too - hard and fast - and bring a little homicide into the equation. MS are taking so bloody long with the thing that Linux could have time. But in the 2 year window it has, it had better come up with something damn good for the consumer.

      The other problem is popularity - it's the old problem of "it's not popular, so why should I be a guinea pig?". Most people I've failed to convert have at least once used the argument of "well I just want to stay with the mainstream, that way I'm compatible with everyone else." I can't really argue with that, as it's true - they can't just buy a piece of hardware (or software) off the shelf and expect it to work like they can with Windows. They can't just take a disk off a friend with some data they saved from some proprietary Windows-based software and expect it to open in Linux. What can we do? Nothing really, it has to gain popularity either gradually or through some awesome innovation that people are willing to give all this up for.
      • by naelurec (552384) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @10:22AM (#8824444) Homepage
        The general public doesn't understand what FOSS is all about. The general public DOES care about saving money. When I install Mozilla, GAIM or other FOSS on their computers and show that it is better than the $100 or so of popup blockers, spam filters and other "windows patches" that they bought and is FREE, they perk up.

        About this time, they sit back and the next thing they usually ask is "Why is it free?" -- I got their attention. I know they only care for probably 45 seconds, so I very briefly tell them some of the keypoints on how FOSS is similar to the underlying concept in the movie "Pay It Forward" and why FOSS makes sense.

        I don't go on how MS software is poor, how MS has bad business practices or any of that. I think by showing the strengths of FOSS, these people are smart enough to see the power of FOSS and the GPL-- "hey, as more people use FOSS, more people develop FOSS/GPL, and it gets better, faster" -- needless to say, it takes a while to truly understand why FOSS/GPL is so powerful (it honestly took me over a year before it started to click beyond just being "free as in beer").

        Ultimately? It seems like most everyone I show Mozilla are still using it (I have been doing this since before the 1.0 release) and showing others Mozilla. Infact, I know quite a few people who I showed Mozilla in a business setting, going online and installing it for friends, family and relatives. No doubt that these people are spreading the word as well.

  • Principles? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bobdoer (727516) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:05AM (#8823601) Homepage Journal
    trading its so-called principles for $1.95 billion in cash
    How many people wouldn't trade their principles for almost 2 billion dollars?
    • by bgog (564818) *
      I'll trade... I'll trade.
      Of course it depends on which principles you mean. I wouldn't kill innocent people but hey I'll become a closed-source promotin, drm lovin, riaa employee for 2bil!
    • Re:Principles? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:29AM (#8823682)
      Richard Stallman wouldn't.
      • by ottawanker (597020) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:43AM (#8823715) Homepage
        Richard Stallman wouldn't.

        No, but I'm sure he'd sell them as long as the buyer promised to but GNU/ in front of them.
    • Re:Principles? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mashiyach (757252)
      Not Microsoft, nor any other company nor any one else could cause me to trade my principles for any amount of money. There is a world to be saved out there. To keep ones principles is the most important we can do. Principles are holy! Microsoft has signed their own death sentence.
    • Re:Principles? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by primus_sucks (565583)
      Considering McNealy has more more than anyone could ever need why would he need to trade principles for money? The only logical conclusion would be that he didn't have any principles to begin with and it has always been about money. It was a very said day for me as a Java programmer and Red Wings fan to see McNealy/Ballmer holding up an Yzerman jersey on stage together. My next project will be written in Python. Go Wings!
    • by Usagi_yo (648836) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @07:30AM (#8823947)
      Sun didnt' sell it's principles. Sun sold it's soul.

      Microsoft is positioning itself to battle linux. To do so, they cross license IP with Sun for Solaris innards with its excellent scaleability and enterprise class functionality. This means a new class Operating system derived from Solaris and Windows with quite possibly a small piece of the pie to SCO.

      Meanwhile, Sun is going to migrate away from Sparc. They simply cannot compete in the proprietary CPU market. Look for them to adopt and have a hand in developing AMD processors with multi-core CPUs that run the new hybrid OS. Then Sun will market the server, workstation, Desktop based systems. Microsoft will get a cut of the hardware business as Sun gets a cut of the software business. Sco get residual license fees, and Linux gets another 10 years to catch up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:05AM (#8823602)
    The Only Way Microsoft Can Die is by Suicide

    So is there anything we can do to help?
  • by Peridriga (308995) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:06AM (#8823603)
    The smartest reader of all suggested that companies be taxed on their market share so that a company like Microsoft with 90 percent share would pay 90 percent sales tax.

    The simply response to the smartest reader, as an Economics major, is why in the hell would I even try to get market share in the first place since I now have a strong fiscal insentive NOT to try to.

    Imagine a world where the better you get at something the more punished you are. Why would you get better? It's like smacking a child every time s/he tries to walk. Why would s/he walk?

    Someone please explain why saying "bad" for being "good" at something is a Good Thing. Please! I want to know...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:15AM (#8823628)
      Well, tax rates tend to increase with salary amongst citizens. Why shouldn't the same apply to companies? As long as they're still making more money...
    • by cubyrop (647235)
      of course you're right...it is after all unreasonable to punish someone for being good. for being successful.

      for creating a product with such a strong business plan that you end up the most successful company in modern history, dominating your field.

      if your principles demand you stand up for companies who are punished for getting better, then stand in front of microsoft and defend them too.
    • by dave1g (680091) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:18AM (#8823643) Journal
      well yes that was extreme, but you could start the insane taxes at about 66- 75% market share as the idea being that consumers can only get hurt by a company controlling that much. And in economics you do learn that monopolies are bad, they dont serve the economy well. Economist know that society gets the best value when there are many competitors for a given output.

