Fun_People Archive
12 Feb
HOTMOE & Microhack

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 98 18:08:34 -0800
To: Fun_People
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Subject: HOTMOE & Microhack

[Am interesting note posted to a hacker (in all the best senses) mailing list  
about whether Microsoft represents any danger... -psl]

 Forwarded-by: Dan Murphy <>

Yes, I'm a member of hackers-opposed-to-Microsoft-owning-everything
(hotmoe?), but mostly I don't fault Microsoft for competing as they do.
Most of the time, their activities can been seen as just hustling more
business and pursuing their next 2x revenue growth.

In fact, there is a lot of hack quality to Microsoft!  Gates always seems
to be looking for the next good hack; the difference is, for him, a good
hack probably costs a few million bucks.  Much of their software is very
hacky (yes, hack doesn't have all positive connotations), it just has many
layers of marketing varnish on it.

On the other hand, their perverse practice of making incompatible changes
in interchange formats with every release (i.e. Word N to Word N+1) is
offensive and inexcusable.  It really seems designed to force demand for
the new version as soon as a few people start using it.  I see this happen
in practice over and over.  Some group (often the upper management) in a
company gets the new version of Office, and immediately begin sending out
mail in Word format and Powerpoint slides (gag) in the new format, so all
the peons have to upgrade too, even though there isn't one new feature that
anybody actually needs to justify the file format change.

Apart from Microsoft itself, what I hate to see is people who should be
competing with Microsoft falling for the Microsoft hype and throwing in the
towel.  It really does happen.  Certain people in DEC and IBM, two cases I
happen to know about, bought the story that NT will own everything, so
better get on the bandwagon.  Very sad, although some have come to their
senses after a while.  I keep hearing rumors that HP plans to move
increasingly to NT and away from Unix.  (Of course, that could just be the
NT propaganda machine at work; who knows.)

The DOJ-Microsoft battle has produced a lot of fog but very little
discussion of what I see as the real problem.  It's not a problem that
Microsoft gives away a browser; what is a problem is any coercion of OEMs
to not preinstall another browser instead of or in addition to Microsoft's.
This is Microsoft using their dominance in one area to force dominance in
another, and is exactly what classic antitrust is all about.

The related point that I rarely see mentioned in the mainstream press is
that by leveraging their browser onto desktops, complete with its
non-standard, non-open protocol extensions, they leverage their
much-more-expensive site and server software into the big money
corporations.  And that in turn further forces out the other competitors
who can't support the proprietary extensions.  This is the **real** problem
and the real justification for the DOJ intervention, although I'm not sure
they even understand it.

And I say this as someone who is generally Libertarian-leaning; I just don't
think market forces are necessarily sufficient.  We know what happens when
one company controls all the technology.  Remember back before the ATT
breakup when you couldn't legally connect ANYTHING to a phone line except
the telco-provided phone?? It took a long time to get rid of all the baggage
associated with that (FCC mandated notifications, etc. gag.), but the result
was cheaper, better everything to do with phones.  Not to mention that our
present day telecommunications explosion would have been impossible with
the old Ma Bell in the way of every change.

Microsoft competes now because they have a hundred small dogs nipping at
their heels.  If enough power were concentrated in that one company, and if
the avenues for competition dried up because the key interfaces became
proprietary and secret, then technological innovation would be stifled and
price competition would be eliminated.  An extreme scenario, perhaps, but
one that can be played out in small domains as well as large ones.

So what's all this got to do with hacking?  Only that I think that the whole
Linux movement is a terrific hack and will seriously impact the chances of
NT owning everything.  Yes, it's still a hack in progress, as various of
the comments heretofore have indicated.  Nonetheless, there is a *huge*
amount of stuff available to those who can hack it together.  Two examples
that I happen to have personally gone looking for recently: (1) You can make
a Linux system be a file and print server using the protocol (SMB) built
into Windows-95 (and NT and WfW etc) and/or a client for other SMB servers;
and (2) CD-R (CD-recordable) drivers that run the popular CD-R drives (and
support an obscure feature for audio CDs that *neither* of the Windows-based
packages that I paid for support.)

The most important thing is that people who should know better (like this
group) not fall for the notion that Microsoft/NT is going to own everything
so why struggle against it.  Whatever one's personal tastes around Unix vs.
Windows vs. Mac, etc., it is important to keep the interfaces open and never
again go back to a world where you can't connect your favorite hack to the
phone line.

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