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The Microsoft Problem

How does Microsoft stay in business? How can Microsoft go on surviving despite Linux being better and having popular support?


A long time ago, Microsoft was a half-decent company and produced a reasonable product (Microsoft Basic) which could be bought for a sensible price. Later, when Microsoft went into the business of producing operating systems, the early MS-DOS was not the best system around but somehow it got popular. The MS-DOS 6.22 was the best version, and it came with Windows 3.11 included, which was not great, but at least those systems were better than the modern (2010) ones by Microsoft. Unfortunately, with Windows 95, and then Windows 98, and various later versions, things got worse, and meanwhile, the rival, Linux, has always been better. For one thing, it's a proper command-line based system which has an optional GUI*graphical user interface, (in contrast to Microsoft and other system which in-effect force the naff dumbed-down GUI on everyone). For another thing, Linux is more wholesome as it is an open format, where anyone can do almost anything they want, as opposed to everyone being forced to sign up to protectionist encumbered copyright-protected stuff.

About 9 years ago, I created a page about Linux, and I thought at the time that within a few years, Darwinian market-forces would put Microsoft out of business. The mystery now is: How is it that Microsoft is still in business?!

It's not because their product is better, (actually, Linux is better), nor because their product is cheaper (Linux is free). So, what sinister force is propping up Microsoft? Is there some undercover conspiracy in business? Or maybe governments are enacting sneaky laws to cheat on the odds and keep Microsoft the default system despite people's free choice that it should no longer be the case?

The mystery is heightened when you look at "idiot shops", those mainstream highstreet shops that pretend to be computer shops. Many of them are "Windows Only", and it is as if they are ignoring the better alternative, Linux. I have deliberately attempted to exclude windows-only places from the list of Places Selling Computers as I consider there is something nasty about restriction of choice of that type. It's a bit like going to vote at an election and finding there's only one political party. From a computer-selling shop's perspective, it surely makes more financial sense to sell computers with a FREE operating system than it does to sell a taxed and protectionist product? So, I thought, maybe there's something of a sinister cartel going on?

The hypothetical notion is that somehow the shops and Microsoft have come to an agreement by which the shops are forced to sell Microsoft and only Microsoft, and if they are in breach of that rule, then the tax on Microsoft Windows 7 (et al) is doubled.

Well, the interesting thing about that idea is that if it were true then it would be against the law in most countries. In most civilised countries, firms are not allowed to abuse a monopoly or to sign up to a cartel agreement to preserve their market and to exclude competitors. Indeed, attempts to set up an abusive monopolistic agreement are illegal in most countries where pyramid selling is illegal, etc. So, if it was discovered at some time that the idiot-shops were making cartel agreements with Microsoft, the shops could be put on trial!

Another paranoid notion is that the governments are deliberately keeping Microsoft alive for various sinister purposes. Partly it would be so people could be spied upon easier (since Microsoft proprietary back-doors and security holes make it easier for government spies to get into the person's computer), and partly it would be a vain attempt to restrain the power of computing. Computers have been considered a threat to the power of governments since the days of the BBC Computer, and governments at that time wanted to ban any private citizen from owning any computer more powerful than a 1Kb ZX81. However, as the ZX81 with 16Kb ram-pack, the 48Kb Spectrum, and the BBC Computer had all been on the market, the attempt to restrict computers to a 1KB ZX81 were already futile, and the governments' militaries had to cope with the idea that their security was no longer secure. ... In the modern age, the restriction of computer power having become impractical, the next best thing from a disempowering government perspective would be to make computers practically worthless and unusable for scientific programming purposes, by insisting on the installation of a cripplingly poor operating system which deterred programmers.

Yet, it seems this "it's the government" idea is not true in a prima-facie case, except in the United States and the UK. No other government in the world has an interest in allowing the USA and its pet Microsoft to walk all over everyone's computer data. In fact, many governments consider that Microsoft itself represents a risk to its military security. If, for example, France and the USA were at the brink of launching nuclear missiles at each other, then the French military could instantly be disarmed by the president of the USA phoning up Bill Gates and asking him to switch off all the Microsoft Windows computers in the French military. So, for the sake of the French military, and any other force that might happen to dare to challenge the United States domination of the world, it's important that the military hardware runs Linux or some other reliable system! (Incidentally, China has a version of Linux, not a clone of Microsoft Windows).