      Economics is not about the betterment of the few but the betterment of the whole. In most cases a monopoly doesnt benefit the whole. In some it does. Those are usually natural monopolies, such as utilities and governments.

      If you had multiple electric wres coming into your home from different vendors then your energy prices would sky rocket because in order for the companies to all compete they would need to all build wires to all the homes.

      So it is better to have a regulated monopoly.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Although the smartest reader's insight may or may not be a good solution, your criticism of it is certainly not good. When you graduate with your econ degree you'll enter into a world of progressive income taxation. According to your theory your incentive will now be to not try and increase your income because that will increase your taxation.

      Instead of turning down increases in your salary outright, if you want to donate them to me I'm sure we can work something out.

      Your post glosses so much that is

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:28AM (#8823673) Homepage Journal
      I agree but disagree.

      Imagine limiting the model. Impose the tax-levy at market share of 70% or greater. That would encourage companies to get big, but not get too big. That is, it would create a very strong incentive to not kill off too much competition.

      But the problem there is that microsoft is engaged in many markets and some products that attain monopoly in their markets are given away for free... So in the case of Netscape, how would the government applied such a tax-levy?

      Perhaps rather than a tax, perhaps the revocation of all patents on said companies products in the given market.
      So in the event of IE's market monopoly, all patents obtained by MS related to IE's functionality would be revoked, allowing for new competition to step in and compete without having to worry about IP infringement.

      But there is no silver bullet here unfortunately.
    • by dbirchall (191839) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:42AM (#8823708) Journal
      Well, actually... if there is a direct correlation between percentage market share, percentage of the overall money being gotten in the market, and percentage tax rate, there is incentive to gain market share... until you hit 50%.

      A couple minutes with a spreadsheet will show that 1 - 1% is .99, and 99 - 99% is also 0.99 ... but 50 - 50% is 25! It's a bell curve, and there's definitely a sweet spot there.

      So under that "extreme" example, you could have two major competitors in any market operating at, or close to, maximum profitability, while a monopoly would basically self-destruct. Perhaps it's a little smarter than some people think.

      Of course, the numbers could be adjusted to move the "sweet spot" higher or lower. You could make it so diminishing returns kicked in if a company had more than, say, 75% market share, so there could still be one big player, but leave room for smaller ones too. Or you could put the sweet spot at 33% or even 25%, thus encouraging the existence of 3 or 4 fairly evenly matched competitors in a market.

      But yeah, Cringely's right that it won't happen. The folks who create taxes don't have much incentive to do that, considering who's lining their pockets, and besides, the math might be too hard for them. ;)

    • by edp (171151)
      "... why in the hell would I even try to get market share [when the tax rate punishes me for it]?"

      You have made two mistakes here. First, you have missed the point altogether, that we want large companies not to get more market share. So your implicit complaint that we are discouraging growth is in fact the goal of this tax. You ask why this is a good thing. It is because when a company grows too much, it becomes harmful to society instead of helpful. (Or at least so some people think. I'm taking that as

      • by trmj (579410) <tmacfarlan.gmail@com> on Saturday April 10, 2004 @07:09AM (#8823906) Journal
        if Microsoft charges $100 for Windows 3000 and has a 90% market share, they would have to collect $190 from the purchaser and send $90 to the government

        Not what the article says. It implies that MS would be getting taxed on things they buy, not taxing the end user, although that's how it would even out for MS.

        First, you have missed the point altogether, that we want large companies not to get more market share

        Great idea. The taxing of a company that has 90% market share could be seen as a blessing. But it won't happen, and not because the government is too dumb, as the article implies.

        Let's start with why this taxing scheme is a bad idea up front: pretend you started a company. You produce a product and it becomes accepted in the market, gaining popularity as time passes. You continue to make this product better and it gets more popular. You realize you have enough customers to have a chunk of Market Share(TM), we'll say at 6%. Great for you! You pay 6% tax of things your company purchases. Not bad, since that's standard PA sales tax.

        So what's the incentive to grow bigger? You end up paying more and more and getting less and less profit if you keep growing. You get to 15% market share and realize that you won't be making much money at all soon. What do you do? Stop getting more popular. How? Don't make your product better anymore. That'll keep people from evangelizing for ya (after all, word of mouth is the best advertising). See where this path leads?

        IF it were to be implemented, and that's a really, really big if, there would need to be a lower limit on the tax scheme. That, of course, leads to questions like, "Who will decide what the best market share is?" and, "Should that share amount change from market to market?"

        Now for why the proposed system is fundamentally broken: it effectively prevents new markets from being opened. Take iTunes, for example (I dont use the service myself, but it's something the /. crowd can understand easily). Apple opened up an entirely new market with this service (to be honest, there were companies doing this long before Apple, I remember hearing about it back in '98, but Apple made it into a feasible market by bringing in masses of new customers).

        When it started, Apple had about 99% market share. By your model, they should be charged 99% tax because they have a monopoly on this new market. Obviously, no company would want to open a new market like that, lest they be smited with over taxation.

        So make it a case-by-case process, right? Then we encounter extreme backups and massive amounts of red tape, along with accusations (some not unfounded) of discriminatory taxation.

