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Microsoft’s temper tantrum

Microsoft is throwing a temper tantrum that if the states’ current proposal goes through, the company will be forced to withdraw Windows from the market.
Pay no attention, move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Remember, this is the company that didn’t sign an agreement with IBM for a Windows 95 OEM license until the day it was launched. At one point during the negotiations, Microsoft told IBM it could buy it at retail. As hard as it might be to remember now, at the time, IBM was still one of the top 5 players in the U.S. PC retail market.

This is a company that plays hardball. It says unreasonable things to get its way. And it’s used to getting its way. And even when it doesn’t get its way, it still says stupid things. Remember, in 1994 Steve Ballmer said a court’s decision against Microsoft in Stac’s favor would be reversed as soon as they found a judge with actual brains.

Reality check: Microsoft can very easily comply with the states’ demands. Or reach a compromise that will benefit everybody. Once upon a time, long long ago, when you installed Windows, you could tell it what you wanted. If you didn’t have any use for Calculator, you could click a little checkbox next to it, Windows wouldn’t install it, and you’d save about 200K of disk space. Hey, back when people were trying to run Windows on 40-meg hard drives, it was nice to have that ability. Or, if you already had a third-party calculator app that put Microsoft’s to shame and thus had no need for the one that came with Windows, you didn’t have to install it.

The same was true of DriveSpace and all the other bundled stuff. I mean, let’s get serious here: Is there any reason whatsoever to install Space Cadet Pinball on your domain controller?

But with Windows 95, Microsoft started to get unreasonable. Yes, you could uncheck that little box next to MSN, but when you did it, Windows didn’t actually seem to do anything. Regardless of whether you checked that box, when Windows was finished, you had an MSN icon on your desktop. If AOL continued to exist, Microsoft’s very existence was threatened. In order for Microsoft to survive, AOL had to die. So you got MSN whether you used it or not. (Some idiot with a journalism degree figured out how to remove it a couple of years later.)

With Windows 95B, things got more sinister. Netscape replaced AOL as the imminent threat to Microsoft’s very survival, so you got Internet Explorer whether you wanted it or not. This time, Microsoft didn’t even bother putting in a checkbox for Windows to ignore. You just got it. With Windows 95 OSR2.1 and 98, Internet Explorer became increasingly more entrenched.

Once it was evident that AOL would never die and Netscape would never rise again, RealPlayer and QuickTime became threats to Microsoft’s existence. So, with Windows 98, we got Microsoft Media Player, whether we wanted it or not. Never mind that the basic Real and QuickTime players are free and both companies would have loved for Microsoft to deliver them with Windows and it would have saved the company development costs.

Microsoft could go a long, long way towards appeasing the states if they’d just put in little checkboxes that let you decide whether Internet Explorer or MediaPlayer was installed, just like Calculator. There’s no need for 8,000 different versions of Windows, like Steve “The Embalmer” Ballmer wants people to believe. Let the consumer decide what pieces he or she wants. Does a deaf person need MediaPlayer? It’s questionable. Does a file server really need Internet Explorer? Absolutely not.

And while there are magazines and book authors who want you to believe otherwise, thousands of people have removed Internet Explorer from Windows. And guess what? The sun didn’t quit rising. The world failed to fall apart. The stock market didn’t crash. Their computers didn’t fall over. The applications they needed to run still ran. In fact, the applications ran better once they got the unnecessary machinery gone. Imagine that, a basic engineering principle applying to computers!

Microsoft execs have complained about a double standard, because Apple, IBM, and Be all shipped Web browsers with their OSs. Of course, there was a big difference. In the case of MacOS, BeOS, and OS/2, you could tell the OS not to install the browser, and it didn’t do it. The same for their other components. In the case of OS/2, you could even remove the entire Windows subsystem. You lost the ability to run Windows 3.1 programs, but you gained speed and stability. I knew people who did that. I’ve done minimalist Mac OS installations that took up less than 20 megs and were completely useless because they lacked the drivers needed to install other software. But if I want to be stupid enough to install a completely crippled OS that can’t do anything besides boot a computer and let me look at its empty hard drive, Apple’s not going to stop me.

The overwhelming majority of people will just leave things alone. But the people who like to get into the nuts and botls of things want (and deserve) the opportunity to change how their computers work. They want Microsoft to fight its battles in the marketplace, not in the memory and CPUs of their computers. I don’t blame them in the least. Of course, I’m spoiled. IBM and Commodore let me have it my way, back when I was buying my operating systems from them.

So, Microsoft has a history of threats, and a history of following through with them, even when the reasoning behind them is totally ludicrous. But in the case of IBM, they ultimately budged, albeit 45 minutes into the 11th hour, and they didn’t budge much. But you don’t just shut out the #3 or #4 PC maker in the country. At the time, Microsoft still needed IBM, and IBM needed Microsoft, as much as both companies hated to admit it.

