Not a blog, but close.

Steel Blue Panic

Microsoft Wins and The World Shrugs

Most people with at least a vague grasp of the goings-on in the world of tech remeber years and years of hew and cry over Microsoft's malicious and evil business practices, with they and their occasional defenders saying that it's all a big misunderstanding and the conspiracy theorists claiming that it was only a matter of time before their friendly gift of a free IE turned into the tool with which they would subdjigate the world.

The funny thing is, the worst just came to pass, in the most blunt and offensive way possible, and nobody even seems to care any more--not even the people who used to be making the most noise.

For those who haven't been paying attention, it pretty much went like this: A while back, when Netscape ruled the browser market with a paid product, Microsoft tossed a free version of their Internet Explorer browser into Windows. It sucked, but it got better. Then, just to make sure, they worked really hard at making it hard to rip out of Windows, so most of the computer illiterate masses would just use it.

Netscape cried foul and sued over it, and eventually won, and Microsoft even got convicted of being a predatory monopoly in part because of the Netscape fiasco. But by the time anything happened, Netscape was already a dying breed on the web, and eventually the legal penalties in the US against Microsoft just sort of disappeared--essentially nothing happened. Well, they did end up paying AOL (now owner of Netscape) a half a billion dollars, but frankly that's pocket change for MS since there were no additional requirements to change their business practices.

But now we get to the insidious part. After all those years of giving away a browser, with the result of Microsoft becoming the dominant player in the browser market and making it damned hard for even free competition to get a foothold, let alone any paid products... they cancel Internet Explorer development. Not just on the Mac, but on their own OS, too.

Why? Simple--MSN. For a mere twenty-some-dollars a month, you can sign up for Microsoft's own ISP, which includes... Ta-dah! ...their new, feature-rich, well-maintained version of MSN Explorer. Which is just the next version of IE with a new name. But let's say you don't want to pay Microsoft for your entire experience... no problem, just buy the MSN software package for a mere $10 a month.

Think about that--giant, cash-rich company gives away a product until nobody uses anything else and all their competitors are dead. Then, they rename that product and start charging $10 a month for it. We're not even talking a flat fee, here--we're talking relentless, permanant, monthly payments. $40 for Netscape back in the day never looked so good.

And just in case there was any mystery about the strategy, they look to be doing the same thing with e-mail on Windows--give away Outlook Express, a capable (if severly virus-prone) e-mail client for years... then drop it and offer people the choice between Outlook (expensive) or a paid MSN verison of Outlook Express.

That, no matter how you look at it, is predatory and consumer hostile (seriously--monthly software licence for a web browser?) business of the bluntest order. And darn near nobody even seems to be calling them on it! Well, even if I'm screaming at the wind (or my monitor, as the case may be), I'm voicing my opinion to anyone who will listen, and I sure wish a lot more people would, too.

If the US legal system is an utter failure when it comes to stopping things like this, you'd think at least geeks would make some noise. I know I used to use the occasional half-decent MS product, but I'm sure not going to be using anything by a convicted and unapologetic criminal organization from now on.