RE: POL: Reaction to Microsoft Ruling

From: Billy Brown (
Date: Mon Apr 10 2000 - 16:08:41 MDT

Matt Gingell wrote:
> The basic problem that I see is that there is no real competition in
> the i86 operating system market.

True, but let's remember the whole situation. There are several non-i86
platforms that could suddenly become viable if either Intel or Microsoft
stumble badly enough, and several OSs (notable Linux) that run just fine on
the i86. So, Microsoft's position is not equivalent to being, say, the only
diamond mine in the world. There are lots of potential competitors out
there, and MS's market share depends on its ability to fend them off

> Now, obviously I think monopolization is a bad thing - so you can
> insert all those standard arguments here.

You are using 'monopoly' in a different sense than I do. Having a 90% market
share (or even 100%) doesn't make you a monopoly. A monopoly is an
organization that can charge its customers above-market prices for its
products, or somehow coerce them into buying products they do not wish to
purchase, without fear of loosing ground to competitors.

By that standard MS as a whole doesn't qualify, because there are no
barriers around its markets that prevent competitors from emerging.

> What it really comes down
> to, I think, is that control of the PC platform is too important to
> trust to a single corporation: there's too much potential for abuse
> and we loose the advantages of distributed economic optimization. This
> is an abstract compliant, not one specific to Microsoft. Perhaps you
> don't object to monopolization as strongly as I do, either because you
> think it's unstable or because it's a lesser evil than government
> interference.

Yes, for both of those reasons. I thing people who favor anti-trust tend to
forget that what they are advocating is a law that requires the government
to seek out the most successful businesses in any given market and
confiscate their property for the benefit of their competitors. That harms
the customers, by preventing them from buying the products they wanted.

Personally, I think this is a stasist way of looking at things. No one
'controls' a free market. Every purchase is voluntary. The only way a
company can succeed in the long run is by giving customers what they want -
and the 'long run' in the PC business is only a couple of years, so the idea
of waiting for market forces to work things out is not a big problem for me.

> There will never, without government intervention, be an
> implementation of Windows offered by anyone other than Microsoft. The
> API is too big and the target is moving too fast. Consider the
> failings of Win-OS/2, and the Wine project.

Isn't this an argument against intervention? The two justifications for
anti-trust law are to encourage innovation and to keep prices low. If your
statement is true, that knocks out the first justification. The fact that
low prices are a primary complaint of MS's competitors seems to knock out
the second as well. That leaves only a general distrust of companies with
large market share - and if you let the government confiscate private
property on mere suspicion of possible future wrongdoing, no one will ever
be safe.

> So, then, what is are appropriate remedies? I'd like to see, as I've
> suggested before, a prohibition against government itself purchasing
> software based on non-open standards.

Well, the government can certainly make any rules it likes for its internal
purchasing. It does have one side effect you've missed, which is that it in
effect forbids the government from ever buying from a dominant vendor. In
the computer industry the general pattern is for dominant players in any
given market to define their proprietary standards, which then become de
facto industry standards if they are any good (ODBC is a good example of
this). The minor players then band together to create an 'open' standards to
compete - they make it open because they have to in order to pool enough
market share to make their efforts matter.

Now, requiring the government to always side with the underdogs probably
won't really hurt anything, but will tend to lead to higher costs and more
frequent vendor turnover than making a informed decisions on a case-by-case
basis. Of course, the government isn't very good at informed decision
making, so they may not be loosing much.

> I'd like to see a market where I don't buy an 'operating system,' I
> buy a memory manager, a tasking subsystem, a file system, a desktop
> environment, etc, from independent vendors - and they all work
> together because they all conform to open standards; in the same way I
> can purchase a nut and a bolt from two different manufactures because
> they come in standard sizes.

Everyone wants software to be modular and reusable, but there isn't much
agreement on how to achieve this goal. Is there some particular action you
think the government could take that would yield this result?

Billy Brown

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:09:13 MDT