This is no different. Microsoft can’t just pull Windows off the market. Windows is still its main source of revenue, and Windows runs on more than 90 percent of the computers on the market. Microsoft isn’t going to just give that away. Sure, they make some Mac products, but the Mac is 5 percent of the market on a good day. The cheapest and easiest replacement for Windows, in the unlikely event Microsoft pulled out, is Linux, where Microsoft is a non-player. Microsoft could still sell Windows software to the existing installed base. But it’s ludicrous. Pulling Windows off the market is corporate suicide.

I really don’t think Microsoft would have made IBM buy its copies of Windows 95 at retail. Not everyone remembers it now, but there was some resistance to Windows 95 initially, and a company the size of IBM not shipping Windows 95 on its new computers would have given way to much credence to the naysayers. Microsoft was counting on Windows 95 being big, and it wasn’t going to take any chances. It had spent way too much money on research, development, and hype. Microsoft made that threat to see just how far IBM would go. And that’s what Microsoft is doing now. It’s trying to see how much the states are going to budge.

And that’s all there is to Ballmer’s rhetoric. Nothing more. And nothing less.

04/25/2001

The St. Louis Cardinals want a new stadium. It seems like everyone else is building a new stadium, and Busch Stadium was one of five multipurpose stadiums built in the late 1960s (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cincinatti, St. Louis, and Atlanta) that looked almost exactly alike–and that wouldn’t have been so bad, I suppose, except they all looked like toilets. Well, after Anheuser-Busch sold the team to a group of investors, the new owners realized that humongous toilet-shaped stadiums with artificial turf are ugly, so they moved in the fences, ripped out the turf and put in grass, and since retro is in, they erected a hand-operated scoreboard in the upper deck (the seats they displaced were lousy anyway).

Now, Busch Stadium has always been a lousy place to watch a baseball game. The architecture harkens back to post-war East Germany. The stadium has no charms, aside from the retrofitted scoreboard. And unless you’re in the box seats, you need binoculars to see anything. There isn’t a good seat in the house. Once you’ve been to a game at Wrigley Field, or Royals Stadium (yeah, yeah, it’s officially Kaufmann Stadium now, but I’ll never change), you realize what watching a baseball game is supposed to be, and Busch Stadium ain’t it. It’s more fun to watch the Royals and Cubs lose in their home parks than it is to be there–it’s hard to call what you do at Busch “watching”–when the Cardinals win in theirs. Force large numbers of Kansas Citians to watch a few games at Busch Stadium at gunpoint, and they’ll realize how good they’ve got it with Royals Stadium, and then the Royals will start drawing two million fans again.

So the Cardinals want to tear it down. Great, I say. Blow it up. I’ll help. I’ll even donate a little money to the cause.

So, what’s wrong with the Cardinals’ plan to get rid of Busch? They want the State of Missouri to pay for it. And that’s wrong. Why should the citizens of Kansas City be helping to pay for St. Louis’ new stadium? Why should my mom, who’ll probably never go to another baseball game in her life and who almost certainly will never go to a Cardinal game, be ponying up towards that stadium? The argument is that it’ll bring in jobs and revenue.

Fine. So if Boeing decides it wants to move its corporate headquarters here to St. Louis, where it already has some presence anyway, the State of Missouri should pay for it. After all, that’ll bring in even more jobs (and white-collar jobs at that!), and the revenue it brings in will last all year.

There is no difference between those two things. They’re private enterprises that should get their own funding. Period. And besides, the Cardinals aren’t a good investment. If the players strike or are locked out at the end of the season, which is likely, nobody knows what will happen. At best, baseball will be damaged goods. At worst, diehards like me will be following Japanese baseball next season because there won’t be any pro baseball left in the States. If the State of Missouri wants to give the Cardinals a loan, fine, but a handout, no.

And that’s not even figuring in the other parts of the argument. The proposed new stadium is smaller and has less seating capacity than Busch. The Cardinals draw three million fans a year. They fill that wretched place. Cardinal fans would watch baseball on a playground in a slum if that was where the Cards were playing. So, somehow, building a smaller but much prettier stadium is going to help team revenue? Only if they raise ticket prices through the roof. And ticket prices are already awfully high. That move could very easily backfire. Football and hockey are already so expensive that you can’t go to a game without sitting in the middle of a bunch of yuppies complaining that they only made $100,000 on the stock market last year. So the solution is to make baseball, with its 81 home games, the same way? While it might work for a little while, it’s not sustainable. The Cardinals have a rabid following in central Illinois and throughout Missouri, but neither of those places is exactly yuppie town. Make baseball a game for the elite, and the The Rest of Us, who the team’s revenue is built on, will go to fewer games and spend less money as a result.

