An ESC! Magazine Editorial

June 12, 2000

Poking The Lion
Joel Klein and His Band of Merry Idiots

by Michael R. Potter

Let me start out by saying that I am not a lawyer. Heck, I don't even play one on TV. However, I am a computer user. I've been using computers since 1978 - possibly earlier though my memory fails me - therefore I am the typical person that Joel Klein and the Justice Department is trying to "save" from the evil clutches of Microsoft. I also work with computers for a living. I provide end user support as well as develop and maintain web sites and mail servers. With that out of the way, let's continue…

In the Beginning

In the beginning of the PC revolution there were a number of players all vying for the attentions of the home computer user. There was Apple (Apple II and IIe), Tandy (TRS-80), Commodore (Vic 20, 64, 128 and Amiga), my personal favorite Sinclair (ZX-81, ZX-80, Spectrum and QL) and myriad others. There was no Microsoft. Heck there wasn't even an IBM in the personal computer field. Compaq, Gateway, Dell and the others didn't exist. I'm talking about the late 70's and very early 80's here.

Then IBM decided that it needed to enter this field and capture some of the market now going to these "toy" computers. They shopped around for different operating systems for their new IBM PC, but failed to find one suitable for the home market until a small - I mean miniscule -- tiny, tiny, tiny -- software firm came along. It's name was Micro Soft. Run by three techy-nerd-geeks, Micro Soft convinced IBM that their operating system named MS-DOS would be the perfect fit for the new PC. ALWAYS the marketing geniuses, Micro Soft entered into an agreement with IBM which allowed Micro Soft to market MS-DOS to other vendors in addition to IBM. IBM released their version of MS-DOS as PC-DOS. Internally Micro Soft wasn't sure they could pull it off, but they persevered and created the beginning of a revolution.

Flash Forward to the Present

Microsoft is the lion. Currently, they only release versions of their software for their own platforms. They are an aggressive company who loves a challenge. Certainly splitting Microsoft into two companies would be the ultimate challenge and the equivalent of poking the sleeping lion with a VERY sharp stick.

You can't fling a stoat without hearing about the Microsoft trial, so I'll spare you the details, but now that it's over and the appeals process had begun, let me tell you, through a few scenarios, how I think consumers are going to "benefit" from Judge Jackson's learned opinion and the ultimate breakup of Microsoft.

Scenario 1

"Microsoft OS" and "Microsoft Apps" raise prices to cover expenses. Currently Microsoft is cross funding everything they do. In reality they don't make the most money from their operating systems. They make most of their money from Office. So what does Joel Klein think is going to happen when the revenue stream from Office dries up and "Microsoft OS" can no longer provide the low prices it currently does on its operating systems (If you think that MS operating systems are expensive, please take a moment and check out the competition, Sun, SCO Unix, and Linux. Don't just look at the cover price either, look at the cost in hardware, training and loss of productivity when you find that there are no viable day to day business applications available to run on the alternative operating systems. See Scenario 2 for a solution to this.)? Huh? What does he think will happen to benefit me as a consumer? Oh boy! I get to pay MORE for an OS now! Thank you Joel!

Scenario 2

"Microsoft OS" and "Microsoft Apps" crush the competition in the other arenas as well. I think this is the most likely prospect. If Microsoft is split into two companies they will have to enter other markets that they currently have no interest in entering. Let's explore each one:

Operating Systems

I think everyone currently agrees that if any OS has the capability to dethrone MS on PC (read Intel) desktops it's Linux (No flaming me Mac users! You're another platform… :-). It's free (unless you want support from the manufacturer - which businesses do), it's stable, it's got tons of business productivity apps from major software vendors and it's easy to install - Ooops! Strike those last two.

If Microsoft is forced to compete in this arena I think they will have no choice but to release Windows for Linux. There currently is no standard in Linux GUIs and nobody is willing to bend in order to allow the three or so different leaders in Linux GUIs to combine efforts and create a standard. This is where MS steps in. They have to see the lack of standard in Linux GUIs and realize the potential here. Remember that Windows started as a shell on top of DOS - why not a shell on top of Linux? With the right effort, it could be completely backwards compatible with the DOS version of Windows and run the same apps. Perhaps they would even purchase or license VMware which is software that allows Windows to run under Linux (they already have an OEM agreement with them). This effort by Microsoft would open up the market for competitors to re-release their software under Linux, but, heck, who cares? It's really the business market they're after anyway and businesses want stability and DON'T like change. Microsoft could even "open source" it if they wanted. Make a base version "free" and charge for the nice add-ons and features.

