Microsoft's Next Step?
Monday, November 8, 1999 by Dave Winer.
The web is a coversation, sometimes it's a great one.
A recurring topic in the ongoing conversation. What to do about Microsoft?
It's been going on for years and years, and shows no sign of going away.
If nothing else, we should be grateful to Microsoft for providing a constant reminder that there's more to the web than e-commerce. We also need the web so we can check in with each other to find out if our points of view have changed re Microsoft.
In response to Saturday's DaveNet, a writer asked if Microsoft's power was of any concern to me at all. The answer is yes, but I limited my comments on Saturday to issues that the Jackson finding focused on. For some unknown reason the government hasn't pressed Microsoft and the hardware OEMs to open the terms of their license agreements.
I wrote about this in May 1998:
"I want to know to what extent Microsoft controls the personal computer distribution system. Are Compaq, Dell, IBM, et al franchisees or are they truly independent? Under what conditions can Microsoft take their licenses away? At will? A violation of the terms of the distribution agreement? And what do the agreements look like? Are they confidential? If so, why?"
If on examination, it turned out that Microsoft totally controls the hardware OEMs that's another story. We should not permit one company to limit choice and competition that way. There's something deeply immoral about a company that *wants* that kind of control.
But that's not the case the government presented. Why?
I hope people at Microsoft still read DaveNet because I have something to say to them.
First, I believe in the two-sided development strategy used at Microsoft. If you're developing operating systems and not applications your operating systems will miss the mark. On a smaller scale, if you develop writing tools without being a writer, your writing tools will miss the mark. Or if you make web development tools but don't do websites your website tools will miss the mark.
This is just common sense. A vintner that doesn't love wine should find another business, and eventually will. It's no surprise to me that the company that won in competition with Lotus, Ashton-Tate, WordPerfect, MicroPro, VisiCorp, Apple, Novell, Netscape, etc, is the one that focused on using the products for their intended purpose. It's amazing to me that so many software companies have been run by people who appear to dislike software.
However, no matter how smart the two-sided strategy is, eventually it runs its course. It happened with IBM, DEC and Apple. Then you have to recast yourself in the new space, so you're in harmony with it. The apps usually don't go very well in the new environment. Look at mainframe or minicomputer apps in a PC context. Or character-based apps in a graphic environment. Now get this, Office doesn't make any sense in the new environment, the web. It's going to keep selling because there are millions of users, but where do you take Office now? I wouldn't want that problem. If I had it, I'd say spin it off, let it keep going, let it find its own way.