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Volume 3, Number 2
February, 1998

Tales of the Geek Lord
The US Government vs. Technology

by Pelican Smith

 Long time readers of the SCROOMtimes are familiar with my rants about the inability of the US Government to comprehend information technology. I can now add another tragedy to my ever growing list of American judiciary blunders: The antitrust suits against Microsoft.
 Whether you love or hate Microsoft, everybody associated with computers has an opinion.
 Here are some of the people who love Microsoft:
  • Microsoft Partners: Not just the ocean of Microsoft trainers and software developers who cater to the Microsoft logo, but also giants in their own right like Cisco, Oracle and even Novell.
  • Large Scale Administrators: People with not tens or even hundreds of computers they must maintain, but thousands of computers, are flocking to the Windows environment. The idea is simple: "Keep the worker doing work, not fussing with the settings".
  • Newbies: It's true, if you don't know anything about computers, then you're going to be more interested in the e-mail package that comes with the dancing paperclip.

 On the other hand, here are some of the people who hate Microsoft:
  • Unix Users: Unix is a complicated system using an older command line syntax to get the job done. The funniest thing is, it has been getting the job done for over twenty years now. NT is only beginning to show capabilities similar to Unix, and is nowhere near showing its reliability.
  • Veterans: A funny trend starts to become obvious after a few short years in the computer industry. It seems that whatever ideas were cast out five years ago come back again at three times the cost. Take Microsoft's new Hydra, which is nothing more than a mainframe running several dumb terminals. Veterans hate it when you take an old idea and repackage it as your own, then tell your boss that you need new, expensive training to understand it.
  • Newbies: Just like those who love Microsoft, there is an army of newbies out there who are simply parroting what they hear from others. It's easy to fake veteran status by claiming to be too sophisticated to use Microsoft products.

 Most people out there are indifferent about the whole mess, though. They use Windows to start up their computer, then they send out e-mail and chat with friends. They don't care who makes the product, they just want it to connect them up to AOL with as little effort as possible. It is this indifference that is robbing the US Justice Department of the fuel they need to take on a corporation like Microsoft.
 The Justice Department has succeeded in breaking up large corporations in the past. The best example would probably be Ma Bell, which fell victim to the divestiture and deregulation which has left us with the many Regional Bell Operating Centers (RBOCs) like Bell Atlantic and Bell South. The US won against Bell because they had the backing of the American people. We all wanted Bell to suffer, not because they had a monopoly, but because they were no longer giving us the service we wanted, and there was nothing we could do about it. Let me relay a story to you:
 Back in the early 1970's, a friend of mine had a dear old grandmother who's eyesight was failing. To help her dial her phone, my friend made her a template to lay on top of the rotary dial with big, easy to read numbers on it. When she had a problem with her phone a few months later, the Bell technician that came in threw a fit about the template on top of "his" telephone. He had her remove it from what he considered Bell property, and told her that if she needed a template, Bell would sell her an authorized one.
 This story relates what Bell was like, before the Justice Department stepped in. Most people don't really care one way or the other about using Windows, because Microsoft is still giving the average user exactly what they want. Administrators might be upset with Microsoft's programmers, businesses might be upset with Microsoft's marketing, but Joe Shmoe can still get on AOL.
 Another strike against the Government as they wage this battle is their deep misunderstanding of the way IT works. The computer industry has always been at or near monopoly on each new killer application. Take a look at the historical market shares of HP, Cisco, Novell and Sun Microsystems and you will find specific periods of time where they ruled the computing industry. Heck, did I even mention Intel. They are pretty popular too, right about now.
 If the Justice Department is simply trying to get some hooks into Microsoft to make them tow the line, then they might stand a chance. Further, they could even help us, the consumers, by playing watchdog and keeping Microsoft about the business of producing working products, on time, to the people who need them. But if the Justice Department is looking for an all-out victory over Microsoft, they are going to find themselves in a war that will last longer than Vietnam, and have even less popularity.
 One final note, a prediction really. If Microsoft were to somehow spank the US Governement in these court cases, who would they take on next? Why the Chinese government of course, for allowing all that black marketing of CD's.
 Sorry, but no 5 Links to Make You Think this time. I'm in Italy right now, and spending a lot less time browsing the web, and a lot more time drinking cappucino and Lambrusco. Yes, the Italians really do drive like maniacs, and you know what? I love it.
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