Wednesday Grok: Microsoft’s browser lockout is to be pitied more than despised

And stag profits are not a right

Here’s an idea. Let’s tweak Windows so it only works properly with Internet Explorer (IE). Is Microsoft up to its old tricks again? Manipulating software markets? Monopolising outcomes? More importantly, does anyone care anymore? Its moment passed, long ago. And the dead rise not yet.

Here’s how I explained it to my seven-year-old. “Microsoft has an operating system which allows its software and other peoples software to work on this computer. Because Microsoft’s software is pretty much everywhere, Microsoft isn’t allowed to build its operating system in such a way that it would hurt other people’s products that need to run on the operating system because that would be, you know, bad. Maybe even illegal.”

Here’s how my seven-year-old understood that. “Wow, that’s bad.” * And here’s something else my seven-year-old understands which seems to have escaped the attention of many, many IT managers and just about everybody at Redmond over the years: “IE is a total pig of a browser, that’s why we use Safari.”

There was a time when Microsoft had 90 per cent of the browser market, just like it seemed to have 90 per cent of every other market — from desktops to network operating systems. Its word was law.

Nowadays, buying Microsoft feels more like charity than slavery. Frankly, there is only one reason anyone really uses Internet Explorer anymore: It comes bundled with the shrink wrap — bone idleness, in other words. Even many of Microsoft’s own ISVs share my seven-year-old’s assessment.

This is why this piece by reporter Mark Gibbs caught our eye. It looks like Microsoft is trying to play the very self-same game that got it into anti-trust trouble in the past. Ironically, it probably won’t be quite so problematic now because the mob no longer fears the bully and once you lose your Silverback status in this game its gone for good. Instead of fear, all you invite is derision.

The guts of the piece: With its new Windows releases, Microsoft has tweaked the code so that only its browser — Internet Explorer — will be able to take total advantage of features in the Windows environment. Features around security, for instance.

The article quoted a blog by Mozilla’s general legal counsel, Harvey Anderson. “It’s reported that Windows RT... will have two environments, a Windows Classic environment and a Metro environment for apps. However, Windows on ARM prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer from running in the privileged 'Windows Classic' environment. In practice, this means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability, and security to which users have grown accustomed. Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to conclude other browsers can't do the same.”

If it’s true — and the evidence seems reasonable — it tells us only this: Microsoft has learned nothing in the last 15 years.

Laugh. Schadenfreude.

One final note on the Facebook IPO: Speculators are mightily cheesed off that the $104 billion valuation didn't spike to something even higher and more unsustainable on opening, according to <i>Business Insider</i>. Under the headline, “Outraged Facebook Speculators Are Now Blaming Everyone But Themselves...” Business Insider noted the anger of the those who consider stag profits to be the natural order of things and who work on the principle that in a crisis, money returns to its natural owner.

The report quoted Michael Mullaney, chief investment officer at $9.5 billion Fiduciary Trust in Boston, saying that Morgan Stanley is taking most of the heat. It goes on to say, “The bank was lead underwriter among the 33 firms Facebook hired to manage the $16 billion sale of stock. The bank decided with Facebook executives to boost the size and price days before the May 17 IPO, ignoring advice from some co-managers, said people with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified because the process was private.”

Here is a simple truth. When it comes to investing, you, me and the dart board will get it right five times out of 10. The professionals only get it right six times out of 10. Facebook, at $104 billion was never really going to pop.

*Verbatim transcript of conversation.

Andrew Birmingham is the CEO of Silicon Gully Investments. Follow him on Twitter @ag_birmingham.