Microsoft and me (More or less)

I’m going to say something serious here. No really, I am. I AM! Stop with the eye rolling and waiting for the punch line.

OK, XP is not a bad O/S based on the user interface. I doubt many could argue that it is not better than Windows 95/98/ME. It is easy to navigate (especially networked drives, though still not as easy as OS/X’s Finder) and setting up shortcuts to important items is just as easy as it is on the Mac (Easier in some cases). Where it breaks down is security. Microsoft made a big mistake in trying to include everything and the kitchen sink. Not that it is a bad idea; it was their implementation that was faulty.

Microsoft early on made the same mistake that Apple did (in many ways Apple is still making this mistake) in wanting to control everything software-wise. Microsoft wants no competition in any area of the Windows experience. In fact, they want no competition in the computer software industry. To this end, they began to create barriers for others to compete in.

Netscape had a good (not great, but good) Internet browser. Like other companies, they charged for this. It was within their rights to do so. They had hired the programmers, testers, engineers, accountants, admin assistants, and lawyers necessary to put a product on the market and were entitled to believe that money should be exchanged for their product. Microsoft then created their OWN browser and did the unthinkable. They gave it away for free. Netscape changed their policy and also began giving their browser away for no charge. I call this the Lucy Ricardo business plan. Yes, we lose money on each sale, but we’ll make it up in bulk. What was the difference between these two companies? Microsoft had other products to sell. Netscape didn’t. Was Netscape’s browser superior to MS Internet Explorer? Yes it was, but when functionality is built into the computer you buy and most people couldn’t tell the difference, do you believe they are going to invest time and money in a different product? The obvious and correct answer as shown by history (Netscape essentially has disappeared. It is currently in AOL limbo, but big pieces of it still exists in some of the alternative browsers available today) is no.

Microsoft and Apple are alike in many ways that fans of either company would viciously deny. Don’t believe it from your favorite non-worm infested fruit flavored computer maker? Oh ye of little faith! Let’s talk.

They are both monopolies within certain narrow definitions. Well, Microsoft is a monopoly under almost any definition so why bother arguing about it. Apple on the other hand is too. No one else can make computers that run the Macintosh Operating System. Please don’t bore me with talk about PearPC until it runs at 50% of speed. One manufacturer. That’s it, one. They make and design all the hardware that is capable of running OS/X. They design and program the operating system. They have total and complete control over what is considered state of the art for the platform. They get away with it because of their relatively small size in comparison to the X86 platform.

They both stifle competition within their own spheres of influence. For example, Microsoft purchased Bungie. This company was a fan favorite Mac game maker best known previously (pre-buyout) for their Marathon trilogy. Marathon is a first person perspective game that was the first to put chills down my spine. Dark corners, flickering lights, Aliens that chitter, have backwards knees, fling energy bolts from long distance, and make kind of a sklitch sound when killed and splurt yellow/green blood. Deep bass music far scarier than anything heard on ID’s Doom or Unreal. Best of all, almost all their games were Mac only. Why did Microsoft buy it? The official reason was for Bungie to make Xbox exclusive games. The fact that Halo, one of the best selling games ever made had been demoed at a MacWorld show prior to the sale (and would have been a Mac exclusive at first) is purely coincidental.

Apple is not exactly innocent in this regard as well. Two examples come to mind in recent history. Dan Wood’s most excellent Sherlock enhancement “Watson” and Arlo Rose’s “Konfabulator”. Watson is a terrific Internet utility, fast and accurate. It was born in the latter half of the old OS/8 days, not long after the debut of Sherlock. It was updated to OS/X and was awarded Apple’s “Most innovative Product for 2002”, just before Apple released Sherlock 3 which did the exact same thing that Watson does.

Of more recent vintage is Konfabulator. I have never used this product so I can’t comment on its usefulness. It basically allows for little mini- programs to run kind of like the old “Desk Accessories” that existed pre-OS/7. For those that don’t remember (or weren’t even born yet), prior to OS/7, it was very difficult to run more than one program at a time on your Mac. Memory especially was limited (and typically did not play nice with competing programs), so Apple and many others came out with little mini programs accessible through the Apple Menu. Desk Accessories pretty much vanished after System 7 was released, but apparently Konfabulator accomplished the same thing for OS/X. The next Gen “X” O/S has a feature built into it called “Dashboard”. Guess what it does? Yep, same thing as Konfabulator. While neither program’s inner workings are alike, they both pretty much do the same thing. No one can expect Apple or Microsoft to stand still on innovation, but would it kill them to give a little love to the third party developers who come up with useful things? Apple especially needs third party developers.

Want some more? They both have on numerous occasions included functionality that breaks or disables competitive products made by other companies (even each others). Microsoft takes this to a higher level. They maintain their own Web standards, that don’t comply with established and published standards by the very organization created to do so. Many Web sites don’t even bother to check themselves against the standards created by this organization, they just check that their site works and looks good on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. In other words, if you use a Web Browser created by someone OTHER than Microsoft, there is an excellent chance that its higher functions won’t operate. I pretty much use Apple’s Safari Browser (which does conform to Web standards) and there have been sites that won’t even load. How did this happen? That’s easy to answer. Microsoft integrated IE into their 600 pound gorilla of an operating system and made it damn near impossible to remove. How did all those malicious Worms and Trojan Horses get onto people’s computers? Once again, Microsoft’s integration of the browser into the O/S left big gaping security holes that hackers (the scum of the earth) could exploit. They never believed that anyone would be smart enough to find those holes. 60,000 exploits later and they are just beginning to realize that maybe, JUST MAYBE it was a mistake.

When Sun came out with JAVA (an easy to use programming language used throughout the Internet), Microsoft looked at it and came out with their own version that was in many ways incompatible with Sun’s version. It wasn’t better, it just wasn’t IBM (Invented By Microsoft). People buy into it because it doesn’t cost them anything. In order to break the spine of other companies, Microsoft gives it to you free. How can third parties compete with that?

Apple does it too. Besides the two already mentioned (Watson and Konfabulator), many programs that were available in OS/9 and below were never updated to OS/X. Why not? Sometimes it was because the people who originally created the programs couldn’t afford to redo it for “X”. Sometimes it was because the installed user base had dropped to the point of making it not cost effective. Other times, however, it was because Apple had included the functionality of the program into the latest O/S release, even if the function was not actually part of the operating system itself.

Some good examples can be found in the video-editing field. Once there were several pretty good editors out there. Adobe’s Premiere and Strata’s VideoShop have both disappeared since iMovie came out. In the case of Premiere, it was more because of Apple’s Final Cut Pro, but the effect was the same. I cut my video editing teeth on VideoShop with an old Umax C600 603 Mac clone and in many ways it is still superior to iMovie. I wish it had been a little more stable, but without the developer’s support, it just won’t happen. It had things like multiple editable video and audio tracks. Easy transitions between two different P.O.V. (Points of View) of the same scene. Trying that with iMovie is not easy. That’s not to say that I don’t like iMovie, because I do.

The point is that it’s tough to get third party software makers to write for a platform whose user base is small in comparison to the MS behemoth and where the developers have to compete against the maker not only of the hardware but the software as well. How much longer will Roxio continue to create new versions of Toast when iTunes has much of its functionality for free? You can forget getting many other music editors with Apple’s GarageBand and SoundTrack out there. You could argue that this is great software and you would be right. Think about this however. If Apple becomes the only developer of advanced software for the Macintosh, how much longer can it remain a viable platform?

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