        Just because an idea is clever doesn't make it right or fully thought through.
  • well (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:07AM (#8823608)
    I for one welcome our old microsoft overlords.

    afterall, can you imagine how difficult it would be to write 10 different versions of the same virus! agh! it would be horrible!
    • Re:well (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      afterall, can you imagine how difficult it would be to write 10 different versions of the same virus! agh! it would be horrible!

      This is an example of how Microsoft is killing innovation. Without Microsoft we'd probably already have viruses that mutate freely between different operating systems. They've held back progress by decades!
  • by sirsnork (530512) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:09AM (#8823612)
    The thing is if Longhorn isn't secure out of the box they will be. That means no open services binding to interfaces other than 127.0.0.1. Whilst this won't kill them outright people are now starting to learn just how fundamental some of the problems with windows are and just how futile it is to try and keep a system up to date on a dial up modem.

    Based on the way SP2 for XP is looking they may finally be learning this lesson, but if they don't it may not be a question of running out of money and more a question of running out of customers (one leads to the other I know but they have a LOT of money to spare even without customers)
  • A better idea... (Score:3, Flamebait)

    by nuclear305 (674185) * on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:09AM (#8823613)
    Would be to have a new company come along and actually produce something new rather than recycle old and existing ideas.

    Rather than try to bring Microsoft to its knees so that others can compete, why don't we put more effort into actually creating competition?

    I think Bill Gates himself has proven that it only takes someone in a garage with a damn good idea...

    Mod me down if you wish, just an honest opinion from someone sick of hearing about Microsoft's monopoly.
    • by BenjyD (316700) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:22AM (#8823656)

      From the article:

      Some have even said that venture capital people are tending to avoid software companies '...because Microsoft will pull a Netscape on you."

      MS have shown again and again that they are prepared to do pretty much anything, even break the law, to prevent competitors getting a foothold. How can some company running in a garage compete with that?

    • Re:A better idea... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by richie2000 (159732) <rickard.olsson@gmail.com> on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:28AM (#8823677) Homepage Journal
      Would be to have a new company come along and actually produce something new rather than recycle old and existing ideas.

      As if it hasn't been tried a few thousand times? Every single time, Microsoft has either bought the company in question and either integrated it or disbanded it, or created enough vaporware and FUD to shut it down. Remember Go, anyone? Where do you think Visio, Excel and Exchange comes from? Developed in-house? Ha! One of the guys behind Exchange even came over and tried to "ease our transition" when Bill'n'Steve bought us [1] out. You can not out-innovate someone who buys and steals innovations for a living and has forty billion dollars to play with. It can not be done, not on the same playing field. You will have to either out-gun them (maybe IBM could, if they had a visionary to push them, which they don't) or take the fight elsewhere and play by different rules as OSS is doing.

      I think Bill Gates himself has proven that it only takes someone in a garage with a damn good idea...

      Jobs and Wozniak proved that. Bill never worked out of a garage, his parents were a bit too wealthy for that kind of rough start. He was speeding his Porsche down in Albuquerque from day one.

      Mod me down if you wish, just an honest opinion from someone sick of hearing about Microsoft's monopoly.

      Well, I'm sick of living it. And I have been for close to ten years now. Do some research and you'll know why you're hearing about it. God knows there's enough books and websites written by the ones who have gotten their de-programming and gotten out. Start with Marlin Eller and go from there.

      [1] Sendit, later known as Microsoft Mobile Internet Business Group and now known as NOTHING since they killed it off, apparently just for fun. Forty billion dollars allows you to have fun like that. Laugh, dammit!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:10AM (#8823619)
    Microsoft isn't the first corp to be on the top of the world. Times change, attitudes change. There is no way to say that microsoft will always be here, at least not in the form that they are now. Microsoft's products weren't always the dominate software, there is no reason to assume they always will be.

    Having said nothing important, I'll now go read the article.

  • by arivanov (12034) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:12AM (#8823622) Homepage
    One thing you have to admit, MSFT is both good at playing catchup and has enough resources to play catchup after it has missed the boat. There are plenty of examples:

    1. MSFT ignoring TCP IP, saying it is inferior to NetBIOS as well as charging a small fortune for a minimal add-on IP Stack ported from BSD. That was only 10 years ago. They caught up on this one

    2. Same with browsers - IE 3.0 was nothing but mosaic repackaged. It took them less then 2 years to catch up.

    3. Mail clients - I still remember the days when Pegasus and Eudora were the de-facto corporate standards as far as Email on windows is concerned. 3 years to get from 0% market share to 90%+ market share.

    4. Microsoft ignoring wireless, thin clients, etc.

    In every one of these cases they caught up before the rest of the market could do anything about them.

    • by eclectro (227083) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:48AM (#8823735)
      In every one of these cases they caught up before the rest of the market could do anything about them.

      I wouldn't call it catchup. What I would call it is leveraging a monopoly position to force a product (that's often inferior i.g. outlook express) onto customers whether they like it or not.

      That's what they did with the browser by integrating it deeply with the OS. That's what they are trying to do with the media player.

      Standard oil tried to do it [theatlantic.com] with refineries and railroads. The movie companies tried to do it by owning the movie theatres.

      The only difference between now and then is that then politicians had enough spine to stand up against it, and take action that would promote meaningful change.