Businesses, as well as military, have a keen interest in moving away from Microsoft, for another reason. It's to do with the fact that a company, corporation, or organisation, has to pay a per-seat licence to Microsoft to run their software. If, in contrast, that company etc opts to run Linux instead, then they do not have to pay. It is for that reason, not just the improved efficiency, that has led some big companies and local governments to move to Linux. A list of such places has to start with Ernie Ball, but continues as per www.real-linux.org.uk/whouseslinux.htm

So, Munich Council, Peugeot, etc, have got rid of Microsoft. So, where does that leave the rest of us? Why can't we buy decent computers? (Which don't have compulsory Microsoft). Well, there are shops that sell computers, where you have a choice. However, at the street level, there's a problem that the bog-standard places that flog things to customers in a box-shifting manner, seem to be just carrying on shifting the same old naff stuff. If customers were better educated into knowing when they were being conned, the market might change. But sadly, at present, there's a level of dim-wittedness which allows abuse of the market something shocking! In addition to the bad practices of box-shifting shops, there's also a problem with some manufacturers, who seem to be hypnotised into behaviour which we might guess is a cartel or some sort of Microsoft controlled setup. Even some quite well-known names in computer manufacture have been guilty of selling machines with Microsoft as a compulsory item. In the nastiest of cases, the operating system is not even represented by a real CD/DVD, but has instead a Piece of Cardboard shrinkwrapped in the box. Really, you'd be better off buying your computer from a scrapyard than such places.

Another thing which could be keeping the Microsoft Problem continuing to plague us is the "compatibility of applications". What happens is, some programs have been written to work on Microsoft Windows and not on other systems. Sometimes it's for market popularity reasons, but sometimes its because of poor quality "win hardware". Anyway, this particular problem is already being undermined by the fact that more recent Windows applications have to work with WinE (Windows Emulator) which works with Linux. This is a threat to Microsoft, and as you can guess, Microsoft have been adjusting Microsoft Internet Explorer to work only on Microsoft systems! Also, the Open Office system, which is at least as good as Microsoft Office, but less expensive, is gradually taking chunks out of Microsoft's business market.

There is something else which keeps the Microsoft Problem going, even when it should have been swatted down at about the same time as the Millennium Bug. That is, the persistence of the X86 Platform, (rather than the diversification into Open Platforms). At the time of Felix Computers, research was done towards creating a new home computer which was much better than the machines around at the time. Various computer processors were looked at, and it was decided that the 32016 was the best, with perhaps the 68000 and Z8000 next, but the worst of the time was the 80186. Yet, it was the 186 which then led on the 286 and the 386 and the 486 and then the Intel Pentium. In effect, the poorest of the processors of the time ended up being the most popular. The problems with the "86" style processor architecture are numerous: The awkward address lines, quaint instruction set, power-hungry heat dissipation problems, etc. The trouble is that the x86 architecture and the Microsoft operating system are supporting each other, perpetuating each-other's mistakes and leaving us all having to suffer for it.

However, there is hope on this, as it is said that the 64-bit processors can't run Microsoft in 64-bit mode. Also, there's a new range of advanced processor chips which will not run Microsoft. As Microsoft has no incentive to change, the new chips will be running the other operating systems instead. Intel are part-owned by Microsoft, which means they have to toe the party line to some extent.

The PowerPC is another example of this sort of thing, as Microsoft has to have an x86 processor, and that's not compatible with low power-consumption long battery-life eco-friendly portable computers. So, if you want your laptop to warm your knees when you're on a flight, that's OK, but in the later age of Eeps, it doesn't quite work that way.

