On the occasion of Bill and Melinda Gates sharing Time Person of the Year honors with Bono, I thought I’d talk a bit about my own attitude toward Microsoft. People who have been reading rc3.org since the beginning know that for a long time one of my major preoccupations was bashing Microsoft for its abuse of its monopoly power. (These days I seem to spend a lot of my time bashing President Bush for his abuse of executive power. What can I say, I fought the law and the law won.)
Anyway, I thought I’d talk about why Microsoft is not only no longer subject to my ire but really not even that much on my radar screen. The big watershed moment for me was when Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his findings of fact in the Microsoft antitrust case. Even though Microsoft was never penalized, really, the simple fact that a judge who had heard both sides present their case in court agreed with me about Microsoft’s business practices was pretty much all I need to move on.
The second thing is that one of my main fears about Microsoft turned out to be completely unfounded. For some time I was gripped with paranoia about Microsoft simply taking over the entire IT landscape. There was widespread fear that soon if you wanted to develop software, you’d be using Visual Studio and Visual Basic or Visual J++ or ASP or whatever, and that if you wanted to surf the Web you’d have to use Internet Explorer because every Web site would be using Microsoft’s proprietary extensions. Of course, Microsoft’s general PR strategy was to promote the idea that this was inevitable, and at the time, Microsoft was rolling over its competitors like a steamroller.
Mostly, I have the rise of open source software to thank for releasing me from that fear. Not only because its explosive growth, but because it’s immune to the competitive tactics that Microsoft employed so effectively against other corporations. Open source software is fine as long as people want to use and improve it, and of course these days it’s easy to make a very productive career for yourself based only on your ability to work on open source platforms. When that became feasible, suddenly there was a lot less reason to fear Microsoft’s market power forcing you into working with tools that don’t really interest you.
Blogging by Microsoft employees has also made a huge difference to me. I don’t read that many Microsoft blogs, but the ones I have read put a human face on the company that it once lacked. It’s a lot harder to categorically detest a company that employs people like Raymond Chen, Don Box, and plenty of others who I won’t bother to list.
The final reason brings me back around to the Time Person of the Year thing. It’s hard to be too angry at Bill Gates when he’s throwing billions of dollars at problems that plague the people in the world who are most in need of help. Maybe he does so because he doesn’t want to be remembered as a rampaging monopolist, as some people assert, but I think he does it because it’s a good thing to do. More importantly, I don’t really care why he does it. If people want to give away their riches to worthy causes in order to burnish their legacies, I approve. I’ll be happy to assist in the burnishing, in fact.
I still don’t approve of everything Microsoft does, but these days I see the company more as a gravitational force that has to be accounted for rather than as an evil entity that has to be resisted. Microsoft exerts a huge influence on our industry, but these days it’s just not a great concern. I’m happy to have arrived at that point.