Microsoft & Restraint
Tuesday, October 21, 1997 by Dave Winer.
I was in meetings much of yesterday, but managed to break away several times to read the stories on the web about the Department of Justice action against Microsoft.
I've had a chance to talk it over with some friends, and before the meetings start today I want to write down some thoughts about the DoJ action, and also about some of the responses to yesterday's DaveNet piece, The Man Behind the Curtain.
Sun's position re Java reminds me of the kind of position an Apple exec (e.g. Sculley or Gassée) might have taken re Microsoft in the late 80s or early 90s, only it's less likely to work now because Microsoft is much more powerful now than they were then; and Sun is much less powerful than Apple was back then.
One correspondent asks how I would feel if I had licensed software to Microsoft and they had chosen to leave a crucial suite out of the distribution. Good question! If they had paid me $15 million for the license, I would treat them like a customer, and see how I could work better with them. I remember that the customer is always right. It would take me a very long time, a lot of phone calls and meetings one-one before I would file a lawsuit against a customer.
Another email correspondent, a Unix person, considers Microsoft the enemy. By implication, an enemy we share. I don't see it that way. All of a sudden they think we're brothers. Hah! Last year I wrote several open emails to the Sun community, asking them to work with us in the Mac world, to really deliver a great cross-platform Java, and also to make Sun iron and Mac LANs work really well together. You wouldn't have believed the immaturity of some of the responses I got. In trying to get their attention, I warned that if we didn't work together with mutual respect, we would meet up eventually, on Windows.
That day has come. The Mac is a shadow of its former market presence. Apple is in disarray. The Mac developer community is in even more disarray. Not wanting to go down with the ship, my company and users, we moved our software Windows. Now I don't care about Sun's cross-platform pitch, or the Unix community's continued unrealistic arrogance. They were never very good at listening. Learn the lesson, guys and gals. What happens when you don't respond to bona fide offers to work with others? You end up isolated.
I have no sympathy for the leaders of the Unix crowd. What a wasted opportunity.
I do sympathize with the US Department of Justice position. I want Netscape to be a continued market presence, if only for the induction step -- if they can do it, it can be done again. Netscape has done a fair-poor job of marshalling a developer community around it, they have wasted a lot of their advantage, but there are sounds coming from Netscape that they want to do better. I support them in this.
But the DoJ position is an implementation of something that I don't believe in . There is no line that defines system software. We've been having this argument, in my world, since Apple bundled HyperCard in 1986. HyperCard was an application. They said it was system software, and few people argued, certainly not the DoJ. Disconnect. It killed quite of bit of independent development, just the kind of thing the DoJ should have been interested in, but they didn't protest then so how can they protest now?
Could a web browser be part of Windows? Maybe. Microsoft certainly has integrated it with IE 4.0. I'm leaving it turned on on my Windows machine. At first I thought it was an awful idea, but I'm going to let it stay installed their way for a while, let it sink in and see if I like the idea and how usable that idea is.
I urge Microsoft to learn restraint.
It's going to be a new way of doing business for them.
The software industry is precious. It's a free speech area. Yes, Microsoft has the right to bundle whatever they want, in my opinion. Their free speech matters too. In other words, I don't think, on philosophic terms, the DoJ position has much to stand on.
But unless Microsoft shows some restraint on how it expands its system software into areas that others are exploring, and allows something remotely like a level playing field, it's in all our interests that the government attempt to force them to be restrained.