      It is questionable if the EUs recent actions will be effective because the fine, as large as it is, represents a very small part of Microsoft's fortune that they can afford to pay.

      I do not see anything on the horizon that would change their current business practices.
  • Erm...huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jin Wicked (317953) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:12AM (#8823624) Homepage Journal

    The smartest reader of all suggested that companies be taxed on their market share so that a company like Microsoft with 90 percent share would pay a 90 percent tax rate. The nice part about this idea is that it actually would encourage competition as well as industry alliances. The naive part is that it assumes legislative resolve that does not exist and also assumes Microsoft actually pays taxes which, for the most part, it doesn't. Still, the idea is clever.

    What? That's the silliest thing I ever heard. I'm as anti big-business as most moderately anti big-business people are, but taxing businesses according to market share seems stupid and doesn't give them much incentive to want to grow, as least how I see it. If you want to go after corporations, start cracking down on tax shelters and loopholes that get them out of paying anything at all.

    I know MS sucks donkey balls, but changing the entire tax structure and the market just to take care of them seems a little excessive. Hell, I'm using Windows but I still have Apple and Real products on my PC. Is it really that bad?

  • It is my theory that capitalism, or more precisely free markets, lead to monopolies and oligopolies. As long as you keep introducing good products, have good marketing, have a lot of capital, keep trying hard, and/or have good employees, you will aways dominate. Companies like Microsoft, IBM, ExxonMobil, BP, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and others, will always dominate.

    A lot of people in the tech industry, and in particular on Slashdot, are very anti-Microsoft. But the fact of the matter is that Microsoft has not done anything that other companies don't do on a regular basis. If anything, Microsoft is one of the better companies relative to its size (companies like Intel and IBM are far worse). If you think Microsoft is bad, you know nothing about Wal-Mart, ExonMobil, and others. A company like Walmart, for example, has far more power and is more monopolistic than Microsoft ever was. What you refer to as Microsoft's monopolistic behaviour is a total joke compared to the clout Wal-mart has over suppliers and consumers.

    Sivaram Velauthapillai
  • by BrookHarty (9119) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:28AM (#8823675) Homepage Journal
    I think Microsoft already saw the writing on the wall, they are moving towards home appliances and entertainment. They are moving into music, video and games. HDTV will have Microsoft media format for recordings, Music will be some DRM'ed version, and video games are out in the form of the Xbox. There already into PDA's, Phones, and Tivo clones. Microsoft will be around in all forms of entertainment. The OS market is dead, its time to move towards the bigger, larger honey pots.

    As for software, besides the XP OS so I can run video games, all most applications are open source or free. Mozilla, Thunderbird, putty, Winamp (free version), Open office, cygwin, opengaim, windows player classic. iTunes, PowerDVD and Nero are pay, but they could move to Linux easily enough.

    Besides free software for PC, everything else costs for most entertainment. Xbox games, HDTV DVDs, DRM'ed CDs, whatever. Microsoft will be a monopoly in other markets.

    • by dbirchall (191839) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @06:33AM (#8823850) Journal
      Microsoft has 7 business units, if I recall.

      • Client (Windows XP)
      • Information Worker (Office)
      • Server Platforms (Windows Server 2003, SQL Server, etc.)
      • CE/Mobile (Windows Mobile, etc.)
      • Business Software (Great Plains etc.)
      • Home & Entertainment (Xbox, Media Center, etc)
      • MSN
      The only divisions that consistently turn a profit (a couple billion a quarter each) are Client and Information Worker. Server Platforms is usually brings in a profit of some hundred million each quarter, but sometimes (like the first quarter of fiscal 2004, if I recall) loses money. The other four combined lose something like $250 million every quarter.

      Microsoft gets something like 90% of its profits from selling Windows client OSes and Office. If Microsoft expects to survive (or you expect it to do so) in some emerging segment while the "PC OS Market" goes away, it's going to have to do a lot better in those other segments.

  • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone (681598) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:49AM (#8823743)
    Only mentioned Apple twice. Is anyone paying any attention to what Apple is accomplishing? OS X is incredible. The G5 workstations are incredible. iTunes is beyond incredible. iPod, Apple stores, Cinema Displays, iPhoto, Powerbook, GarageBand, Keynote, etc. etc.

    How much more does one company have to accomplish? What was the last really cool product Microsoft made?
  • by madchris (266878) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:52AM (#8823750)
    I think Mr. Cringley underestimates the long term power of an open and easily shared computing environment. I just tried Mandrake 10 out for a few days. Mandrakesoft has pulled itself out of bankrupcy (not easily done these days). Other Linux distros are shining brightly too. I think Microsoft should be very worried.
  • The free market (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Maskirovka (255712) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:57AM (#8823760)
    Ultimately the free market will control Microsoft. Those companies out there that fear them- IBM, Sun, Apple, Nokia, Sony, HP, etc will keep them in check. Those, and governments helping out their domestic software industry.

    Complaining about Sun giving up it's principles is pointless- they are a business. Their sole purpose is to make money. And for $2kkk they probably got their money's worth given the circumstances.

