Metcalfe's column: From the Ether
- 06 July, 2000 12:01
Microsoft executives should read more of Willa Cather, who famously wrote, "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."
Perhaps most Microsoft executives are too young to remember where it got the old IBM monopoly to keep insisting that any kind of computing was fine as long as you used 80-column punched cards.
Today the Microsoft monopoly insists that any kind of computing is fine as long as you use Windows. Hence the launch of Microsoft.NET.
The old IBM monopoly, because of antitrust scrutiny, couldn't kill ASCII for teletypes, so they upgraded punched cards to EBCDIC. Then IBM, prevented from killing minicomputers, was forced to go interactive. Soon card images appeared on IBM's 2741 Selectric typewriters.
When we demanded glass teletypes, IBM gave us cards on the 3270. When we demanded PCs, IBM gave us cards on the 3270 PC. When we demanded that PCs not be terminals, IBM gave us cards on the 370 PC.
Were it not for antitrust, we would have celebrated the new millennium with confetti from high-density 320-column IBM punched cards.
Well, forget Cather. Microsoft has in mind to fiercely repeat IBM's sad decline, hoping we'll celebrate the next millennium with the shipment of Windows.NET 3000.
The longer we use Windows, the richer Microsoft gets, of course. And in case you haven't noticed, Microsoft has been steadily losing its ability to ship even Windows software on time.
So, as its software powers decline, Microsoft increasingly falls back on monopoly power to perpetuate Windows. Good thing we have antitrust watchdogs.
Guilty of monopoly abuse and bent on interminable litigation, Microsoft suddenly rolls out Microsoft.NET. Trouble is, it's only a plan, and despite the internet trappings, it's only a plan for perpetuating Windows. It reminds me of System Application Architecture, one of the old IBM dinosaur's death throes.
IBM was eventually enjoined from announcing nonexistent products for the sole purpose of pre-empting competition. So why Microsoft.NET this month?
Even Microsoft admits that most elements of .NET will not ship before 2001. Well, 2002, actually, or right after that, or in five years or after a "long march that could take a decade or longer".
How often have we heard that software innovation is so fast that governments can't hope to regulate it? Well, now we have a stack of .NET vapourware that even Microsoft does not expect to ship for years. And how reliable are Microsoft's promises lately?
Microsoft.NET, not to be confused with the ill-fated MS-NET of the 1980s, is, of course, positioned to embrace (and extend?) the internet. They say it will even be based on XML!
Playing up XML compatibility is cynical buzzword compliance. XML is a language for expressing various standards, and most of those, if they exist, are in major flux.
When asked about the interoperability of Microsoft.NET, Microsoft executives couldn't stay on message long enough to avoid admitting that Microsoft.NET would only extend its "richest" interactions to software running on Windows.NET.
Microsoft lists, presumably for the courts, plenty of .NET competition from AOL, IBM, Linux, Oracle, and Sun.
This is like when the old IBM told Justice it had plenty of competition from the BUNCH -- Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, and Honeywell.
Watching the launch of Microsoft.NET is like watching a dinosaur waddle in slow motion toward the tar pits, toward Microsoft.NOT.
Let's hope the courts keep Microsoft from using its market power to perpetuate 80-column Windows.
And because I can't bear it anymore, let's hope the courts save us from Microsoft's prolonging the fiercely repeated story of IBM's decline.
Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe first demanded the breakup of Microsoft in 1990. Read those historic columns in his new book, Internet Collapses and Other InfoWorld Punditry, which is in a surprise second printing from http://www.idgbooks.com.