Monday, January 19, 1998

Week of 01/19/1998

Target: Bill Gates Bashing
- by David Matthews 2

Oh Billy-boy, the courts, the courts are calling!
From Janet Reno on down to old Netscape!
Nobody knows how much they truly hate you!
Oh Billy-boy, Oh Billy-boy, you’re envied so!

Ok, so I’m not going to make any money as a songwriter, but I think this best describes the level of hatred that is seemingly piled up on one Harvard dropout who is now the richest man in America.

Bill Gates makes more money per month than every pro athlete can per season. For a man without a college degree, he’s done exceptionally well in the twenty or so years since he founded Microsoft. He started the business begging for attention by Apple and IBM, and now IBM is slowly moving out of the personal computer business and last year Gates made a hefty contribution to Apple’s meager survival.

And yet, this guy is the butt of electronic jokes. From publications who slap on Borg equipment over his picture, to Macintosh users who threw screaming fits when they saw Gates on the big screen at Mac World, to software companies who are quietly urging the various Attorney Generals for Uncle Sam and his fifty spoiled brats to file anti-trust suits. Bill Gates seems to serve as the all-purpose target for anything wrong with the computer business.

So let’s be brutally honest here and ask ourselves WHAT is it that we seem to hate about Bill Gates.

Is it the product? Sure, Windows 95 isn’t the best program on the market. Sure, it has bugs. What program doesn’t? We’re talking about an operating system for computers made by different companies, using a wide range of processors, motherboards, SIMMs, floppy drives, CD-ROM drives, modems, sound cards, and various other add-ons, and trying to make them all work together. It’s not an easy task. If you ever wonder why Apple has pulled a Vatican act with Mac clones, this is one of the reasons.

Is it the hype for Windows 95 that earned Bill his critical bullseye? Windows 95 was by far the most anticipated program in the software business. Microsoft conducted a massive beta test, and then hyped it at every opportunity. At Comdex Atlanta, Windows 95 wasn’t even available for six more months, but it was what everyone was talking about. You couldn’t ignore Microsoft’s mammoth display area in the middle of the WindowsWorld floor. Interviews and speeches by Gates weren’t about the future of computers as they were to push Win 95. Forget the hype you hear for Intel’s Pentium II chip today. That’s mediocre compared to the hype for Win 95. Even Intel’s first Pentium chip didn’t garner as much attention.

Is it because of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer? Sure, it has plenty of advantages over Netscape’s Communicator. It doesn’t crash as much, and it’s imbedded more into the operating system than Netscape can be allowed to. But Netscape still has some advantages over IE4. Some, but not many. Netscape’s mail center still better in reading newsgroups over Microsoft’s Outlook Express. IE4’s Channel bar doesn’t impress me in the least. For all the visible "plugs" Microsoft incorporated in the channel guide, I still use my tried and true list of favorites to surf the Internet, even if they’re now located on the Start bar. And once again, programmers created some of IE4’s features under the assumption that most users would have the maximum amount of RAM in their system and be permanently connected online. Active desktop? A nice feature, if you have the RAM to spare. Otherwise it slows things down.

No, there are two major reasons why Bill Gates is fostering so much scorn by users.

The first reason is because Microsoft IS on the top of the software heap. Gates serves as the visible figurehead of a corporation that saw the shift in computer focus from hardware to software and profited heavily from it. Apple computers kept stringent control of its hardware and software much to its detriment. IBM got caught napping by Compaq and the other so-called "clone" companies who were able to reverse-engineer their own compatible system. Microsoft simply opened the door to those other companies to use the same operating system that IBM used. Microsoft used the same advantages then that are currently being enjoyed by companies like Netscape and Sun Microsystems for their programs.

The other reason is because he’s rich. No, not just rich, but filthy rich. Let’s be honest with ourselves here. This is a guy who never finished his studies in Harvard, and now makes enough money to buy and sell Harvard University ten times over without batting an eyelash! And because he’s rich and powerful, there exists that perverse schadenfreud need to see him fall, to remind ourselves that he is indeed a mortal like the rest of us.

Well, I can’t suggest anything for the latter reason. Schadenfreud is a part of the human psyche. If we aren’t focusing our scorn on successful businessmen, we’ll focus it on politicians, professional athletes, religious figures, and mass media.

I can however, suggest something for the former reason - Microsoft’s dominance on the software market.

It seems that the solution is simple: If companies like Compaq, Sun, Oracle, and Netscape really wish to see the reign of Microsoft end, then all they have to do is create their own operating system to compete against Windows. Forget the fact that IBM failed miserably with OS/2 Warp. Just mark that up as bad timing. People were waiting for Win 95. They really aren’t waiting with baited breath for Win 98 this time.

However, I seriously doubt these companies will have the guts to develop an OS to compete against Microsoft. That requires marketing, paying programmers, conducting alpha and beta tests, and setting up other computer companies to provide platform support for things such as disc drives and peripherals. That costs time and a lot of money. It costs no money to bitch about Microsoft. And for relatively fewer bucks, the companies can hire lawyers to sue Microsoft, and get lobbyists to petition government prosecutors to curtail the company in courts.

In today’s day and age of making the "evil industry" the new societal villain, bashing companies for being successful may be in vogue. But in this author’s opinion, it shows the laziness and sometimes out-and-out cowardice of companies who are afraid not to compete, but to compete and possibly lose some money in the process.

At least the former king of computers, IBM, had the balls to say "We tried."

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