General Chaos, work

Quit yer bellyachin'

There's been a lot of moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth over the decision by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to largely leave the settlement between Microsoft and the US Department of Justice and several states intact (and leave the enforcement of the settlement almost entirely in the hands of Microsoft itself).The judge dismissed most of the holdout states' proposed punitive measures, and said that the proposed amendments to the settlement would have benefitted Microsoft's competitors and not consumers.

Well, stop the whining already, for crying out loud.

The judge was right–the dissenting states were trying to reframe the entire trial. They had to, because the government had chosen such a narrow area to pursue its antitrust case against Microsoft (the browser war)–to the exclusion of what Microsoft has done in the world of LAN servers and desktop applications–that it limited the sort of remedies that could be applied. In other words, the government case was crafted by morons.

I came to that conclusion in May of 1998, way back when Janet Reno was Attorney General, Elian was a Cuban school kid who had never travelled overseas, and the focus of antitrust concerns was the launch of Windows 98. “It's the server, stupid,” I said then. But the government chased after the browser war with Netscape, lured by the talk of “cutting off their air supply” .

A change of administrations and a change of the economy later, the whole Microsoft chase now looks even more stupid than it did then. C'mon, did you really think that the best protection against Microsoft was the government? Let's be brutally frank here–the government has other priorities these days, and most of them don't include the redistribution of Bill Gates' wealth. And there are bigger threats to civil liberties than the number of browser options available to Windows users.

Microsoft has annihilated the [proprietary] workgroup server competition, and is close to doing the same to its messaging server competitors. The only significant threats on the desktop and workgroup application server compete by leveraging free software, or the spoils of anti-Microsoft techno-politics, or a niche built on product differentiation and superior design.

Everybody else is hors de combat. Novell is a consulting company. Half of Netscape is a subsidiary of another monopoly, AOL/TimeWarner, and its browsers are based on open source. Sun has taken the rest of Netscape, renamed it iPlanet, and is now renaming it again.

On the other hand, the web application server market is dominated at the enterprise end by Java–Sun, IBM and other Microsoft competitors realized that the way to compete with Microsoft was to focus on the infrastructure end of the new Web-driven application architecture instead of on the presentation end (the browser).

Microsoft's failure to wipe the application server competition from the planet is at least partially because of Microsoft's failure to spot Java's advantages early. Its initial dismissal of Java, and then its efforts (turned aside in court) to subvert the Java platform to its own ends resulted in its current .NET initiative–which, let's face it, is not setting the world on fire quite yet, and legitimizes the approach of Microsoft's competitors.

Now IBM, HP and Dell are Microsofting Microsoft–with Linux. Microsoft has failed to penetrate deep into the data center because it hasn't been able to extend its value proposition there effectively. Linux does what Windows NT/2000/XP hasn't been able to do–leverage the power of lots of cheap commodity servers, lowering incremental costs of scaling up, while keeping administrative costs down. It's started with Web servers, and the trend is moving into more line-of-business application areas.

Microsoft is ripe for a loss of market share in the workgroup server space as storage becomes more centrally controlled. Its next generation of desktop tools is, by default, abandoning its installed base in an effort to end security problems. It has pissed off thousands of developers. The European Community is still looking at ways to curb Microsoft overseas. And there are plenty of other things that will keep Microsoft from moving quickly to take over the world.

Any company that can execute effectively in this economy has a chance at knocking Microsoft down a couple more pegs. Bob Lutz, the chairman of GM North America, has said that the best way for GM to regain market share from competitors is to make cars that people “gotta have, rather than cars they're willing to buy.” The same goes for software. If the only alternative you offer somebody to Windows is the software equivalent of a Yugo, do you really think people are going to flock to it just because Microsoft doesn't make it?

The way to win market share back from Microsoft is to go further, faster, and better than them in ways that appeal to subsets of Microsoft's audience. Apple knows that, and is kicking a significant portion of Microsoft ass (sure, it's a small portion, but it's enough to run a profitable company on). Sun, apparently, hasn't figured it out yet–but that's a story for another rant.

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