  • by e6003 (552415) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @06:03AM (#8823776) Homepage
    And that is to collapse under the weight of their own financial setup. I found this article, entitled Microsoft Financial Pyramid [billparish.com] to be very enlightening. It's written by a qualified accountant so it must be true ;-) In essence, Microsoft's $50 billion in the bank is almost literally unreal - it's been built up by paying their employees a very poor basic salary and making up for it by offering lots of very attractive share options. The problem comes if those employees decide to start exercising those options - say if MSFT starts dropping in value. This might create a chain reaction: other option-holders start panicking and exercising their options as well - and all this would create yet more downward pressure on the price of MSFT. To keep this from happening, the only option will be for Microsoft to start buying its stock back - this $50 billion might not be enough if the pressure gets too great...

    Now bear in mind that (a) there are challenges from all sides coming at Microsoft [aaxnet.com] (they have failed to gain much of a foothold in markets outside their core products of Windows and Office, both core markets now under heavy attack from Free alternatives) and (b) the price of MSFT has almost halved over the past 5 years [yahoo.com] (in fact, it was almost touching $100 a share in Feb 2000 [crn.com]) and you might just think it's not all rosy in the MSFT garden. So much so that co-founder Paul Allen sold all his MSFT stock and got out whilst the going was good. This is also why MS decided last year to pay a dividend on their stock for the first time - they have to prevent institutional investors from jumping ship. The stock setup is their one (big) weakness.

    • by utahjazz (177190) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @07:41AM (#8823970)
      Note that your article is dated 1999. Microsoft no longer grants options to employees, it grants actual shares, and it lists those grants in it's balance sheet.

      Anyway, it's kind of physically impossible for granted options to spell doom for a company, since the instruments become unusable if the company's stock falls below the strike price. For the options to be a liability, the company has to be doing well.

      Indeed, the main reason they switched to granting shares is that many employees were grumbling that their options are already worthless, having been granted during the heydey times of a few years ago.
  • Ever notice? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone (681598) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @06:04AM (#8823781)
    Nobody ever really discusses computers? Notice how the media almost never has a story on the real details of Linux, Mac, Windows, Sun, Java, .NET, etc., even though hundreds of millions of people use computers every single day?

    Some of the most entertaining television or radio is when a host detects that an interview/conversation is starting to become detailed and interesting (read: technical terms being used), and they raise their voice/interrupt/babble/act like a complete asshole/try to make it an unfunny joke in order to return the conversation to stupidity-land.

    Part of the problem is the inability of society to think about something for more than a few moments, and also to "glaze over" (which is a bullshit excuse) whenever technical details are discussed.
  • by tehanu (682528) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @06:22AM (#8823810)
    Cringely makes some good comments. One thing I can think of though, if as he says MS manages to kill off its competitors in the US (or bashes them to tame submission) and the software industry in the US as a whole is paralysed because investors are afraid of the "Netscape effect" when MS notices your niche and decides to compete with you - it may be possible that the next leap in innovation he thinks that will kill MS may come outside of the US. If MS suffocates the US software industry the next big innovation will have to come outside of the US. Which means that the hub of the software industry may end up moving out of the US into probably Asia - maybe China or India. And then the job losses we see in the US IT industry now would be nothing compared to what would happen then...
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @07:06AM (#8823902) Journal
    MS became powerfull because IBM was the evil empire before. IBM was the fat arrogant bastard and MS was the liberator. It is therefore very easy to think the MS could now find itself as the evil empire to be liberated by say Linux.

    There is however a problem. The problem is that IBM existed in a different world then MS does now. IBM technology was a small world populated by the techs. MS however exist in a world in wich IT is now used mostly by non-techs. These people are far less prepared to switch from MS to Linux as before the techs switched from Mainframes to DOS.

    So what can happen?

    Security

    One is security. So far all the security problems have been mild. Nothing really major happened. People are not going to switch because of a few virusses (I am talking the non-techs here) or because they loose a little bit of data. Just ask youreselve how many cars have been produced that were so faulty that they killed people and what happened to the companies that produced those cars? Are those companies still around their cars still selling? Right. Apathy. People are stupid, lazy, shortsighted, greedy and gullible.

    A major worm that really wipes out a large percentage of windows machine would be required for a shift to take place. Is this likely? Well so far it hasn't happened. None of the worms are really destructive enough.

    MS missing the boat

    This is mentioned in the article and I think it is wishfull thinking. MS has missed every damn boat out there. So far without result. People do without or pay extra or pay others. Just look at tcp/ip, browsers, png support in browsers, games (once Apple was the PC with games), and many many others.

    Competition

    Now we are talking. Linux itself isn't really competition as linux is not competiting. If Linux is used by 1 person then it still is a 100% success.

    But there are others willing to use Linux as the base from wich to launch their own offensive.

    I don't think companies like IBM or Sun or HP are any real threath. They had their change and goofed. But look to the east and you will see one huge evil empire who has everything to loose by MS being dominant and nothing to gain. China may for a lot of reasons become the bastion of freedom for the west ruled by DMCA/RIAA/MPAA/MS. People always talk about the richness off MS but forget that 50billion is peanuts to goverments. America is only so corrupt because its leaders are so cheaply bought. Just look at the donations given and the profits of the companies making the donations.

    China however has a rememedy for that. A bullet paid for by the relatives.

    Red flag linux run on a dragon chips would be a very nice way for china to first gain independence at home and second be a nice export article to those willing to break free from Longhorn/Blackcomb or whatever.

    I think this is the only real threat to MS. A country wich cannot be bought, threatned or outsold. An asian pact would also break the MS office version deadlock. Want to trade in the east? You will comply with their standards or you will not trade.