A while ago, mobile phones went through a change, as there was a move to have GPS Plus applications, PDA (personal digital assistant), and other "convergent" technologies. The obvious choice was to have embedded Linux, which was free. Someone said at the time that the "Wince" phone could never catch on. And yet, it has. This is baffling because it was always a thing with problems. Yet, what seems to have happened is that events have been so construed that there are some things for which the Wince phone is the only available item. In effect it's got the monopoly of some things, and that has meant that even those who hated it have ended up having to buy it, or else to do without the use which it has somehow monopolised.

There is another thing which keeps Microsoft alive, and that's Proprietary Standards. In effect, if a movie is only released on a DVD which is encumbered by CSS encryption, it is a tempting for some corporations to accept that it stops the disc being copied. That assumption is entirely false, of course. CSS is cracked in real-time using easy-to-get programs such as the DECSS Library. MP3, is, ironically, another proprietary format. Although Ogg Vorbis is better, and free, and both can be run by the machines available at Advanced MP3 Players, there is a tendency for some of the cheaper manufacturers to use hardware chips to decode MP3, and that's again a lock-in to preserve the patents and monopolies of some companies. All this kind of stuff is good news for Microsoft and bad news for customers. The antithesis of this problem is Open Standards, such as Ogg Theora

Some content-providers have already started to dump the bad old way of doing things, and you can see the splits in the market starting to take place. I saw a DVD case for "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" with a sticker on it that said "this is a digital copy" which means it's supposed to be in a format which works on any player, whether it be a DVD player, computer, PS3, etc. It's a bit like the AnyBrowser Compatible idea. This is a Well Done for 20th Century Fox, but there are other content-providers who have worked in exactly the opposite direction, trying to encumber and obfuscate their products so as to make them as hard as possible to copy. This is entirely futile against the pirates, but it gets in the way of customers wanting to watch the movie, or to listen to the music, etc. Microsoft being in league with the awkward content-providers makes it an unhappy alliance against us all.

The Patent system is stacked against us, and is no longer a resource for inventors. Instead, it has become the tool of abusive corporations, costing everyone a lot of money, but for no good purpose.

The Microsoft market is highly dependent on "upgrading". Ie, getting customers who have already bought a Microsoft operating system to get rid of it in favour of the latest version of the same thing (which is often inferior, has more bugs, and has even more dumbing-down, encumberment, and holes to let spies get at your private stuff). Selling to people who've already been caught-out before is an art, and it is astonishing that Microsoft manages to do this. Surely people would have learnt by now?! But no, they can still find a muggins to buy the latest radiator-fan computer and install the latest processor-wasting operating system on it. This has got to stop, I would have thought. Surely people will grow out of this, and run an old secondhand computer that's three times as fast if it runs Linux? But, you don't have to take my word for it. If you install Windows 3.11 on a modern machine, it runs much faster than Windows XP, or Vista or the later versions.

There are some hardware manufacturers who are taking the step of saying "no win hardware" on their machines. Of course this doesn't stop Microsoft Windows from running; it just stops Microsoft from being the only system that runs on the hardware. This then allows fair competition.

It seems a needlessly long time that has passed since the launch of Linux, for Microsoft to still be in business. It seems the answer is not simple. The problem is the result of a combination of things: protectionist legislation and protectionist measures, entrenched dependence, oldfashioned assumptions (disastrous stagnation or "dogastrophe" is it's sometimes known), and the persistence of conspiracy of compatibility which is crucial to keep the whole problem going.

Microsoft Windows is a "Client Operating System" which means it's dependent on other things. At some stage, when things are no longer dependent on each other, the stranglehold may cease, and we'll be free of the dreaded Microsoft.

I hope that day comes soon, because I believe that Microsoft holds back technology. It is a force which inhibits technological progress. I know Bill Gates is not personally to blame for this, any more than Jesus is personally to blame for the torture inflicted by Christianists such as the Spanish Inquisition. However, the fall of religious/software-troll forces, is to be looked forward to.


Also see Open Standards and Linux

There is another clue which has arrived about a Bias to Push Microsoft in those idiot-shops.