Why Microsoft's Monopoly Depresses Me

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[ 2004-April-26 20:27 ]

I am a hopeless computer geek. I love computer technology, which is why I have dedicated my life to it. I have worked at a number of companies, including Microsoft and IBM. I even considered a full time job at Microsoft, and I will consider one again once I finish my graduate studies. However, their monopoly never ceases to depress me. This week, that depression was inspired by Robert Cringely's column, "The Once and Future King: Now the Only Way Microsoft Can Die is by Suicide".

In the article he argues that now that Sun has thrown in the towel against Microsoft, the only way they will die is if they make some huge mistake. So why does this depress me, since I worked there and may work there again? For me, it comes down to a word that Microsoft loves to throw around: Innovation. In my opinion, Microsoft doesn't have it.

Microsoft's strength has never been ideas. It has always been implementation. Microsoft is a company that is very, very good and building and delivering software. They are a company that is very bad at seeing trends and taking initiative with new ideas. To prove my point, I'll use the powerful technique of proof by example.

The first example is, of course, the web browser. Netscape's founders became rich because they built a completely new type of application that ushered in the Internet era. Microsoft hastily threw billions of dollars at this problem and did a better job of it than Netscape did by creating Internet Explorer 4. IE4 was much better than Netscape 4, and it was included with Windows. And now Netscape hardly exists. Unfortunately, now Mozilla is a better web browser than Internet Explorer, but most people will never even know it because IE comes with their computer.

My second example is Java. When Java came out Microsoft was scared. Sun had generated a ton of hype by promoting its productivity features and its cross platform compatability. Enterprises embraced it, and now Java is possibly the most common language for consulting software projects. MS tried to fight back by creating Visual J++, which extended Java with Microsoft specific bits. Sun didn't like that, and a huge legal battle ensued. This battle ended earlier this week with Sun taking an almost two billion dollar bribe. When the legal battle began Microsoft threw billions at the problem and created .Net, which is basically a clone of the JVM, and C#, basically a clone of Java.

There are many other examples, but I'm tired of this ancient story. My depression stems from the fact that I want to be involved in innovative, new ideas in the computer industry. And unfortunately, with Microsoft's dominant position, there is not a lot of variety in the software world. This is harmful to creativity, and does not create a market condusive to small, new software products. As Cringely points out, venture capitalists are hesitant to invest in software companies because if they are successful, Microsoft will just crush them.