Playing Monopoly

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Date: Tuesday, January 4th, 2005, 16:41
Category: Opinion

Both Microsoft and Apple Computer have managed to configure themselves as monopolies, one broad and horizontal and the other thin and vertical. In order to understand these decisions, it is important to look at the goals of the founders of each enterprise. For Bill Gates, it is all about winning the game. Microsoft has dominated personal computing by making the right moves at the right times. As far as Apple and Steve Jobs are concerned, it is the aesthetic of the computing experience that rules. One vision, supported by a cast of talented and dedicated individuals.


Both Microsoft and Apple Computer have managed to configure themselves as monopolies, one broad and horizontal and the other thin and vertical. In order to understand these decisions, it is important to look at the goals of the founders of each enterprise.
For Bill Gates, it is all about winning the game. Microsoft has dominated personal computing by making the right moves at the right times. Buying DOS for thousands and licensing it to IBM for millions was the key move that put Microsoft in the position to build a broad horizontal monopoly. Selling out IBM for the clones cinched it and then an overreaching interpretation of their agreement with Apple computer for Word on the Macintosh spawned Windows. Ruthless gamesmanship has dominated the corporate philosophy and as a monopoly, Microsoft has written its own rules and ignored those that don’t suit.
As far as Apple and Steve Jobs are concerned, it is the aesthetic of the computing experience that rules. One vision, supported by a cast of talented and dedicated individuals. A vertical monopoly helps keep the experience pure and in the case of digital music, that monopoly seems to extend both horizontally and vertically for now. The problem with Apple has been that they quite often do not know how to play the game. The company seems to cling to the naive concept that a great product will sell itself, The company keeps secretive about future products out of a combination of necessity and paranoia.
Bill Gates on the other hand has played the game so well, that Microsoft can use their customers as a means to an end. With the game won, Microsoft has lacked vision and stagnated. Defending a monopoly position is not nearly as exciting as building one. Broadening the PC monopoly to include gaming, handhelds and ultimately media is slow and complex compared to the heady days of unbridled growth in the Wild West of personal computing.
The biggest difference in philosophy now seems to center around proprietary standards vs. open source. Microsoft pushes the skewed notion that WMA provides customers with choice. Allowing Microsoft to own the format for the distribution of digital media may provide the same choice in hardware that Windows licensing currently provides in PC?s, but strictly limits any software choice to the whim of Microsoft. Apple on the other hand limits hardware choice for it?s digital downloads by refusing to license its DRM protection, even though the music format used is an open standard. Perhaps this will change. The important thing is that Apple has embraced open standards and the open source movement for much of its software.
Where quality, security and innovation take a back seat in the Microsoft model of world domination, the Open Source movement focuses broad reaching creative talent and allows for better responsiveness. Explorer is the perfect example. A poor quality product, initially purchased to put an end to Netscape and bend the Internet towards Windows computing, it was improved and added to while starving Netscape of all revenue. Not surprisingly, the improvements and development all but stopped once that goal was achieved leaving a bloated and stagnant browser as the de-facto standard. This moved Apple to develop its own browser, Safari, based on an open source core and Explorer now gives ground daily to the superior Firefox browser based on an entirely different open source core developed by the Mozilla project.
Apple ?gets it? more and more these days, while Microsoft plays the same old game with limited vision and aging bloated products that continue to get more expensive and intrusive.

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