    Is any of this likely to happen?

    Apart from the far east revolt I doubt that anything will change soon. We live in a world where only a tiny percentage of people even can be bothered to vote. Expecting those people to lead a revolt against a company is to much.

    Of course that is no excuse for those of us who know better.

    This article written on Linux

  • by jellomizer (103300) * on Saturday April 10, 2004 @07:18AM (#8823928)
    The Major part of the problem is the way people are educated in computers. They are shown Windows, Word, Excell, Power Point. Once they are proficient at them then they are labeled Computer Literate. The real trick is to change the educational system to teach computers more fairly and balanced. Sure they can use Use MS Office and Windows. But don't bother teaching them how to use Word teach them how to use Word Processors, all of them are about the same A button is here vs. there or use alt b to make something bold or sometimes it is ctrl-b or open apple b. Show them how to figure things out for themselves how to check the menu bars to see what features are available. What commonalities are between systems. If someone is computer literate they should be able to be productive on GUI and not be afraid of the CLI, I am not saying we should teach them how to compile things, or program, or understand all the administration needs, but allow them to find a program and run it because they are comfortable with the controls that they give.
    For schools I would recommend that they actually have apple hardware with virtual PC. With W2k, WXP, And one of the friendlier Linux distribution installed. So that way they can get their hands on 99% of the environments (In usability Linux is extremely similar to other Unixes so a Linux install will help with the unix ones too). Now these people will have their feet wet with other OS's and then can make informed decisions on what OS they really like the best. And yes some of them will choose Microsoft products but other will choose the others as their favorite depending on how they think and they work. I don't care if Microsoft goes out of business or not, I just want people to realize that there are different tools for different jobs and using these tools isn't wrong.
  • by RetiredMidn (441788) * on Saturday April 10, 2004 @07:27AM (#8823943) Homepage
    Back when the government gave up on its antitrust suit with IBM (I wonder how many /.ers were around for that? Yikes.), I remember thinking that IBM won because it had enough money to stare down any government, and hating the implications (I had worked almost exclusively on DEC systems for several years, and hated IBM as I now detest Microsoft.)

    Well, as Cringley pointed out, things do eventually change. Microsoft will fall, eventually, and probably of its own accord. (Longhorn looks like a good start...)

    And an observation that is not a troll, but is likely to get me modded down for the first time anyway: by 1983, I was tired of hearing people say that this was the year that *nix would start to take over. It's taken me many years to become a believer, and I have learned patience along the way.

  • Insidious (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ChaoticCoyote (195677) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @08:04AM (#8824009) Homepage

    My 13yo duaghter has "computer classes" at her Middle School. Are they teaching her programming? No. Are they teaching her basic principles of technology? No.

    They're teaching her Microsoft PowerPoint and FrontPage.

    I'm not anti-Microsoft; in fact, their software often offers features not found in FOSS applications. PowerPoint is not evil; what's evil is how PowerPoint is used to turn complex ideas into empty summaries.

    Yet I find it disquieting that the schools are teaching kids with proprietary software (probably donated) to make business presentations. Most kids don't have a resource at home who can etach them about programming and alternative software. It's not my kids I worry about so much as the corporate monoculture that they're going to live in, populated by ignorant cogs created by an assembly-line school system.

    It looks like my middle daughter will follow her 15yo sister into the world of homeschooling. But what about other people's kids? In my mind, Microsoft is no better than a drug peddler, creating a dependancy in youth that leads to addiction in adulthood.

    Cringley is right about one thing -- for the most part, the people who care about FOSS are those who know how to use a compiler. And the advocates of FOSS still lack the attention to users -- non-compilers -- that is required to create a valid alternative to Microsoft.

    One thing I've learned from being on the frontlines of social activism -- being "right" means nothing. The success of any revolution depends on the ability to engage the passions of the common folk who do not understand (or care to understand) the issues. Geeks can look down their noses at the unwashed masses, but unless you can attract the interest of common folk, your revolution is doomed, and Microsoft wins.

  • by g129951 (769417) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @08:09AM (#8824024)
    It seems to me that Microsoft, after many years of poor performance and an anti-trust conviction and a multimillion dollar fine in Euroland, may already be dying. Doesn't anyone with more than a couple of years of computing experience already hate them? I've been working with computers for 25 years and I started using Linux when it finally had a reasonable set of desktop applications and resolved some of the hardware compatability issues. Many US companies are dying --but it's from the inside so many don't see the decay until it far along. Can a company really survive in an environment where the potential customer base hates them, when they write crappy code that any 14 year-old can break into, and their business practices send even normally sedate government bureaucrats into a frenzy? Do they really have that much money? I'll bet the executives are clueless about what's really happening on the shop floors too --another common problem in companies these days.
  • by ColumPaget (770122) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @08:25AM (#8824074)
    I apologise in advance.. this is going to be long ;-)

    I think Mr Cringely has a clear view of things.. let me respond to some of the posts here (if I come over a bit opinionated.. please forgive me and put it down to my being an old and bitter IT hack..)

    Jin Wicked is quiet right in what she says (that girls got sticking power.. I can remember her being lambasted by slashdotters over something.. but she's still here! ;-) ) in that people want something that is easy to use. But the thing is that microsoft *defines* what is easy to use.

