A Message to Washington
Wednesday, October 22, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Last night I watched the Charlie Rose show at midnight on KQED in San Francisco. He interviewed a Washington lawyer and a New York financial analyst, and then Steve Ballmer, a top exec at Microsoft.
The subject of the show was the controversy swirling around the US Department of Justice action against Microsoft on Monday.
Here's something I think Rose and the other experts didn't get.
Microsoft is making a bet that users want the web experience deeply integrated with all aspects of their computer use.
Maybe they're wrong?
A question for the legal scholars to ponder -- is Microsoft showing some vulnerability here?
What if users don't like having HTML so deeply integrated with the user experience?
Are they throwing their cards in the air, creating an opportunity for competitors in their mainstay, the operating system business? Could be! It depends on how other software developers respond.
It's been proven that web browsers are great for displaying newspaper and magazine articles, but they are totally unproven as the basic user interface of desktop computers.
Every time the market leader moves there's opportunity in its wake. I wonder if the lawyers understand this?
The switch from the Apple II to the IBM PC knocked out VisiCalc and created 1-2-3.
The switch from the IBM PC to the Mac knocked out 1-2-3 and begat Excel.
The switch from MS-DOS to Windows knocked out WordPerfect, and made Microsoft Word the default word processor.
The switch from MS-DOS to Windows created an opportunity for Apple, that Apple ignored. (One of the great gaffes of all time. What if the courts had interfered and locked PC users into a character-based interface?)
It hasn't shaken out yet. Microsoft hasn't beaten Netscape. They're still here, it's still true that more people use Netscape's browser than Microsoft's.
DOJ has focused on the OEM agreements that Microsoft has with Dell, Compaq, Gateway, IBM, etc.
A more interesting place to look is the desktop of a user buying a PC or a Mac in mid-late 1998. Microsoft software will be running the desktops of all new PCs and Macs.
Remember the deal that Microsoft did with Apple in August making MSIE the default browser for the Mac. I understand, from sources, that the integration on the Mac desktop will be just as deep on the Mac as on Windows 98.
The OEMs, and now Apple, are just distributors. The only interface that matters here is Microsoft's interface with people buying new computers in 1998 and beyond.
I say let Microsoft try its grand experiment, and keep your eyes open for new opportunities. They've got to be there! It always works that way.
Is the DOJ lawsuit the result of lobbying by Netscape and Kleiner Perkins? It seems that way. I don't hear them protesting.
If so, I would much prefer to see them get their butts in gear and start shipping new products on Mac and Windows that deeply excite content developers and web users and people who use desktop systems in homes and offices.
A message to Washington. Netscape hasn't exhausted all their options. The trust-busting approach should be a last resort.