Letter to the Editors of WSJ: Grotesque Ignorance

By Spencer Kittelson

Date: November 2, 2001

Your assertions of Microsoft's importance in bringing us the web display a level of ignorance which is breathtakingly grotesque. How such otherwise knowledgeable persons as the editors of the WSJ can spout such reckless hyperbole is beyond comprehension.

Microsoft is a marketing and control company par excellence. As shrewd, cunning and inexorably relentless businesspersons the top team at Microsoft is perhaps without modern peer. As for technical skills, they are followers and not leaders. When threatened, they bludgeon their way to success, lying, cheating, coercing and buying their way to a point of control so that they may develop a new revenue stream and control point.

Microsoft has counted on the plodding, agonizingly slow response of the legal system to never quite be able to catch them in time to undo the damage they have caused or prevent the furtherance of their dominance. This provides a veneer of legitimacy their defenders use to great effect and which is very difficult to counter. More than one pundit who has admitted their huge market distortions has thrown up their hands at a remedy by saying it is just too late to do anything about it. The same goes for the feds. The keystone cops in the DOJ completely botched their early attempt at reigning in Microsoft and it certainly looks like history is about to repeat itself.

All this time, Microsoft's enormous monopoly derived profits have been used and will be used to entrench themselves ever more deeply into our psyches and systems of communication and commerce, so much so that it will take decades of effort to free ourselves from their ever increasing hegemony. This is an enormous threat to our citizenry. Your editorial position mocks both recent history and the tenets of governance by law and freedom of choice.

Microsoft did not invent the PC operating system MS-DOS. It was purchased and subsequently slightly refined from a hybridized product developed by others to mimic minicomputer operating systems. Had IBM insisted on a solid contract or Apple computer had the sense to build more competitive hardware Microsoft would have remained a minor player in the burgeoning technological revolution. Even such now lost products as the Oasis operating system would have made MS-DOS and early versions of MS-Basic look silly had they been marketed effectively. Microsoft has never, not once, created a product category which in and of itself they invented and drove to success. (The bundling of separate products into a "suite" is a successful marketing ploy that some would now consider to be a product category.) Even their vaunted "Visual" series of products came from outside the company. Of course, their contributions to the fundamental developments of the Internet are essentially zero. That's right, zero. That you credit them with making "the Web revolution take off" demonstrates a lack of intellectual integrity that amazes.

Microsoft did not invent the "windows" concept. It was appropriated from the work of others and added on top of the unstable MS-DOS OS. Thus we have had a decade or more of the three finger salute. The lost productivity alone is perhaps in the trillions. (Of course, there is the benefit of requiring a new legion of support persons to keep these brittle, failure prone systems working. That is probably a form of economic benefit. I wonder what great things our country could have done had such considerable talent actually been put to productive use.) Had a legal case regarding patents on fundamental concepts gone a slightly different direction, a direction much more likely in today's patent law climate, Microsoft would have been dead in the water with no future in graphical operating systems.

Microsoft did not invent the browser and their early efforts were comic. However, they are persistent and can hide their development losses behind their enormous monopoly profits and by controlling the desktop force their product into such an opportunistic position that it is nearly impossible to ignore. Along the way their exclusionary contracts with manufacturers effectively denied competitive choice to hundreds of millions. The same ruthless exclusionary tactics are now being applied against Real, Kodak and any other companies which refuse fealty to the Redmondians. The intentional and illegal integration of the browser (which is after all merely an application which uses the underlying OS) into the OS and then providing a horribly broken version to meet the court's requirements should have landed someone in jail on a contempt citation. The testimony regarding the OS, its features and their anticompetitive actions should have garnered a perjury conviction. How can you support such persons without throwing away your own integrity?

Microsoft did not invent any form of secure networking but have borrowed from and then co-opted various standards with the intention of creating a new, unique standard which works better or only with other Microsoft products and services. This is an enormous violation of the spirit of these days and although not directly illegal is the most detestable form of theft. That they are now trying to direct everyone and all future transactional data through their own servers should raise a cry of alarm and not the absolutely foolish accolades you have heaped in your editorial.

The increasing level of functional and application tie-in is of great alarm. Microsoft completely missed the beginning of the Internet era and they are now using their new desktop OS to drive uninformed users into giving up their identity to a company which has proven itself unable to secure its own systems. This creates the specter of gross loss of privacy and freedom, not to our government, but to a demonstrably ruthless private company. That a monopoly is now being used to create another monopoly that has knowledge of a great amount of our private and behavioral information is a travesty and abdication of common sense. Where are you editors on this matter? Do this not give you pause?

This is only a small analysis of how badly you have mischaracterized Microsoft. When will you take your blinders off and look deeply into the long term consequences of your position? Eventually it will be clearly seen that have lauded a monster and will rue the day you failed in your duty to sound a warning and support those who do see and have attempted to take reasonable and timely action.

Spencer T. Kittelson
Advanced Business Automation


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