    People are educated that the way microsoft products work is how computers work. Anything different is "unfriendly". I work in industrial automation. Many people who work in factories and warehouses cannot handle gui interfaces. The find them too complex. They want to type stuff in all the time! However.. these people are not regular computer users, hence the standard for gui interfaces is defined by office workers all trained that microsoft office is how computers work.
    Hence.. anything that is going to compete with ms is going to have to follow the ms look and feel slavishly.. it doesnt matter if doing things in a new funky way is better.. people wont take the time to learn it. They will want to stick with what they know and what they know is microsoft.

    But its not just the investment in learning that people have made.. its also.. as Jin points out.. the investments in software. Companies in particular own large amounts of expensive software that runs under ms. If an 'alternative' platform cannot run this software just as well as MS can.. then they arent interested.

    People speak of security. I see someone saying that unless longhorn is secure out of the box (it wont be) then microsoft is in trouble. You are wrong. I wish it were so.. but no-one cares about security. No one understands security. Oh.. I'm sure everyone posting and reading on slashdot does. But we are a tiny elite people (an I.. for one.. have always wanted to be part of a tiny elite). Out in the workaday world most people do not know what slashdot is. Many dont really know what linux is and even fewer understand security. For them computers are magic, pure and simple, and I'm not just talking about mom and pop home users here. I'm talking about CORPORATE IT MANAGERS. Of the companies we deal with most have it departments full of 'point and click' it personel. These people might have an MSCE to their name.. but most of their knowledge comes from reading 'PcPlus'. They simply do not understand computers.. but they do so more than the rest of the company, and in the land of the blind..

    These people care not one whit about security.. so long as nothing too disasterous happens to their network (and you know.. the amazing thing is.. most of them get away with it.. oh yes, they get hit by worms and viruses frequently.. but they always seem to recover). And as for their unencrypted WiFi networks.. dont get me started.

    When longhorn comes out the issues of 'is it pretty' or 'does it have funky features' are vastly more important to its sales than 'is it secure'. People are quite happily using the monstrously insecure MS operating systems currently available.. why should they suddenly start caring with longhorn?

    When longhorn comes out companies will be told that their current OS's are no longer supported.. and will race to upgrade to longhorn, as they will have no clear alternative upgrade path available. Their whole way of working will be so based around MS (viruses and all) that they will be quite unable to build an alternative infrastructure.. and they wont have the time anyway, they have a business to run dont forget. Home users may be more reticent.. but the big thing in the home market seems to be games.. and when you upgrade your computer to play the latest games, then you will also get longhorn pre-installed on it.

    I see people talking about apple. I dont know if this is because I'm in the UK and things are diffre
  • by Moderation abuser (184013) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @09:46AM (#8824311)
    When faced with an overwhelmingly superior opponent, you don't face them head on. You destroy their supply trains, you attack their soft targets and when they try to strike back, you are never, ever where they think you are.

    This pretty much describes how free software in general works in the market, it's very much guerilla business. Nothing else survives against MS, not Netscape, not Real and not any company who think they can stand up in front of them and try to make a profit.

    When it comes to law suits, Microsoft have by giving Sun 2 billion dollars, opened the gates to more such law suits. A billion here, a billion there and suddenly 50 billion dollars doesn't look like so much.

    The sharks are circling and the way Microsoft will die is by a thousand bites.

  • Optimism misplaced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mankey wanker (673345) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @09:50AM (#8824334)
    Cringley wants to end on a good note by suggesting that somewhere along the line something will happen and Microsoft will be too large to compete with some probably tiny but very agile rival.

    That won't happen for the very reasons he spends most of the article enumerating. MS is hugely powerful at this point. MS is vastly wealthy. As Cringely probably correctly notes: MS can compete for a period of *YEARS* with others while making absolutely zero profit. Just let that one sink in a moment.

    When thinking about these issues people make some common mistakes.

    One of them is to mistakenly identify a corporation with having the exact same sorts of rights as do natural persons - and they don't! Corporations are fictitious persons that are legally created entities with specific benefits and obligations - those benefits and obligations are whatever we as a body politic write into the laws governing the creation of corporations. If any single corporation gets to a point where its practices are so anticompetitive and monopolistic that nothing but control after control must be implemented to stop it - then so be it. The corporation is not a natural person, we can do that.

    The other mistake is to think that a corporate entity like Microsoft can be challenged by a few weirdo geniuses in a garage somewhere building some kind of "MS-killing" product. That won't happen either. Why not? Look at the history of Apple computers - that seemingly small and nimble rival has failed to take away from MS any significant market share. I'm not knocking Apple - to the contrary, I'm saying they make an objectively better product. But that doesn't matter. Read it again, because that's the big problem right there: it doesn't matter that a competitor has already produced a machine that is better! [N.B. This is a possibly subjective argument because lots of people will now argue issues like Apple's price point, whether it really is better, etc.] Microsoft's monopoly status has largely prevented Apple from gaining market share (and thereby also dropping its prices because of what is recovered by volume sales, putting huge profits into further innovation, etc).

    A third problem is that people always make the error of thinking that large monopolistic corporations are necessary for technological advancment. Obviously, one could write a book about this subject, but in the main I'd suggest that the claim is simply false. Many things move forward incrementally because of research in numerous fields. Who might have suspected that Xerox might be investigating revolutionary ideas in computer technologies (as related to photocopy machines??!!!) but that those ideas could best be exploited by a then relatively small company called Apple Computers. Don't forget that *ONE* scientist had a dream about the structure of DNA. Sometimes all you need is one Einstein to keep moving things forward for a really long time - an no team of really bright physicists equals one Einstein.

