My Turn

Why Microsoft Won't Own the Internet

James Kachel - 2001.08.15

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Do you want to hear a lovely bedtime story?

It involves Microsoft (the big bad monopoly), Internet server worms, and a New Internet Order. Are you comfy yet? Good.

I'm going to take a page out of the sensationalist journalism started by Robert X. Cringely. Mr. Cringely suggests that Microsoft could be intentionally making their products insecure because (a) their market share wouldn't go up if their products were made secure and (b) Microsoft wants to own the Internet. We already know that (b) is pretty much true - Microsoft tends to want to own anything it sets its beady little eyes on. And I wouldn't put it past them to try to accomplish (a). After all, there are good enough programmers working in the halls at Redmond to create a new protocol. (My bet is that it's not really all that hard to do.)

So let's say that Microsoft does get around to implementing TCP/MS, and they unleash it on the worm-filled, buggy Internet currently running TCP/IP. (Let's further suggest that all those worms only work on Microsoft server operating systems, like they largely do now.) "Come use our protocol," they'd say, "and you won't have to worry about Internet worms ever again!" There would be a quick switch to the new protocol, headed up mainly by the people who don't really know any better - clueless client users and PHBs (to use the technical term) who don't really know what they're talking about, technology-wise. Boom, you've got a rather large chunk of the Internet now running TCP/MS.

Of course, MS would have been pressuring router companies to release patches that'll make their routers route this new protocol so that everyone can use TCP/MS. Eventually, TCP/IP wouldn't be usable anymore. This is about the time you'd say "Microsoft owns the Internet." A New Internet Order (like I said above) free of server worms and with data tracking - all backed by Microsoft, just like they want.

But what happens to everyone who runs non-Microsoft operating systems? Some of them will get MS-sanctioned patches allowing them to run TCP/MS. (I'm talking about the Mac OS here.)

The rest, well, that's more interesting. Remember, there are a lot of Internet servers out there that aren't running Microsoft server products. A good number of those servers are running free operating systems - Linux, FreeBSD, Darwin, etc. Those operating systems will probably not be helped by Microsoft. But, then again, the Open Source community can often match or beat Microsoft products at their own game.

Should MS actually succeed at doing TCP/MS, how much do you want to bet there will be a free (as in beer and speech, most likely) implementation of it? I personally would be willing to bet the farm.

But some people (like those PHBs) will replace some or all of their stable non-MS servers with brand new Windows machines. No doubt some of them will be a lot more crash prone. They might learn to live with the new Windows server, but I'll bet a lot of them will just scream, "This is bull! I'm going back to Novell!" Or someone who knows what's what in the IT department will secretly install a Linux server to cope with the Windows one that doesn't work.

Microsoft won't own the Internet after all.

Would MS be able to pull off a switch to TCP/MS? Probably. Will they succeed? Not likely, mainly because of the Open Source community, which has a good long history of taking previously closed or semi-closed protocols and turning them into Open Source ones. If TCP/MS does end up being the dominant protocol on the client computers of the Internet, the Open Source movement will likely make a free version (shall we call it TCP/GNU or TCP/RMS?) available to everyone else.

It's a good thing Apple decided to participate in the Open Source movement, isn't it?

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