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Is Apple behaving like Microsoft?

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By GregTitus
March 18, 2002

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This argument can be generalized to the point that any operating system that includes ANY component that the user doesn't think they need/want carries this burden. In fact, any software that provides a feature that a consumer doesn't want, because ALL extra code results in a greater likelihood of bugs.

LongHook, (and UsuallyReasonable, since you pointed out the same sorts of issues)

Granted. This is absolutely true.

That's just a fact of life. Singling out IE for this is rather weird.

The main point of those passages about harm due to including IE components in the operating system, IMHO, is to explain to people who don't know software development the kinds of potential problems that can arise whenever you add functionality to the OS and/or intermingle unrelated functionality in the same DLL.

These aren't specific to IE, they are possibilities that arise from any addition to the OS. The point is to show people that the integration was not technologically necessary or resulted in some magical consumer improvement. (Something which you yourself talked about in a previous post in this thread.)

Something that the Findings of Fact don't mention, but is another way in which Microsoft's actions slanted the market:

The addition of IE functionality to system DLLs (a) makes Win IE start up faster since those DLLs are already loaded at boot time, reducing the code that IE itself needs to load and (b) increases memory usage on the system all of the time.

Competing browsers do not have this performance advantage, making them seem more bloated in comparison to IE than is actually accurate.

All consumers not using IE at any particular moment pay the price.

Which leads to this...

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned, but which I imagine is part of Microsoft's defense (and which is valid IMO), is that whenever a software vendor tries to provide integration and consistency, there is always the chance that they screw over third parties.

Absolutely valid, and not just something that happens at the OS/App border. This is kind of where the thread started, in fact. UsuallyReasonable mentioned that one possible (weak) justification for including products like iPhoto with all Macs is to provide third-parties with opportunities for plug-ins and add-ons.

Here's how I see it. The consumer software industry is a jungle swamp. There are two kinds of software producers: the alligators, and those little birds that sit fearlessly in the alligator's mouth picking at parasites.

You have the software packages that are big enough and have a large enough market to create their own little economies around them. Windows, MacOS, PalmOS, but also Photoshop, MS Office, Oracle, Shockwave/Flash, and so on.

Those are the alligators. Most other software fills the gaps by depending upon one or more of the big alligators.

It is in the nature of alligators to grow, taking [for] themselves what once was the third-party opportunity of a little bird. Any software developer that is a little bird better know this and plan for it. That's just the way the world works. Lots of little birds die.

On the other hand, usually the alligators are better off if they work together. At least at this point in time, Microsoft would rather have Photoshop on Windows than try to write their own. Microsoft would rather have Palm Desktop and Oracle run on Windows than completely shut them out, even though they have competing products.

Those other alligators bring enough extra functionality and consumers to the table that alligators don't fight each other very often. Arguably they are usually improving each other's existence.

But every once in a while, there is the opportunity for a little bird to transform itself into an alligator. And that's where Microsoft takes the (in my opinion) shortsighted view that it is better to gobble up the little bird than to make room in the swamp for another alligator.

Microsoft is the Far Side cartoon with the alligator lying on a psychiatrist's couch: "You know those teeny tiny little birds that walk around so trustingly inside a crocodile's moth? Well I just been eatin' those little guys like popcorn."

Microsoft gets away with this because they have monopoly power. The birds keep coming and setting down in the mouth, because they have little choice.

History has shown that developers can pretty easily just ditch MacOS development if they don't like it.

And that, I think, is the major difference between Microsoft's bundling actions and every other alligator's bundling actions. Everybody else has to leave some room for the little birdies or they'll die themselves -- they need a thriving ecosystem. Microsoft's goal is to be the entire ecosystem.

But I also think that this whole issue of Microsoft making it more difficult for competitors to compete via bundling is NOT AT ALL the most important anti-competitive thing they have done. If Microsoft had only merged IE into Windows I don't think that would have been unethical or illegal. (Well, not very much.) :-)

It is really the evidence of exclusionary contracts, forced deals, and intimidation that is laid out in the Findings of Fact that are the central issues in the anti-trust trial. If Microsoft had only done the same sorts of things that Apple has done, they would not and should not be in that much trouble.

So, I think, the whole question of whether Apple's application bundling is different from Microsoft's application bundling is kind of a side point. It has led to a very interesting discussion (for which I thank you all), but I don't think the comparison (even if the two were exactly the same) has very much bearing on the legal and moral status of the two companies.

-Greg


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