The Internet

Okay. Nobody really likes Netscape Navigator. It's true! The Netscape zealots I've talked to won't switch to Internet Explorer but, when pressed, will tell you about the instabilities and fatal quirks of their beloved browser.

So does the business world want to trust their Internet productivity to a browser which really hasn't been updated in over two years and whose best effort recently was to release a buggy, unstable, pre-release version of a browser which should have been out over a year ago? I don't think so. They want familiarity and stability and, while Internet Explorer has its share of flaws, it is much more stable than Navigator and has already been adopted by more businesses than Netscape. Lastly, Netscape is owned by AOL. I haven't seen AOL do anything positive with ANY software they've bought. ICQ is stagnant. Netscape is stagnant. WinAmp is stagnant - or should I say handcuffed? Their marketing logo should be "Have You Killed Any Software Lately?" They're worse than IBM in this regard. At least when Microsoft buys someone else's product, they turn it into something better. Examples? Flight Simulator. FrontPage. Visio.

Now, in this future world created by Joel Klein, Microsoft releases Internet Explorer for Linux. Netscape will die. Sorry, it's the truth. IF businesses switch to Linux on the desktop, their users will want to keep what they're used to. That means Internet Explorer.

Office Productivity

Corel currently owns WordPerfect and the WordPerfect Office suite. Sure there are a few people still using WP on the Windows platform, but most of their market is within the Linux community. Erm, should I have said "was" in the Linux community? Because now, in this new world created by Joel Klein, Microsoft has released Office for Linux. Yup, now businesses can get back to where they belong and not have to worry about WordPerfect's instability and poor translation from other formats. They can continue to use the same apps they've always used on Linux, Mac and Windows.

I don't think more needs to be said about this. At the time of this writing, Corel is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. If they really do go broke in 90 days - as they suggest they will - then there will be NOBODY providing business productivity apps for Linux, except for Microsoft in this future scenario.

What about Star Office? Well, I can tell you that Star Office sucks. It really does. I've tried it on Linux and Windows and both versions equally suck. The ONLY reason non-MS Office users like it is because it's not from Microsoft.

Scenario Three

Nobody does anything. Nobody upgrades. Nobody buys new hardware. Nothing. Heck, why should we? Doesn't your current computer do everything you need it to from a business perspective? How much faster does your computer need to be to run a word processor? The reality is that it's the gamers, engineers and mathematicians who drive the market for faster computers. Gamers have always found a way to extend their hardware to do fantastic things and it will happen again. The whole gaming market would be producing much faster and cooler games anyway if it wasn't for the high overhead of Windows.

As far as the other markets for faster computers, they can always revert back to the proprietary platforms and operating systems. Intel as well as others would be happy to enter this market if their PC desktop channels dry up.

If consumers stop adopting new hardware and software, then the entire economy which has been building up around the tech industries over the last 10 - 20 years will completely collapse. I hope Joel can sleep at night.

State of the Market in 2005

So what is my prediction for where the average consumer will be come 2005 in Joel Klein's world of two Microsoft's? Well, Corel is dead. Netscape will still be hanging on but their browser will be dead. AOL - the owner of Netscape -- is still around and still licensing Internet Explorer because, as they said way back in 1999, it's the better browser. Linux has gained approximately 50% of the Server market, but never caught on as a workstation environment and Windows by the "Microsoft OS" company is thriving. Most of its users are running Office from "Microsoft Apps" and everyone is browsing the Internet using Internet Explorer. To top it all off, we're paying MORE for the privilege of doing so! Thanks Joel! I can see the benefits already. Lastly, we're only a few years away from Microsoft being able to reunite the two companies back into one (the judge placed a 10 year moratorium on the companies reuniting).

The good news in 2005? Apple is still around and owners of approximately 25% of the computer market. OS XII has been released on the Intel and Power PC's platform and consumers finally have an alternative and viable operating system to choose from.

That's my two cents. What's yours?

Thanks for listening!

Michael R. Potter
ESC! Magazine