    Someone else has already made a comparison to Walmart, but it's worth repeating. These huge monopolies have more political pull and economic gravity than do most governments (amongst which I would personally include that tiny one we call the United States). To ignore that fact is supreme folly. We'll all end up working for corporations as our literal masters if we are not careful.

    We have to take these HUGE corporate players out of the game, not just bench them or pretend they even give a shit about some weeny penalty they may have to pay. The way the business game works now is that the penalties are worked into the price of doing business any way they damn well please. Once you understand that, you will get the problem.
  • Cringly is right (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gone.fishing (213219) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @11:12AM (#8824639) Journal
    Okay, I made my subject something that would draw people into the comment. Flame me if you wish. Cringly has written a well thought out, thourough article on the state of Microsoft today. I hope he is wrong but suspect that he may be right.

    Microsoft is a business, it isn't run by a bunch of geeks, it is run buy a bunch of geeky businessmen who plan for the future. Business is war and cash reserves are ammunition. Microsoft is laying plans for war against all, including open source. It is good business practice.

    Would Microsoft be justified in giving away free software to beat open source? Sure, they would be meeting their competition head-on. Even if everything else were equal, Microsoft would probably win because of their PR budget and their name recognition. Open Soure can't win on price alone. Open Source still has to compte in other areas as well. Areas like quality, security, ease of use, availability.

    Can Open Souce beat Microsft? Maybe, maybe not. North Vietnam beat the US and that was a David vs. Goliath battle. David beat Goliath. Yes, it can be done. But the battle isn't on cost alone. It is a hearts and minds kind of battle and on that front I'm afraid that Open Source doesn't have much of a market share (yet).

    I'm not trying to say that all of this is right or as it should be but I am saying that this is the way that it is. At least today.

    I am concerned from a global level that Microsoft has too much power. With so much of the software market they are in a position to dictate how, where, when, and why computers are used.

    I don't think this is a good thing and I think that in a sense it constitutes a global security threat. If computing becomes a Microsoft oriented mono-culture, vunerabilities in the software can (and probably will be) exploited by governments, crime syndicates, and even individuals. I'm not talking about worms and viruses here, I'm talking about people seriously interested in destroying an entities economic existance.

    If for no other reason, this is a reason enough for people to work against Microsoft's owning the world!

    There is another question that needs to be asked. What happens if Microsoft finds that it has reached the limits in software and in order to continue to grow it decided to diversify? We know the kind of machine it is. Perhaps, they would gobble up someone like AMD and go into building computers? Controling the hardware like they control software would allow them to grow into that industry and control it quite quickly. Especially if they made their software run better on their hardware.

    Think of what Walmart has done to merchants in many a small town. When Walmart comes to town, family owned merchants (clothiers and hardware stores especially) who have been in the community for generations have simply had to close their doors. The communities don't die but there is less choice and more money leaves the community and enriches a few people in Bentonville AR.

    This is the kind of thing that could happen to computing if Microsoft wins. Only it would happen on a global scale. It would mean that Microsoft would be a superpower.

    • by sabat (23293) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @11:51AM (#8824794) Journal

      Microsoft is a business, it isn't run by a bunch of geeks, it is run buy a bunch of geeky businessmen who plan for the future. Business is war and cash reserves are ammunition. Microsoft is laying plans for war against all, including open source. It is good business practice.

      It is not good business practice. That's why we have laws against such behavior. If the government wasn't being run by gangs of corrupt criminals, Microsoft would be split up already, and regulation on baby MSs as widespread as the dandruff on Bill Gates' shoulders.

      Part of the reason MS gets away with what it does is because it's able to Orwell the masses. "It's just good business practice to destroy all competition so it can continue to sell its mediocre upgrades" -- what a crock. And yet even some Slashdotters believe it now. Good business, my friend, means true innovation, changing the world, stirring the marketplace up, genuinely out-doing your competitors. MS should be succeeding because its ideas are so good, not because it has so much money, power, and viciousness that no one can stop it.

  • by Nice2Cats (557310) on Saturday April 10, 2004 @05:01PM (#8826565)
    To those who seem to think that Microsoft could "miss the boat" and be overtaken by Open Source software: This is not going to happen, simply because Microsoft has all the BSD operating systems at its disposal to help it play catchup should the need ever arise. Thousands and thousands of hours of work and testing, theirs to sell for free for any price they want in the next version of Windows, with no need to give anything back to the community. They can always do an Apple, but bigtime.

    Richard Stallman might not be the person the best temperament to take tea with the Queen of England, but when everything is said and done, he ends up being right, which is probably the real reason so many people here hate his guts. He has been right a along, and the events we are watching just confirm this a bit more every day. And when push comes to shove, the BSD license and all the oh so helpful people that turn out software under it are Microsoft's life insurance, just as they were for Apple.

    I know you are supposed to be nice to the BSD people and smile and be friends, but everytime Microsoft grinds another competitor into the dirt (bye-bye Sun) or prevails over another government (bye-bye Europeans, you could have made it count), I remember who handed Microsoft their TCP/IP stack on a platter and who knows what else, I come another step closer to the conclusion that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Giving Apple a free ride might be seen as an act of charity, but helping Microsoft make money...

    ...great work, guys. Thank God for the GPL.

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