Microsoft and why the mob-thinking is wrong.

November 27, 2010 - Programming, Windows


It’s unheard of to find a person who hasn’t at least used a Microsoft product; it’s even less likely to find somebody who hasn’t been exposed to it. As it stands now, there are essentially three “camps”:

1. People who think MS is successful not by chance or by “copying” anything, but by coming up with good ideas as well as creating good implementations of other ideas;

2. Open Source zealots, who spend much of their time criticizing microsoft for copying Apple and then turn around and copy both MS and apple in creating their desktop environments; Additionally, the Open Source zealots who can’t write a line of code and push the “Open Source” concept because it basically means “free software”

3. Generation 2 Apple Users; the type who think the Mac Classic sucks and apparently don’t realize that OSX is pretty much just a desktop environment for BSD; I cannot think of a single reason to ever buy a mac today, personally. The Original Macintosh Versus the PC-DOS had clear advantages in that it posessed a GUI, wheras DOS was a Command line interface; this beckoned the higher price tag for the product. Today, OSX offers no features that cannot be found easily on either windows, or a free Linux desktop environment; the claim is that you are paying for “quality hardware” that “just works” But truly you’re simply paying a tax to become a member of an exclusive club; It’s not the machine or the functionality Mac users are after anymore, it’s the symbol of success that it essentially provides. “hey, I have lots of disposable income to spend on overpriced toys” is the message it sends.

The common argument is that Microsoft got to it’s dominant market position via “strong-arm” tactics, and by “copying” ideas. First, when you run a company, and an opportunity arises, you don’t think “golly gee, I sure hope this doesn’t hurt my competitors”. The word “competition” especially with regards to software has somehow lost all meaning; people like to think that there is no competition, and there certainly is less of it today. But it’s not Microsoft’s fault that nobody is coming out with products that can compete with theirs; Just as it wouldn’t have been Apple’s fault if MS had not been able to launch windows to compete with the macintosh on the PC; it’s called business.

“Copying” is an interesting word that people like to use to describe Microsoft’s business strategy; however, there are two flaws with this approach:

it implies that they “stole” something, when in fact they saw a good idea, and implemented it themselves. One could posit the question, “if they weren’t supposed to copy, merge, and combine features, what the hell are we working towards?” In fact, the bitter irony here is that this line is often uttered by Linux users, who seem to forget that their OS of choice has lagged behind both Apple and Microsoft and has “copied” features from both; in fact, one could say that the entire concept of building upon each others code is the very concept that Open Source Software pushes; so hearing Linux users say this is sort of ironic in that they are implying that their Open Source philosophy is somehow only a good one when applied to Open Source.

Did windows “copy” a lot of features of Apple’s Macintosh? of course they did. When you are building a car to compete with other cars, you use the same shape for wheels; you don’t redesign the wheel; additionally, when somebody says that Microsoft steals “ideas”, the term is really useless. despite the aura around intellectual property, just thinking about something doesn’t suddenly mean that somebody else creating an implementation of your idea is stealing; an idea takes an armchair and a few minutes, and absolutely no physical effort. Implementing an idea is the hurdle that any technologist, during any era of computing had to get across; an idea is useless without an implementation. If I was to think up some new type of program, but did fuck all to create any prototypes or anything to that degree, I can’t in all fairness say that somebody “copied my idea” when they come up with an implementation; there was nothing to copy. ideas are physical objects. Some may say “but the Apple was an implementation of an idea” And yes, of course it is. But consider this; Windows runs on the IBM PC; the Mac OS environment runs on the Macintosh; consider for a moment that if apple had won the litigation against Microsoft, the IBM PC’s potential for showing a graphical environment would never have been realized. One could breakdown into a number of alternate history theories about what could have happened that go in all sorts of directions, but the truth is, it’s impossible to truly say what would have happened, simply because it didn’t. And now, the concept of a GUI that uses the same metaphorical approach is essentially the common denominator; what Microsoft naysayers are implying is that this is a bad thing; they are implicitly supporting the older paradigm where every single machine was managed in some completely separate way; That doesn’t help anybody.

Another thing that MS is criticized for is lack of innovation. To be perfectly frank, this is absolute bull shit. First off, if this was the case I don’t see how other companies aren’t equally guilty; and the fact is that it’s not the case.

Take, for example, the Windows 95 start menu; no other GUI implemented anything of this sort; the taskbar was an innovation because it made it possible to manage all the various running tasks in a always visible location; this was done through observation of their customer base, who would complain that their programs would “go away” because you no longer had a visual indication of them running (another window covered them, and they are essentially gone). Take the Windows Vista Start menu; the search bar is not something I had seen established in any major competing Graphical User interface before that. It addresses the previous criticisms of the Start menu whereby the various folders and icons would often fill the screen as you install/uninstall applications. However, nobody saw it like that; instead they decided to focus on the negatives, such as the higher system requirements. Err, HELLO, each version of windows has higher system requirements then the last. This is hardly surprising, and the fact that Vista implemented a new Desktop composition system (“Stolen” from apple, despite the fact that this was sort of a natural extension to the desktop given the ubiquitous availability of 3-D hardware on even the most value-oriented computers), as well as the larger gap between the XP and Vista release pretty well explain that.

