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Letters to the editor: What if Microsoft made coffee?

Amy Kucharik

Letters to the Editor


On Monday, I expressed my opinion on how Microsoft's Magneto

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project and other efforts to maintain their monopoly, comparing them to the pod-style coffeemakers which require their users to buy specially designed coffee pods. I then asked our readers what they thought. Here are some of the comments I received:

  Is it any surprise?


A couple of years ago an internal message (purportedly from one of the presidents at Microsoft) stated that one of the goals of Microsoft was to change each of the internationally accepted standards to make anything not from Microsoft to be incompatible. This was at the time that the .net "standard" came out. Unfortunately the "standard" was only for Microsoft. Since then has any progress been made by Microsoft to create .net software compatible with anything else? Does SQLServer work on anything but Microsoft? Have they ported DirectX to any other system?

And Microsoft's statement about Blackberry surprises you?

- lriger

  The nature of the beast


That's unfortunately the innate nature of the animal Microsoft. They will twist and turn, erect obstacles, etc., until progressively the process proves futile, then they will try harder with the same old practices, believing that they didn't try hard enough to date. Maybe then the beast will be beyond evolving to cope with the prevailing climate, becoming just another rump in the software industry. Microsoft is and always will be Microsoft under its present leadership and mindset. Desertion is the only way out from under. Here's a relevant article.

- Sid Boyce

  Open source allows a proprietary value for higher level problems


Perfect! I was explaining Open source to my kids this weekend using the brick/building analogy and got back some pretty blank stares. Sparky is the answer. Frequently I hear the analogy that open source is really about collaborating on commodity features in order to allow people to focus proprietary value on higher level problems. The analogy: If architects competed on designing and manufacturing bricks this would not add much value to the quality of their buildings. Bricks, like many Open source OS components are commodities so cooperation and standards at that level enables all architects to add value where they need to and the customer reaps the benefit of lower cost.

- Carl Johnson

  Make mine Sparky, no cream, no sugar


Your analogy breaks down when you assume every computer user, like coffeepot users, knows all he needs to know to configure and use the software to his exact specifications -- and make it work with all the other applications he already uses (software integration, I think, is the term). Most of us dumb clucks out here are like the Sparky pod-users who don't know an Activex script from a metafile. We use the applications that get us the results and complain about the misfits and troubles we have getting the Epson printer to work with the Gateway computer after struggling two hours with the lousy instruction pamphlets that imply our intelligence level is so low we can't even follow their "easy" instructions to make that 6-1/2 envelope come out right with the right addresses in the right places. (Oops! they forgot, we don't speak their dialect of geek and they left out some steps they thought were intuitive.)

We don't have the time or inclination to spend years learning C programming, or Visual Basic or whatever to "roll our own," nor are we primarily interested in that -- just in selling and delivering our products or services as efficiently and promptly and pleasantly as we can to be able to feed and clothe and house our families. So the tradeoff is using the locked-in monopolistic proprietary software package and getting the job done as quickly as possible, rather than worrying about the expertise necessary to make it fit exactly on the page just the way we want it or to fit our personal preferences exactly.

The hours we spend on that don't get us the job done and our paycheck in the bank and our time with that family we're trying to support. Really, if the software vendors wanted to endear themselves to us, they would rewrite their documentation in plain English instead of Geek and be sure not to skip over some essential details that they found trivial, like what the frammis is supposed to do with the squallis, and the proper definition of those terms so we could recognize them in the first place! Then they in turn could really be worth the exorbitant license fees they charge and we wouldn't mind so much paying them for the use of their marvelous tools.

As for the lock-out of competing vendors, that's supposed to be the Justice Department's jurisdiction under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and succeeding legislation, not the software consumers'. So if the Sparky manufacturer also has the coffee suppliers and the processors and packagers lined up in collusion with him so that nobody else can compete with him with a better product for less without infringing on his patents, copyrights, trademarks, and franchise rights, everyone must pay through the nose for his coffee making services or do without. And a lot of other would-be competitors must find something else to do for a living.

And there likely won't be any improvements forthcoming from the coffee-making world unless Sparky Mfg. finds it advantageous for them to innovate. If someone starts trouble in the tea industry, like competing for the favors of coffee drinkers, Sparky Mfg. will probably find all kinds of evidence why tea-drinking is harmful for your health, harmful for the economy, and harmful for the environment (runoff from their fertilizers polluting the groundwater and our streams, lakes and oceans, tea water harmful to the sewer system, etc.) and anyway, it also exacerbates the imbalance of trade with our largest trading partner, China, so you'd better return to drinking Sparky coffee!

And so it's easy to see that all us consumers are a dumb lot of sheep easily led astray at the whims of entrepreneurial folks like Bill Gates and Ballmer and company, and not masters of our destinies like we were taught in the university, after all. Too many of us are so inculcated with the herd mentality that bucking the trend and swimming upstream against the current of peer pressure or employer pressure just isn't worth it. We'd just as soon keep popping the Sparky pouch into the pod and drinking our individual cup of standard rot-gut as spend the extra time and effort roasting and grinding and measuring and brewing to our own individual specifications and preferences. All except a relatively few creative rebels among us, of course!

- Ken W.


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