Microsoft: End of the One True Church

I have always felt that the real price for Microsoft in its anti-trust battle wasn’t the decisions of a court but the presence of the lawyers.

Lawyers slow you down. They gum up the works. Lawyers make simple decisions complicated. They write complex documents only they can read, then argue endlessly over what they mean. Lawyers are entropy, they’re a form of friction. They’re gravity pulling you to Earth. They’re old age wearing on you.

In the last few months Bill Gates admits (in his latest video release) he has spent as much time talking to lawyers as he has spent talking to his wife. Steve Ballmer may enjoy the battle (what pre-adolescent boy doesn’t), but he didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition…)

But let’s leave Bill and Steve in the purgatory they made for themselves. When the Judge hands down a ruling what does it mean to you, and to us? To a great extent that story, too, has already been told. For more and more of us, web technology isn’t something we buy but something we build. The idea of putting your trust in one vendor even Microsoft is gone.

Instead of one system we have point solutions kludged together. There’s an Oracle database and a Cisco Powered Network and Novell Directory Services, with the basic web structure operating under Linux or Open BSD. You break jobs down into their component parts and use what works best for each part. You hope your own staff and your web hosting company can, together, keep it chugging along, and when something breaks you search the support sites for a fix.

Some people remain Microsoft-dependent, but now they’re a minority and not the vast majority. No one person or company can run the network its control seems to be even beyond the government. This won’t change.

If you don’t believe me, look at the market. Don’t just look at Linux, but at companies like Real Networks. Many streaming media mavens I know complain long and loud about Real’s server pricing. The Windows Media Player undercuts them, and it’s free with the operating system. Yet Real still stands.

Look at how MSN and its constituent sites struggle against larger rivals. There’s an assumption among millions of people that, even if Microsoft’s stuff is better, there’s something fishy about it, something not to be trusted. It has become one party in a multi-party system. You may belong to it, you may stand against it, but probably you take it or leave it.

This will continue to be the case. Maybe Ballmer is hoping G.W. Bush will sweep in and call off the anti-trust dogs, but even then there are the state governments and private suits to deal with. As long as Microsoft stands it will never be what it once was.

We have learned to live without Microsoft. We can get along without it. You can hamstring its contract or break it into little pieces, or just keep dragging it through court after court it doesn’t matter. We’ve been forced to learn that a community is more reliable than any one true Church. That’s our Reformation, and we’re not turning back the clock.

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