Microsoft’s Heavy Hand

1998 – Windows users not only put up with outrageously totalitarian behavior by Microsoft (as the DOJ hearings are making more obvious every day), but also actually love Microsoft for it.

Windows 98 startup

Let me say it up front: I’m not a Windows user. I don’t purport to be an expert in the intricacies of Intel hardware or Microsoft software.

But some of what Microsoft does is so broad in its sweep, so open, blatant, and billboard-obvious, that you don’t even have to know what a computer is to see what’s going on. And, I believe, anyone not wearing Windows blinders can see how totally wrong it is.

We already discussed one recent example: the purported plug-and-play nature of Windows 98 on news PCs. As we discovered at work, the entry-level Compaq Presario 2266 won’t display more than 16 colors on a legacy VGA monitor. After trying three different monitor brands, I resigned myself to the fact that Compaq and/or Microsoft don’t want users to use their old monitors on new systems. That’s akin to Apple designing a Macintosh that can’t network!

But it’s Microsoft’s corporate behavior that drives me nuts. Imagine the outcry if Apple somehow could force all PC makers to license its operating system, leaving only Apple-branded software available to buy. Yet that’s exactly what Microsoft has done. First, it prevented alternate operating systems (CP/M-86, MP/M-86, UCSD p-System, DR-DOS) from gaining market share – DR-DOS by specifically coding fraudulent error messages into Windows. Then, when a few other graphical user interfaces were finally up and running (GEM, GEOS, OS/2), Microsoft buried them with promises of future Windows versions that would have their speed, stability, or other features. You want a Windows system? You have to buy the OS from Microsoft.

No choice, no freedom, no options.

On top of that, Microsoft has leveraged its position in the application market through access to the inner workings of Windows that are oftentimes hidden to other developers. So it’s no surprise Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office dominate the Windows world.

And now, Microsoft appears to have planted another anticompetitive land mine in Windows 98, which mostly plays catch-up to Mac OS 8.1, adding features that have been in the Mac OS for years. (Multiple monitors? Macs have supported them since 1987!)

Microsoft says it supports Windows 98 on several brands of PC systems – if they have enough memory, a fast enough CPU, enough free hard drive space, and a CD-ROM for installation. And then you have to run Windows 98 approved software, not the programs you ran on your Windows 3.1 computer. This is bad enough – sort of like saying if you buy a Buick, you can only use Buick-approved gasoline, Buick-approved tires, Buick-approved wiper blades, etc.

But it’s worse than even that. It’s not enough to have an authentic Microsoft-branded operating system. Early user reports suggest even the hardware components have to be Microsoft-approved. And God help you if you upgraded your system with, say, a non-plug-and-play printer or scanner: The new OS may refuse to install it, forcing you to manually configure switches on the device and fiddle with Windows preferences. (Haven’t they learned how plug-and-play should be done from Apple? Sigh.)

It sure looks fishy. Printers are pretty generic, as are hard drives, monitors, and even ethernet. They’re commodities. There’s no mystery to them, no new standards and practices to be worked out. I mean, if we were talking Macintosh, there would be no issues: plug it in, maybe install a driver, and use it. But this is the arcane world of Windows.

Putting the best possible face on this problem, it looks like colossal incompetence to fail to provide driver installation routines only for select new hardware. A less charitable view, circumstantially backed by Microsoft’s attitude, suggests something far more evil: a way to force users to buy and use only products blessed by the high priests of Redmond.

Either way, users lose. Microsoft once again eliminates choice and makes you do things its way or not at all.

I’m disappointed that Microsoft has a monstrous market share. It’s a horrible, expensive, choiceless computing world with Microsoft in charge. Apple has its failings and ugly practices, but in its wildest dreams, it’s never been anywhere nearly as totalitarian as Microsoft.

Microsoft asks, “What do you want to do today?” But what it means is, “What do you want us do to you today?”

Leave me alone.

This article is a counterpoint to and parody of Fred Langa’s Apple’s Heavy Hand Strikes Again.

Keywords: #microsoft #windows98

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