GUI Bytes

Beta Test

politicians and judges trying to regulate the computer industry with little idea of what they do

A few years ago, when videotapes became available in the consumer market, two formats were introduced VHS and Beta. One of them was, at least according to test results, a better format than the other. The manufacturer, confident in a market preference for superior products, did not allow free use of its product. The other format, though inferior, was readily available. For those who don't remember the ensuing battle, cost won out over performance, and VHS became the de facto standard for home video.

Similarly, two early entrants in the computer wars took different approaches to marketing their systems. Apple got off to a quick start with computers that were widely accepted as better than the competition. Microsoft was merely one of several companies trying to make it in the non-Apple world. At that time, anyone could have seen that Apple would eventually become the dominant computer, easily knocking off IBM and the chaotic world of DOS. Apple made a huge investment in the future they practically gave computers to elementary schools. This was sure to guarantee their future position, as a whole generation of people would grow up knowing only the Apple computer.

Unfortunately for Apple, they also made the Beta mistake. Relying on a superior system, they kept prices high and closely guarded their operating system. Meanwhile, the fierce competition in the DOS world drove prices down and made the PC available to the average person.

So here we are, enjoying the results of the highly competitive computer market, while the Department of Justice tries to fix the marketplace by fiat. It looks to me like another example of Wolfe's Theorem No. 3 the higher you are on the corporate ladder, the less you can see in the trenches. The bosses can never understand why the peons want a fax, or a calculator, or a computer. Why? Because they don't use them, and they don't see why anyone else should. Yet they are the people who decide what to buy, often preventing improved productivity because of their ignorance.

It appears that the judges and politicians who are attacking Microsoft don't know how to turn on a computer, much less install a program, yet they intend to decide the best software for you. It's interesting that some of the most vocal critics happen to come from states where competing software is produced. Coincidence, I'm sure.

Microsoft is taking a lot of flack from DOJ and the likes of Skip Humphrey, now gloating over their ill-gotten windfall from the tobacco industry. According to them, trying to control a market is wrong. Any one of the companies that is complaining about Microsoft would gladly trade places and then try to put their competitors out of business. Refusing to let distributors sell competing products was not an original Microsoft idea. Try buying a Pepsi at a restaurant that sells Coke can't do it. Manufacturers prevent some of our own Industry members from selling products made by other manufacturers.

Although it seems to have been forgotten, many of the complaints about Windows are a direct result of Microsoft's commitment to support just about any program written, and any peripheral produced in the past fifteen years. Do you still have that old copy of WordStar 2000? Even though it hasn't been made for years, it will probably still run in Windows. Old games? Same thing. Given the talent of the Microsoft team, there is no doubt that they could write an operating system better than Apple's, deliver it with a flawless software suite, and make it run faster than you could dream of. But then they would be just another Apple a great system, but too expensive for you or me.

1998 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, 
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