RE: POL: Reaction to Microsoft Ruling

From: Matt Gingell (
Date: Fri Apr 07 2000 - 20:01:16 MDT

On Fri, 07 Apr 2000, you wrote:

>There is abundant evidence that it is extremely difficult for a real
>monopoly to exist at all, and that large market share does not imply an
>ability to gouge customers. All of the existing "monopolies" familiar to
>modern Americans were created by government fiat, usually because an
>industry wanted special protections from competition. The historical
>examples cited by anti-trust proponents are generally inaccurate and
>discredited. All in all, there is no good reason to believe that monopolies
>would be a major problem if anti-trust laws were abolished.

This is argument by anonymous authority. I don't find it persuasive.

>That is important, because there is abundant effort that the existence of
>anti-trust laws imposes major costs on consumers and significantly retards
>innovation. The actual effect of such laws is to reduce competition, punish
>success, and encourage the formation of inefficient government-mandated
>monopolies that waste vast sums of the consumers' money.

>> This is an over simplification. If Microsoft gains a competitive
>> advantage from control of the Windows platform, rather than because
>> they're offering a better product, then superior products will fail
>> for reason irrelevant to their quality. I would like to see an
>> environment where products succeed on their own merits, not because
>> their maker controls the distribution channel or a proprietary
>> standard.
>There is no plausible mechanism by which Microsoft could exert such an
>alleged advantage. The fact that they own the OS does not automatically
>enable them to build superior programs, and it certainly doesn't let them
>charge more or work more efficiently.

This is simply false. Control and access to a proprietary kernel ABI
and secret system interfaces confers advantage. The ability to
distribute software via pre-install and to control what gets shipped
with a PC via exclusionary contracts with hardware vendors confers
advantage. The ability to leverage the revenue provided by the
'Microsoft Tax' and dump products at below cost confers advantage. The
ability to deliberately break competing software via changes to the
system confers advantage. Putting aside for a moment the factual
matter of whether such strategies were actually used, these are
eminently plausible mechanisms.

Microsoft dominates the i86 operating system market. Microsoft
dominates the Windows office suite market. Microsoft dominates the
Windows development tool market. I don't know the break down on web
browsers, last time I looked it was somewhere around 50% - though I
think it's clear at this point to most observers that Netscape is on
the way out. I don't know what the situation for databases and
server products either - mail servers, etc. - but they're a significant
player in those areas too. I don't think you can seriously believe
that they've accomplished this success based solely on the technical
merits of their products.

>> For instance, I'd like to see a public operating system
>> specification - something like Posix - and a law prohibiting
>> government agencies from purchasing operating systems that do not
>> conform to that standard or buying application software which doesn't
>> run on some minimalist public reference implementation.
>So, you want the government to decide what an OS should do and how it should
>be implemented, and then pressure application vendors to only write
>applications for the official government OS? Who on Earth could possibly
>benefit from that?

The Posix standard is an example here - because OS vendors had a
mandate to work within a publicly available and publicly influenced
standard, today an application written for one *nix is (reasonably)
portable to platforms offered by a variety of different
implementors. I can choose AIX or Solaris or Linux or whatever because
I like it, not because it's the only place I can run Word. As a result
there's competition in the Unix market, and I think we've all

Programming languages are another example. Because C is a public
standard, I can choose compliers based on quality and appropriateness
to a particular task. The same can't be said for Visual Basic, where
I'm lucky if my code is even portable across versions.

Now note that I'm talking about a governments being restricted to
purchasing implementations of a public standard - not that they make
up some random junk and require that everyone observe it. I don't want
some bureaucrat throwing darts at a spec anymore than you do. Think
about the mandate that DoD projects use the Ada language - this is a
reasonable model for the sort of thing I'd like to see.

>If you could actually do it, you would stifle innovation to an extent no
>monopolist could ever dream of. The government would select OS features on
>the basis of political influence, and it would take forever to get anything
>new added to the standard.

Personally, I'd like to see innovation stifled. I got out of Windows
programming because I was sick of working in an industry where
interfaces are deprecated before they're documented, and
the environment is obsolete before it ever works properly. I don't
want more 'technologies.' I want less code that actually works. It
should take forever to add anything to the standard - I don't know if
you've done much Windows development, but it's like trying to build a
skyscraper on quicksand. It doesn't matter how square the corners are,
it's still going to sink. I have horror stories if this claim is too

>> Vendors could
>> than compete and differentiate themselves on the basis of efficiency,
>> robustness, etc, of their particular version.
>What's wrong with letting vendors competing on the basis of whatever
>combination of speed, efficiency, reliability and features the customers
>consider important?

Because with 'features' you get incompatibility, and with
incompatibility I wind up buying Windows because I need to run
software that won't run anywhere else --- even if I think it's
junk. Software vendors support the most popular platform because it's
popular - not because it's any good - and Windows is popular because
that's where the software is. It's self sustaining, deliberately
maintained by Microsoft, and insidious. Standards break the cycle by
making it cost effective to support multiple platforms.


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