Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Fox and the Henhouse

Now comes news that Bill Gates is open to a role in Obama's administration, ostensibly as an economic advisor. Three words for Barack: Don't do it.

Before I go any further, I would like to acknowledge my respect for Mr. Gates' charity work. Nothing can change the inherent good he is doing with his fortune, but at the same time, there are several issues I have with how he got it.

First, the origins of the technology itself are shrouded in credible clouds of theft.

Second, Microsoft apparently continued (continues?) to steal from other companies, even after its success. There are literally dozens of settlements related to patent infringement, where Microsoft allegedly stole from fledgling startups, and later paid out reduced sums (in relation to initially buying what those companies had), complete with gag orders. Essentially, Microsoft stole these companies' ideas, and was able to use its incredible cash and muscle to buy them after the fact for less than market value.

Third, Microsoft deliberately worked to establish a monopoly, much the same way Wal Mart does, but in reverse. By not allowing, or at least inhibiting their OEM buyers from bundling other, competing software with their operating system, and by deliberately making it difficult for some competitors' software to function within Windows, they eliminated competitive innovation, at the expense of both their competitors and the consumer as a whole.

The Clinton administration went after them on this, but fortunately for Microsoft, the Bush administration quickly quashed that notion. It makes sense that Microsoft was also one of the companies invited to secret meetings with the Bush team to discuss ways US companies could profit from... oops, I mean assist... the Iraq occupation.

Fourth, Microsoft has been at the forefront of the corporate lobby to obtain more visas for high level employees. Despite their claims to the contrary, there is a surplus of available high tech workers in the US. The simple fact is that they wish to import cheaper labor. The days of partnering with their employees (remember those legendary stock options in lieu of competitive pay) are apparently over at Microsoft.

Last, Microsoft is a decaying empire, a victim in many ways of its own meteoric success. The idea (theirs or not), timing, and predatory tactics built an empire, but the long term ability to sustain with innovation, growth (and with it the allure of stock options) is largely in the past. 

Microsoft is now trailing-edge technology, held in place by not much more than ubiquity, and even that is crumbling. They have for the last years been struggling to implement a way to rent their software rather than sell it (a huge debacle for the public, who would be forced to accept every chronically late-yet-premature upgrade, unable to stick with older, more stable versions), in an era where saturation, competitive products, and resistance to new upgrade purchases (98, Millenium, Vista) is depleting revenue. Vista resistance, for good reason, is so legendary that Microsoft has had to resort to ads touting the fact that it's not as bad as word of mouth says. This is never a good thing. 

Sure, they are far from dead, but much like the Roman Empire, they are past their zenith, and it isn't coming back. The Vandals (Apple) and the Visigoths (linux), among others, are at the outer frontiers. The Zune is underwelming, and the XBox platform is trailing Wii, essentially in a battle with Sony's Playstion3 for second place (with Sony gaining ground after a disastrous dearth of quality games impeded its roleout). Windows Mobile still has little traction. Internet Explorer (despite being the intended beneficiary of much of MS's allegedly illegal monopolistic attempts) is no longer the de facto browser, with hordes of customers choosing Firefox and Safari, among others.  MSN lags terminally behind Google and Yahoo, and Microsoft was forced to give up on buying second-place Yahoo.

The fact is, Microsoft hasn't had any good ideas in years, relying instead on ways to coerce their customer base, and is starting to resemble the big 3 automakers in terms of slow evolution and adaption. You see where they have ended up. Just my opinion, but Bill Gates is not the guy Obama needs helping him fix the economy. Run your charity Bill. You're good at it, and that's where you can do the most to help.

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