There’s always the veiled threat that the Cardinals will move, to the Missouri suburbs or the Illinois suburbs, or, ridiculously, out of St. Louis entirely. That last prospect won’t happen. The Cardinals won’t draw three million fans anywhere else. Two million, tops. The move to the Missouri suburbs isn’t likely–Missouri doesn’t want to pay for the stadium whether it’s in St. Louis or in Creve Couer. Illinois is a possibility, but not a risk the Cardinals ownership should be interested in taking. The Illinois suburbs are known for two things: crime and strip clubs. Do they really want their brand-new stadium to be next door to the Diamond Cabaret?

Yes, Cardinal fans will go watch baseball next door to the Diamond Cabaret. They’d watch baseball in the middle of East St. Louis if they had to. Or they’ll keep right on packing it in at Busch, lousy though it may be. It’s lousy, but it’s a good match for the team because it seats buttloads of people, and they consistently fill it, and the stadium may be an eyesore, but it’s nowhere near as old as Fenway Park or Wrigley Field and no one’s complaining about their structural integrity. Busch Stadium will be around for a while. And a lot of fans even like it.

Cardinal management doesn’t know how good they’ve got it, and Missouri needs to continue to call their bluff.

Enough of that. Let’s talk about us. That got your attention I’m sure. Performance this morning was, to put it mildly, pants. Then the system went down like a… never mind. I’m getting really tired of it. I’m paying nothing for this, and lately I’m getting what I pay for. I want to control my own destiny, and I’ve got this nice broadband Internet connection, and some spare parts (and what I lack is cheap) and I want some real sysadmin experience. So, I’m thinking really seriously about moving. I wanted to hit the Userland Top 100 before I moved on, and enough time may pass between now and the time that I get set up for that to happen I may meet that goal yet.

At the moment I’m leaning toward Greymatter, as it’ll give me everything I have here, just about, plus better discussion facilities. Suggestions welcome.

01/15/2001

Mailbag:

Misc things; The trade; Depression

Why am I still messing with 486s and low-end Pentiums? I found a reference to this on the Ars Technica message board. Let’s see. I’ve got a genuine IBM PC/AT case sitting under my futon doing nothing other than looking old. I’ve got a Media Vision Pro Audio Spectrum sound card with a SCSI port on it. I’ve got a couple of old SCSI CD-ROM drives. I’ve got an AGP video card I can put in it. I’ve got a network card I can put in it, of course. And I’ve got hard drives. Plus I’ve got systems with DIMMs in them that I put there because I’d rather put too much memory in a system than have it just sit in a drawer. So basically I can have a modern system for a song. A Backstreet Boys song.

I’ve got mail. Hopefully I’ll take care of it this evening.

The American Dream again. Friday’s R.I.P.: The American Dream got a far greater response than anything I’ve written since college other than Optimizing Windows itself, which had more than a year’s head start. I had some people write in saying I was right. Frank McPherson’s response echoed another common sentiment: the original dream may be dead, the problem is that this generation needs to find another. That’s certainly a valid point.

One letter asked if I really thought we need a depression. Now, mind you, I don’t want one, and I’m certainly not advocating sabotage of our economy. I think we’ll get our own depression anyway–the Great Depression came about because of heightened expectations that grew unrealistic. Had it not been for regulatory brakes on the system, I think we’d already have had one, because there’s a widespread Las Vegas mentality in investing these days. People aren’t content to double their money in seven years anymore. They want to do it in seven months. And while people can do that, it’s like Las Vegas: the odds are against you. So they take irresponsible risks. People who understand the math much better than I do tell me that if you save 10 percent of your income and just dump it in an index fund–a mutual fund that follows the stock market–and do that from the day of your first paycheck to the day of your last, you’ll retire a multimillionaire. No genius involved. And now that we have Roth IRAs, we can pay our taxes up front and reap the benefits tax-free.

I’m testing that theory. I forget what retirement age is supposed to be for my generation. Is it 70? Like those details matter. Come talk to me when I’m 70 and I’ll tell you how it worked out for me.

Let’s get back to that idea of finding another dream. Frank McPherson pointed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. That’s productive use of our discontent. I like that. It’s something we should be doing anyway, but often we have to have a certain degree of angst before we’ll consider doing the things we ought to do.

But will it give us fulfillment? Some. Is it better and more noble than materialism? You bet. Should we? You bet. But will it solve the problem?

No.

