Friday, October 20, 2006

Regulation Overload - Part One

I don't like to say "I told you so," but....

Actually, very few people in the world like saying "I told you so" better than I do, but in this case it's kind of bittersweet. Yeah, "I told you so" in the sense that Microsoft Vista shows every sign of being even crappier (on the security and memory leak fronts) than its predecessors. But it's bitersweet in the sense that Microsoft has yet to even release its new product (already over two years late!!!) and the vultures are already circling.

As much as I hate Microsoft, the anti-trust suits filed against them simply defy rational explanation. The first of these - the infamous "browser wars lawsuit" - was ridiculous to such a degree that it's hard to see how even lawsuit-happy US lawyers didn't shy away in shame. Essentially, Microsoft was accused of "cheating" by packaging Internet Explorer (a browser no sane person would use) with Microsoft Windoze (an operating system no sane person would use - except to play video games). Now, technically this was true: Microsoft had already settled out of court in 1991 in a similar lawsuit agreeing to be a "good steward" of its monopoly over the PC operating system world by not packaging products with Windoze, though it was allowed to include "features." But what the hell kind of bullshit lawsuit forced them to agree to such a settlement in the first place? See, Microsoft's "crime" was in managing to obtain a "functional monopoly" over the PC operating system market. Never mind that Sun and Apple have actual monopolies over the Macintosh and SunStation operating systems markets - Microsoft was "breaking the law" by cornering the PC market.

"Now wait just a goram minute!" people will say. "SunStation and Macintosh aren't general market computers - they're a special kind of computer, so it's different when their manufacturers also release an operating system to go with. After all, that's how PC manufacturing worked in the 70s when they first appeared ont he home market. The vendor was responsible for giving you an operating system so you could talk to the machine you just bought. Mac and Sun still do this. What's the big?"

But this just illustrates the sordid point. Microsoft is, in essence, being punished for bothering to develop a popular cross-platform operating-system. That is, way back in the dark ages you were indeed pretty much limited to whatever OS your manufacturer gave you. Then Microsoft comes along and provides a (gasp!) general operating system that works on not just one line of (IBM - the original users of DOS) PC, but on many lines of PC. In fact, the term "PC" itself was arguably invented to lump all the comptuers that Microsoft products would run on together. So "PC" is not a designation like "Mac" or "SunStation," which just so happen to still be functioning on the 1970s model. "PC" is rather a designation for "everything not Mac or Sun." It is a truly perverse bit of legal reaoning that says that Microsoft is guilty of establishing any kind of "monopoly" for cornering a market that it more or less created!!!

Well, then it gets worse. Having established a market in cross-platform operating systems, Microsoft then proceeds to package its web browser in with said operating system. Never mind that Apple also does this, Microsoft alone is somehow guilty of "forcing" people to use IE.

This line of "reasoning" simply makes no sense. Yes, Microsoft includes its browser in with Windoze. Yes, it probably also makes the APIs friendlier to IE than other browsers. But so what? They developed the operating system after all. I would think that if anything qualifies as a "trade secret," surely APIs do? Why should Microsoft be required to tell everyone in the world (free and otherwise) how to interface with its operating system? I should think that if someone develops an operating system they are free to decide for themselves which software companies get easy access to its interfaces and which do not.

Well, now they're at it again. This time it's the security companies that are complaining, saying that the new Windoze Vista has a security feature that - ready? - is sooooo good that they can't work around it to disable the dashboad and install their own security systems in its place! (!!!)

Pardon my Französisch, but BOO FUCKING HOO.

Translated into English, this case is more or less "Microsoft might have actually designed a secure system that really doesn't need our products anymore! No fair! Mooooommmmmmyyyy!!!"

I can't imagine a sane legal system that would require Microsoft to need security patches just so McAfee and Symantec can stay in business. Surely (SURELY!) if Microsoft thinks it can solve all of the security problems in its own product it should be allowed to do so? I mean, the general crapiness of Microsoft Operating System releases is the only reason companies like McAfee exist in the first place. Anyone associated with those companies should rather cash in their stock options now and thank Microsoft for their easy retirement packages!

But what if Microsoft hasn't actually solved all of its security problems and is making life difficult for McAfee and Symantec for no reason? Well, then I should think the public will need to start waking up and stop buying Microsoft products. I frankly don't know why anyone buys them now. It's like the Twilight Zone, really. I think of all the time my dad spends on the phone talking to "experts" at Dell trying to keep his computer running whenever it picks up a virus. Meanwhile, there are no known viruses for Macintosh, and what few exist for Linux aren't very effective. It's surreal. Operating systems that actually work AND ARE CHEAPER AND MORE EFFICIENT have no market share while Microsoft's garbage continues to sell? Forgive me, but the public deserves its fate if it's going to continue to be hardheaded about this.

Like in so many other things, the best solution to the imaginary "problem" of Microsoft not just giving away its proprietary OS code to any company that claims to be a security firm is...not to provide a solution. There is no problem here. Let the market sort it out. The only winning move is not to play. Let Microsoft release its crappy new operating system, let lots of dumb corporations waste a lot of money on it, let McAfee and Symantec atrophy a bit, and let social evolution take its course. The smart players will survive - because they will have gone off Microsoft products 6 years ago already.

Look, Microsoft's new security software will either work or it won't. If it doesn't work, there's plenty of money out there in the market waiting to go to people who can provide alternatives. The economic fallout from crippling security failures in Vista will be far worse than any fine a court could levy on them. And if it does work, well, it will have meant that we didn't need McAfee and Symantec in the first place. And that will only make Windoze cheaper. It cannot be a bad thing for the OS market share king to get cheaper! That's lots of money that corporations save and can spend on other, more worthy things than keeping redundant corps like Symantec afloat.

Economic efficiency is never a bad idea. Symantec and McAfee may or may not still be useful - but surely this is a question for the market to decide and not the court system? One of two things can happen, really. Either Vista majorly sucks and Microsoft has to call in McAfee and Symantec to save its sorry ass - in which case these two companies will suddenly become stellar investments as they will be able to do much more than just recoup their losses. Or else Vista works and is more secure than XP - in which case McAfee and Symantec shouldn't exist anyway, and countless other businesses will save money not having to buy their products, and in general not having to deal with security flaws.

The only thing that could screw this up is getting the government involved. Getting the government involved will either keep redundant corps in business or mask the real costs of Microsoft security flaws, denying opportunities for better alternatives (like Mac) to make money.

So let's leave the lawyers out of it, kay?

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