Another example: take the Office Ribbon. Despite it’s detractors, it has become hugely successful and people have in fact found themselves more productive with it; this is because rather then thinking about the problem for a few seconds and then dismissing the current solution as “we shouldn’t change it because I don’t like change”, they actually looked at what they had, and realized, “holy shit, we have too many menus/toolbars and crap here” And they came up with a solution. The thing is, the ribbon made users and developers alike rethink the sort of common user-interface paradigms that we have become accustomed to, such as menus, buttons, and so forth.The heirarchal Pull down menu system was an extension on the “basic” pull down menu, where each menu title only had a single set of options; there was no concept of submenus within those menus (known as heirarchal menus). However, at some point, that model stopped working; the menus hd way too many options. The natural method was of course to group those options heiarchally; here are the options for Inserting an object, here are the options for how to format cells, and so on. The ribbon is a testament to the fact that there is no magic bullet method that works well in all situations; a program with three options can work well with just three buttons in a window; however if you have 10 options, you better use a menu, and with 50 or so options, you’ll need to arrange that heirarchally.

It’s important to realize that Microsoft is not pulling the industry on it’s coat-tails by mistake; the fact is that even their competitors are playing catch-up with their technologies, and before they can release a product that even attempts to compete with them, MS has already released another version. It’s not a lack of innovation on Microsoft’s part that is causing this, it’s a lack of innovation on the competitions part.

Much of this is different when you look away from desktop applications and operating systems and instead look to the world-wide web. Instead, we find Google has essentially cornered almost every facet of the internet; however, they carefully crafted their approach so despite them essentially doing the exact same thing to the web as Microsoft did to the OS and desktop applications markets, they are still regarded as “good guys” which is a particularly intriguing revelation.

This brings me to another point: Internet Explorer.

Web Developers – including myself- hate trying to work with Internet Explorer- it doesn’t work like the other browsers. People like to blame MS for this. But it’s actually the W3C.

Take for example some of the early draft specs for HTML4 and CSS and the DOM. W3C said “alright, we might make it like this, but no promises.

And all the browsers ran out and implemented it. Then the w3c went to ratify the specification and decided “hey, you know what? All the stuff we have in that spec that only IE has implemented so far… let’s rip those out. And they did. So now IE suddenly had “non-standard” features that were in fact originally in the spec and simply not implemented by Netscape or whatever the other browsers were at the time, because only IE bothered to implement those particular portions according to the specification. Which brings me to another point- the specifications are about as vague as possible. If your specifications are open to any sort of interpretation, they aren’t specifications, they’re handwavey suggestions. IE was the first browser to implement the CSS Box Model according to the specification. Then W3C ripped out that entire page of the spec. Now, they pretty much said that, but what is most interesting was that almost every single thing they took out of the spec was only implemented by IE and every single thing they added to the spec that wasn’t before were non-spec stuff that was added by other browsers. Seems a bit unfair.

Now, it’s gotten better in recent years, but it’s also gotten worse. MS refuses to implement any feature that is non-standard or not in the spec- because they know the w3c is some sort of demon spawn that purposely messes around the spec as much as possible just to fuck with IE’s implementation. meanwhile, the w3c is all friendly with Firefox and Opera and all the other implementations. It’s like a god damned love circle.

And then you have that Anti-trust nonsense. I’ve never really understood that. I mean, ok… we’ve got Netscape (with err… Netscape) and Microsoft with Internet Explorer. When IE was being charged for it was all cool.

But then they started giving it away free with the operating system! HORRORS OF HORRORS! Obviously they are TRYING to suffocate Netscape! I mean, that might have been a secondary reason, but for fuck’s sake, why the hell was Netscape their only god damned product to begin with? I mean, how many years were they in business with a single product? And many people say “well, golly, why would they spend money to make IE and then release it for free?” I don’t know. why the hell did they spend money to redesign paint in Windows 7? The way I see it, Microsoft looked at the internet, saw- hmm, this is becoming as ubiquitous as simple text editing, word processing, basic bitmap editing and recording short sound clips, we should distribute a way to do this with the OS. And that’s what they did. But suddenly it’s a big no-no because the slow company that had a single product that did the same thing that they charged for were all “hey, no fair, we don’t know how to sell more then one product so that’s Anti-trust!” It would be like a company that sold a basic text editor claiming anti-trust when Microsoft *GASP* included a text editor with MS-DOS 5! the NERVE of the company! How dare they include basic tools that increase the usability of the Operating system! DAMN THEM!

I mean, Anti-trust stuff is supposed to protect the [i]public[/i] from a monopoly. Not slow to change companies that don’t know how to create more then one product from other companies that happen to be able to create that same relatively simple to create (browsers were hardly that complex) applet and include it with the OS.

And nowadays the hubbub is all “OMG! they should let you choose your browser when you install windows!”

What the FUCK is that? should they let you choose from a set of other free text editors you can use instead of notepad? No, because if you want another editor you download another editor. should they offer other free alternatives to Paint Or Wordpad or Sound recorder (which actually transformed into useless with the latest ver. in win Vista/7)? No. that would be stupid. But apparently they are supposed to quite literally present a choice amongst their competitors in the browser market. Why only browsers though?

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