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Bitter at Microsoft--and this is why

In response to the Perspectives column written by Charles Cooper, "Taking Microsoft's Rorschach test":

In the early days, Microsoft was much loved by many of us in the developer community. Here was one of our own, doing good things and making a heap of money at it. Talk about a positive role model.

Then something changed, maybe when Steve Ballmer joined.

That's when Microsoft revolutionized the software business the first time. They realized that first-to-market advantage is more important than a good product. So their products promised capabilities--but either didn't deliver or did it with horrible solutions. This changed the rules of commercial software development.

Before then, competition was a fairly level field, where those with the most clever and best implemented solution had a good chance of huge success. Almost overnight, the winners became those who could cobble something together that was just good enough to avoid a user revolt, combined with lots of marketing budget. A lot of developers who stood a good chance of making it big missed this change and lost everything--a lasting source of bitterness.

After Microsoft learned that marketing trumps quality, life still wasn't bad for those who chose to stick to developing systems tools. The smaller players could still make a decent living--even find riches--by providing tools that fixed problems and products that filled niches (Peter Norton, for example).

Then everything changed again.

Microsoft started acquiring them, rolling their functionality into the base package for free (they also used the prospect of acquisition to convince companies to expose their secrets, then left them at the altar while implementing the solution internally).

This made it impossible to compete, if you had a better tool but weren't chosen for assimilation. It also effectively closed any opportunity to dissect what was going on in Windows and to make a living by improving it.

Hence another source of bitterness: Systems developers soon had to get a job at Microsoft or another large company in order to find work. Or you could start writing your own operating system and force it to remain free.

Many developers can legitimately claim that they are the indirect victims of Microsoft's anticompetitive practices. The General Public License and similar licenses are the collective response; it basically comes down to: "Deny our ability to pursue our trade, and we will rise up to take you out."

This is a war of ideology. Many remain truly indignant that you can attain a dominant market position by selling badly implemented marketing-oriented software--the quality of Microsoft's products today has little to do with it. This resentment will likely persist until the day Linux becomes the dominant operating systems on desktops.

Alan Langford
Toronto