Monday, May 16, 2005

The Cost of Microsoft Being on Top

Microsoft updates desktop search toolbar

This is undoubtedly a response to the Google Desktop search toolbar and Tiger's Spotlight feature. Both have been cited as examples of innovation that is going outside of Microsoft far ahead of anything that MS is doing.

And so it may seem little, but those clever Microsoft execs realized that they needed to squash any competition in this area too. Yeah, it was someone else's idea, but now that it's established and all of the really important research has been done and documented, Microsoft can sweep in and get rid of its competitors.

I know you think it's just a toolbar, but if you add up a few toolbars over enough time, and you get a revolution. Microsoft, like some great communist regime, does its best to put down those revolutions with preemptive strikes and purges like these.

Bill Gates himself has said that patents stifle innovation, but he says that's a reason why big established companies should USE them to stay on top. Bill Gates has said that when Microsoft patents a technology, it's expressly to prevent someone else from taking it and making it better. Innovation is good for the consumer, but it's not good for the seller.

Just think of how much farther along we'd be if it weren't for Microsoft. When Apple debuted the Macintosh, a young Bill Gates said that he felt that was the future of computers. He thought the interface (that Apple borrowed from Xerox PARC) was revolutionary. Then he brought out Windows, and Apple sued him. A judge ruled that Windows and Macintosh were fundamentally different, and that's most likely because the judge had never used a computer before (this was a long time ago) or thought that because Windows was originally a shell and the Macintosh had an entire graphical OS that that was the big difference. In the end though, the interfaces were nearly identical, and Microsoft got away with a crime. (and Bill Gates was right; that was the future. Here, today, in the future, we're still using an upgraded version of the Windows shell)

The guy who came up with the Macintosh concept died recently. He was an artist (his background was in liberal arts, not technology) and was pulled in to try to change the way people interact with technology. The Macintosh was his BABY step. It was an experiment, but he wanted to go much further. But then Microsoft came by and stifled innovation. And since then we've all be using the exact same interface ever since.

People say that I go too far with this. There are more important problems. However, it's nearly impossible to be successful in this country (anywhere?) without a computer now. Computers affect every single person's life in some significant way. The person who controls those computers will have a disproportionate share of influence on people's own freedom and how they live their lives. How is this not an important problem?

So if you care about your freedom, you won't download Microsoft's search bar.

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