Re: with all due respect

Dr. Ernest N. Prabhakar (
Sun, 7 Dec 97 19:38:25 -0800

I am already regretting this, but in for a dime, in for a dollar...

To clarify the context, the question was "Why does everyone in the
computer industry seem to think of Microsoft as an evil bastard?"

You wrote:
> Oh, and by the way, what is Apple's grand technological vision? Mice and
> bit-mapped displays? No, wait, you're actually going to be offering an
> operating system with a time-sliced scheduler soon. I keep forgetting
> how much of a technological lead Apple has over Microsoft...

Allow me to distinguish between "technological vision" vs. "a technology
blueprint." I will be the first to concede that Microsoft has a far
more detailed blueprint of what its technology will be than Apple had
(hey, I've only been here a few months, I can't fix -everything-

What Apple does have is a vision of making advanced computer technology
accessible to the masses. What is more, I would claim Apple is -about-
making technology accessible. People here really are obssessed with
coming up with clever ideas on how to make users lives easier. You may
claim those are the wrong ideas, or that they'll never execute properly,
but at least their heart is in the right place.

I am arguing about Microsoft's heart, not its head, since that is what
people's emotional response is based on.

> Microsoft has a fairly detailed
> technological vision (although Tim might argue that Microsoft's vision
> was obtained by reading FoRK :-). The basic theme has been to get
> information online, easier to access, easier to use. Information At Your
> Fingertips was an earlier statement of that vision; DNA is an updated
> version. Read, e.g.,
> < if
> you actually care.

I'll admit I didn't read that, but I'll concede the point that Microsoft
paints a nice picture of a technological future. I just don't believe
Bill is sincere about that vision. My contention is that Microsoft's
only -real- commitment is to market dominance. Microsoft doesn't care
at all about actually delivering technology, or creating a vision, EXCEPT
as it helps them achieve dominance.

Pick your favorite technology:
- GUIs
- Plug-and-Play
- Distributed objects
- OO Development
- The Internet

In every one of these cases, as best I can recall, Microsoft followed
the same pattern:

1. Dismiss it as irrelevant when it first came out, since it wasn't
part of their product.

2. When the market shows interest in the technology, promise "We will
have it in our next release, and it will be better than the competition."

3. If the competition folds under the assault, quietly shelve the
technology and ignore it.

4. If the competition survives long enough to force you to ship a
product, trumpet the product as part of your grand vision.

Would anyone dispute that pattern? I'm not saying this is necessarily
wrong. One could argue that this is savvy marketing, or a strategic use
of resources. Maybe it is. But it is not what I call a real vision.
A real vision is what you are committed to doing regardless of what
everyone else does, because you believe in it.

My favorite poster boy for this is Cario. In 1995, during the object
wars with Taligent and NeXTSTEP, Cairo was Microsoft's end-all be-all.
When NeXT's market imploded, and NeXT was no longer a competitive threat,
Microsoft quietly dropped Cairo. Why? Because it was proven that O-O
development didn't work, or that developer's didn't want it? No (can
anyone say 'Java'?). Because it was no longer a competitive necessity,
and that's all Microsoft cares about.

History is repeating itself. Days after the Apple-NeXT announcement,
Microsoft was already claiming NT 5.0 would do everything Rhapsody does.
Hello? *I* don't even know what all Rhapsody will do (those darn
engineers get creative sometimes:), and you're already claiming you will
top that? And I'm supposed to believe that this is in response to some
grand technological vision of Microsoft, because they are seriously
committed to solving the same problems, rather than slavish copycat

> I can't believe you are arguing that Mellon et. al. had more
> "technological vision" than Microsoft.

In the sense that they were seriously committed to the benefits of
technology, yes. Perhaps this is historical romanticism, but I think
those industrialists really did care about building a transcontinental
railroad network - if only for their patriarchical capitalistic ends.

If Bill Gates were a robber baron, I feel like he'd wow the government
with elaborate promises, win all the contracts, have Andy build all the
rail lines - then sell people push carts to run on them.

This was perhaps a bit snippier than I intended, but you drove me to it.
I am not (here) claiming that what Microsoft does is wrong, or worthy
of government intervention. That is a completely separate issue.

I *am* claiming that despite some useful products, Microsoft as a whole
is only committed to innovation as a competitive weapon of last resort.
They do not subscribe to the Geek vision of innovation as an end in
iself, or the Humanist vision of innovation in service to customers.
They only innovate when they have to, and are happy to substitute the
appearance of innovation for the reality when it serves their purpose.

And even if they are admired by the lawyers and the capitalists,
Microsoft is only worthy of being despised by good geeks everywhere.

With all due respect,

Ernie Prabhakar
Speaking only for myself