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Moral Arguments

Thursday, October 23, 1997 by Dave Winer.

Yesterday the earth shook a little. My point of view shifts. The Reuters article quoting a Compaq exec's testimony with the US Department of Justice was a little quake. Then ZDNet had a detailed story about Gateway 2000 and Micron. The Microsoft OEMs are talking, they aren't entirely happy with the relationship.

A common theme in the email I received yesterday: Microsoft wants it both ways. They want to be able to completely specify the "Windows experience", to not allow their OEMs to remove or modify the Microsoft web browser and replace it with Netscape's. People say this is a moral contradiction because Microsoft wants exactly that right with Sun's software; they want to edit the "Java Experience" on Windows.

There are apparent contradictions elsewhere. If MSIE is part of the operating system, why is it available as an app for Macintosh? Not that I'm complaining, I like MSIE on the Mac, I even use it (it's my default browser). But trying to parse their position to find a consistency, it's something I can't understand, I'm lost. I don't get it.

It's a rough business Permalink to It's a rough business

When Windows 3.0 shipped in 1990 it wasn't the dominant OS, it wasn't even on the map, and it wasn't even much of an OS, it was a shell on top of MS-DOS with some APIs. Microsoft wanted IBM's support back then, but they had to go it alone because IBM was going with OS/2. Microsoft won, now the world has to deal with their struggle to remain on top. In other words Microsoft had to claw its way to the top and they must continue to claw to stay there.

In the Mac world, we learned how rough a business it is this summer when Apple took back licenses from Power Computing, Motorola and IBM. It was good preparation for parsing the controversies in the Windows world this fall.

A sidebar, Steve Jobs may have maneuvered Apple into a more powerful position by regaining exclusive distribution rights to the Mac OS. Since Compaq et al are more vocal and independent now, this may create opportunities for the Mac OS, if Apple is willing to do win-win deals with others.

It's about power Permalink to It's about power

Microsoft doesn't want to hand the keys over to Sun. In yesterday's San Jose Mercury, Gates explains: "Their agenda is anti-PC, ours is pro-PC." A beautifully concise statement. Since they don't (believe they) have to bend to Sun for economic reasons, they don't.

And they don't want to turn the keys over to Compaq either. The web browser is part of Windows, Microsoft says. If you want to ship a Windows machine, you have to ship it the way we want you to. Compaq could license or create another OS and get out of the Windows business. But as long as they're building Windows machines, they have to do what Microsoft tells them to do, at least until the Justice Department steps in.

If you try to parse these events on moral terms, you start spinning way too soon, before you reach a conclusion. The best you can do, I think, is to observe what's changed, and look for opportunities to help change happen in ways that work for you.

Further, Microsoft isn't revealing a contradiction, they're clarifying. We're seeing their power more clearly because the licenses and contracts and depositions are becoming public. The history we're seeing goes back quite a few years. The power was always there, it's just being exposed now, and it's stunning.

I don't think you can morally judge this, I can't -- I just try to understand, for now.

I wish Permalink to I wish

But I wish the world worked differently.

I wish Compaq could sell whatever they wanted, I wish they could change the software on their hard disks on a daily basis, depending on what customers want, or what they thought customers wanted.

But the industry is structured differently. Before Microsoft there was IBM and then DEC, both enormous concentrations of power. For some reason that maybe I'll understand someday, the computer business tends to concentrate power in a single company. It used to revolve around hardware, but now it revolves around software.

Someday maybe the computer world will be driven by personalities and personal reputations as the entertainment world is. People make software and people use it. Someday maybe it will be that simple.

Dave Winer

PS: MSIE is my default browser because Microsoft implemented a feature for the Frontier community that makes object distribution thru the web easier for us. See Fat Web Pages, 3/26/97, for more info.

PPS: In Jim Carlton's book on Apple they print a memo from Gates to Sculley in the mid-80s outlining a plan to license the Mac OS to HP, AT&T and others. I don't think this memo is on the web anywhere. Any ideas on how I could get a copy of it?

PPPS: I incorrectly assumed that Microsoft and Sun had not worked together before the Sun lawsuit was filed. Tuesday I received an email from Christian Jacobsen, an engineer at JavaSoft, explaining how he worked with Russ Arun from Microsoft until there was an impasse. See Scripting News for 10/21/97 for a link to Jacobsen's email.

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."