March 5, 2002

No more excuses: It's time to stop using Microsoft products

Author: JT Smith

- By Robin "Roblimo"
Miller
-
Microsoft management is now threatening to stop shipping Windows completely if the next federal court decision goes against them. This is insane. If I used Windows in my business, I would be working hard to switch to Linux -- or Mac or BSD -- as fast as I possibly could, just in case Microsoft decides to make good on this threat.

The essence of the whole debate over "punishment" for Microsoft seems to hinge
right now on whether or not Internet Explorer and other Microsoft-supplied doo-dads are essential to the
Windows operating system. The latest Microsoft tantrum goes sort of like this:

"WAAAH! If you let the other kids use whatever browser and instant messenger and things like that they want instead of (sob sob) the one I brought to the playground, I'm going to take my operating system and go home and you won't be able to play the game at all any more, you nasty bullies. WAAAH!"

This Register
article
says the same thing in a slightly less dramatic fashion.

I have friends who work for Microsoft, and they are
perfectly nice people. But I'm sorry, this is over the line. A company that
makes this kind of threat in response to requests that it follow the basic
rules of free enterprise and competitive capitalism -- not to mention follow
U.S. law -- ticks me off. I don't know if I can say I now "hate" Microsoft,
but I certainly feel contempt for them. This is, quite simply, despicable
behavior.

If I owned a business that was dependent on Microsoft products, I
would be looking very hard for an alternative. The idea that a single
company, in a fit of petulance, could stop distributing needed updates and
bugfixes to software on which I depended to earn a living would strike fear into my heart. I would, as a simple act of prudence, make sure Microsoft products were not instrumental to the operation of my company. Indeed, a public company that fails to implement alternatives to Microsoft software in light of Microsoft's latest behavior, and later suffers business interruptions or losses as a result of Microsoft's childish reactions to judicial orders, could easily get sued by its shareholders.

Maybe it'll take a few hours and a few moans for the administrative staff to learn to use OpenOffice and other alternatives to Microsoft products. Whoop-tee-doo! Sysadmins only trained in Microsoft products? They'd better start learning something new right away -- or stop sysadminning. Maybe you'll need to look at a list of scanners and printers to make sure you buy ones that are compatible with your new Mac, Linux or whatever other operating system you decide to use in place of the one supplied by the playground bullies at Microsoft. Suck it up and do it. If you are not able to handle these inconveniences in order to guard your operation against Microsoft's threats, you are not a responsible manager.

If you don't believe Microsoft might really, truly stop producing and supporting Windows, read this excerpt from a legal deposition by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:

14                  The proposal as put forward by the
15   nonsettling states would -- would not be a decree
16   that I would know how to comply with.  I actually
17   think we would need to withdraw the Windows product
18   from the marketplace.  That -- that would be the
19   only way I understand to comply with the proposal
20   as put forward by the nonsettling states.  The
21   degree to which it requires documentation of
22   internal interfaces, the degree to which it
23   requires -- what do they call that stuff where, you
24   know, you can't degrade the performance of anybody
25   else at any time in any way on any interface, and
0042
 1   all interfaces, all pieces of the system have to be
 2   infinitely replaceable.  There -- there's no way
 3   to -- not only is there no way to do new effort,
 4   new product, new technology, there's simply no way
 5   to do that for the existing -- the existing product
 6   set.  It -- it guarantees that the only way to
 7   comply effectively is to remove the product from
 8   the market.  And -- so you just take the beginning
 9   part of the proposal from the nonsettling states

10   and I think it ensures that consumers are harmed.
11   There will be no new Windows, PCs shipped, let
12   alone no new releases of Windows.  There just -- I
13   don't -- at least I don't understand any other way
14   to comply with it, and I'm not going to portend I'm
15   a hundred percent expert.  We have plenty of people
16   who are studying it and trying to understand it.
17                  My number one job today is to make
18   sure I understand the consent decree and make sure
19   we comply with it, because that's -- you know, that
20   is -- that's real and here and now, shall I say, in
21   terms of -- of our -- of our need to execute.  But
22   the way my -- my reading of it says, just to start,
23   Windows would be withdrawn from the market, and I
24   think there are -- you know, this year there will
25   be something like 120, 130 million people around
0043
 1   the world who buy new computers with Windows, who
 2   use those to manage their day-to-day business,
 3   their home lives, deliver healthcare information.
 4   All of those consumers would be, of course,
 5   grievously harmed by the proposal of the non -- the
 6   nonsettling states.  That's to start.

This is not a low-level flunky talking. This is Microsoft's chief executive officer!

You may want to read the nonsettling states' original proposal (pdf format) for yourself. It was modified somewhat on March 4, 2002 -- and not in Microsoft's favor, either.

If you are a professional software developer, do you really want to tie your fortunes to a company that threatens to withdraw the operating system on which your entire income depends from the market if a court decision goes against it? If you write or publish software for a living -- especially business software -- and your products only work with Windows, you had better start porting to Linux, Unix or Mac -- or all three -- pretty darn fast, just in case.

Choice is not just good. It's essential!

If Red Hat decided to stop shipping Red Hat Linux, perhaps because a court told the company it must include both Gnome and KDE on its bootup menus, it would be a minor irritation at most. (I use Red Hat as an example only because it is the best-known Linux distribution publisher, not because I suspect Red Hat management is as juvenile as Microsoft's.) Linux development would go on. RPM packages would still load and run. Kernel bugs would get fixed, security holes in software packages currently included with Red Hat would continue to be patched. SuSE, Caldera, Mandrake, Lycoris, ELX, Xandros, and all the other commercial Linux distribution publishers would see their business increase, and Debian download servers would be hit hard. But there would still be all the Linux anyone could want, growing and improving, moving forward, powering everything from mainframes and supercomputing clusters to PDAs and other small, special-purpose devices.

No sane business manager would purchase trucks that could only be repaired by one vendor. Today even the U.S. military is trying to move away from single-source contracts and have multiple vendors for critical weapons systems. This is because it is financially foolish (and in the military, dangerous) to put all your eggs in one (supplier's) basket. Every person who has ever studied business has been taught this basic precept. And yet, due to some amazing mental discontinuity, the same managers who talk knowingly of "alternate supply channels" and "the necessity of multiple vendors" for important products and services make their businesses totally dependent on Microsoft.

Maybe Linux is harder to install than Windows. So it goes. Maybe it doesn't have some of the "frill" applications that are available for Windows. Too bad. These are minor issues. The most important thing about Linux, from a fiduciary standpoint, is that because of the very lack of a central, dominating corporate presence that has made so many managers scared to stake their business's future on it, is a far, far, safer bet than an operating system owned, produced, and supported by an illegal monopolist that is now engaging in a white-collar version of blackmail as part of its attempt to wiggle out of well-deserved punishment for its abusive and illegal business practices.

The opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of its author, and may or may not be shared by OSDN's or VA Software's management.

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