Monday, February 24, 2014

But Microsoft *did* kill my pappy

I came across a blog post titled Microsoft Killed My Pappy yesterday.  I don't normally write responses to blog posts, but something about this one stood out.  The author comments on the anti-Microsoft sentiment present in the industry and how a lot of it is really unfounded.  People hating on Microsoft simply because they've always heard other people hate on Microsoft.  The author wants people to have their own reason to hate Microsoft, don't just use someone else's reason.  OK, but a lot of those reasons are probably still valid.  At the very least, awareness of those reasons is important.

Most people have heard "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." or at least a variation of that (The Life of Reason by George Santayana).  Maybe a history teacher mentioned it to you in school.  Or maybe a parent.  It is a simple but important statement.

Understanding computer industry history allows us to advance the industry and not constantly make the same stupid mistakes over and over again.  We will reinvent the wheel, but maybe we can avoid the big embarrassing missteps.

Take the Microsoft antitrust case.  The author points out that the case was initiated in 1998 for actions in 1994 and it was all about Microsoft bundling the browser with the operating system.  The author points out that this behavior is now commonplace.  OK, fine, but you can't compare Microsoft's actions in 1998 to actions of companies now.  The computing landscape was far far different in 1998.  Most people still went to a store to purchase a web browser in a cardboard box in 1998 (or 1994 if you were an early adopter).  Microsoft saw an opportunity to control a market.  Basically to stop it from becoming competitive.  If they could make the idea of choosing a web browser irrelevant, they could get back to doing other things.  And they did just that.  Turns out most people don't care who their web browser vendor is.  As long as it works and gives them access to content, that's all they care about.  Netscape was solving that problem before Microsoft and was making a lot of money doing so.  Rather than buy out Netscape (as is the case for most of Microsoft's reactions to situations like this), they chose to produce a functionally similar piece of software and include it with Windows.  Sneaky.

Twenty years later we don't think about the web browser like that.  The web browser is so integral to how we interact with computers today that we have entire operating systems based around the idea of exclusively running a web browser.  Things are different.

Do I hate Microsoft?  Not really.  Certainly not like I used to hate them.  I would consider myself indifferent to Microsoft.  And that's really an indication of how the industry has changed.  I went from viewing them as the enemy to viewing them as irrelevant.

The things Microsoft is doing now, as the author states, such as open sourcing various projects really don't matter to me.  Microsoft open sourcing anything or even starting a new project as open source strikes me as a too little too late move.  Similar to Sun open sourcing Solaris.  By the time it happened, no one cared.  But maybe Microsoft can become a strong contributor in the open source world.  I will wait and see.

I do not think Microsoft is more evil than companies like Google, Facebook, or Amazon.  We need to remember what these companies have done so they don't do it again.  Do not disregard industry history.  It may be boring at times, but it's the closest thing we have to keeping companies honest.

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