I’ve thought about it a lot myself. And yesterday one of the people I respect the most made an observation. God is popular. God’s making a comeback. He’s a star. There’s a wave of spirituality crashing through Hollywood and there’s even another one in Washington. The stars are finding God. Filmmakers are making movies about Him, or at least letting Him make cameos. Slimy politicians are talking about God. Heck, even some not-as-slimy politicians are. C.S. Lewis once observed that there are longings in our being that no travel, no education, no spouse can ever fulfill. He said it made sense that the existance of those longings suggests the existance of something that can and will one day fulfill them: God. So we’ve got some people turning in that direction now. This is good.

Or is it?

The God of pop culture isn’t it. The God of pop culture is God on your own terms. It’s a very American God. In America, cars from the factory aren’t good enough. We get special options. Sometimes that’s not good enough either, so we put the car in the garage and we hot-rod it. In America, we build our entertainment systems from discrete components, getting speakers tailored for our environment and other components to best take advantage of it all. Hey, even a lot of the mystique behind the computer is gone, and people are undertaking projects they never would have dreamed of. They visit hardware sites and talk in forums and stumble across sites like this one, looking for advice on the best motherboard, the best hard drive, the best video card, then they go build the computer of their dreams–or the closest thing their budget permits. In America, we get cars, entertainment, and computers–as well as other things–on our own terms.

No wonder there’s so much appeal to Universalism. Eastern religions are nice, because you can take what you like, leave what you don’t, and they aren’t exclusive. If I remember my world religions class correctly, the Buddha was a Hindu, and remained one until the day he died. And Christianity isn’t incompatible with them, at least on the surface. Self-help pioneer Jess Lair once said someone told him his book I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got had a lot of Zen Buddhism in it. Dr. Lair was a devout Catholic. How did Zen Buddhism end up in a book written by a Catholic who admitted in his own words that he never thought much about Zen Buddhism? There’s a lot of Zen Buddhism in the Bible, that’s how. Or is it there’s a lot of the Bible in Zen Buddhism?

If linguists can point world languages and say they can trace all of them back to a single language, it only makes sense that at one time there was a single world religion, from which all of them can be traced.

But I don’t subscribe to the idea of Universalism, which says all of them are correct. And even if I’m wrong, why does it matter?

After all, what do the other religions promise? They promise me that if I do certain things, if I lead my life in a certain way, I might find my way to some kind of heaven. The paths are slightly different, and the destination often is slightly different, but you can pretty much boil down the major world religions to that. What they don’t promise is assurance. There are a lot of mights in it. And none of them promise anything bad will happen to me if I don’t believe them, especially if I lead a good life anyway. I may cease to exist, just as anyone else who doesn’t quite do a good enough job would. Or maybe I won’t get reincarnated in the most desirable way. But if that happens, I get another chance.

Then there’s the great teacher Jesus–just about everyone regards Him as a great teacher–who taught something kinda sorta similar. He taught how to lead your life. But Jesus said something else. He said he was the fulfilment of Judaism, that He was the way to heaven. Period. There was no other way. Him or damnation.

I find it interesting that non-Christians regard Jesus as a great teacher today. If you believe one of the other messiahs, what Jesus said is pure heresy. You might find it interesting that members of Jesus’ own family thought he was a madman. His own family! He was either what He said He was, or a madman. The others may not be incompatible with Him, but He is certainly incompatible with them.

But there’s more to Jesus’ message than just that. The alternatives are works-based. Jesus said just one thing: believe. Everything else is a byproduct of taking Jesus for what He said He was and is. Don’t sweat the other stuff. It just happens, and it’s better that way than if we’d done it on our own. And Jesus said one other thing. He promised assurance. With Him, you know exactly where you’re going.

Christianity really is very simple. You can boil it down to a really simple question. Well, two, I guess. God asks, “Why should I have anything to do with you?” Then after you die, God asks, “Why should I let you in here?” The answer to both questions is the same thing. I can put it articulately, but really a one-word answer will suffice. And it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

So if I’m gonna hedge my bets, that’s where I’m gonna hedge them. I was afraid at first what I’d have to give up, but the truth was I didn’t have to give up anything. Given a little time, I just wanted to give those things up.

I realized just after college that I wouldn’t be able to buy happiness, and that the capitalism I spent four years writing about wouldn’t accomplish much. I went looking for something else. I went looking for what every unmarried 22-year-old male looks for. I thought I’d found the key to happiness when I found her. Along the way I picked Christianity back up too. When I hadn’t proven sufficiently the sincerity of my faith, she took a hike. I was crushed, but I still had something. If you subscribe to the belief that it takes 9 positives to counteract a negative, my ratio’s a bit lower than that. The difference is I always have the ace in my hand. So the ratio of disappointments to triumphs really is irrelevant, because I’ve got the triumph that trumps all disappointments.

So I guess what I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is I agree with Frank. Tell materialism to take a hike, go make the world a better place.

Just don’t try to do it on your own, and don’t rely solely on human help.

Mailbag:

Misc things; The trade; Depression