Why criticize Microsoft for giving away free software? It's the trend nowadays!

Why criticize Microsoft for giving away free software? It's the trend nowadays!

Summary: Why is Joe Wilcox (Microsoft Watch) criticizing Microsoft for giving away free software? Dosen't he realize that this is the modern trend?

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Why is Joe Wilcox (Microsoft Watch) criticizing Microsoft for giving away free software?  Dosen't he realize that this is the modern trend?

Wilcox seems to be taking a very narrow view of the software market.  Yes, Microsoft is giving away a lot of free software nowadays, and it also has a fair range of low-priced software and services, but if you take a broader picture of the market, the truth is that companies like Microsoft and Apple are now selling "products" rather than "hardware" and "software", so there's more and more software bundling going on than ever. 

[poll id=91]

Here's how Wilcox sees the market:

"Many factors account for Microsoft's success, but two longstanding business practices stand out: release of software that achieves a "good enough" standard and offer of lower-cost, or free software that enhances the value of its platform products like Windows."

Let's just look at operating systems for a moment.  Is Microsoft the only company that uses "free software that enhances the value of its platform products?"  Of course not!  Just take a look at Mac OS and any Linux distribution.  These all include free software that adds value to the operating system and which allows the user to get on and do stuff straight away.  And it's not just operating systems.  All across the hardware market (from cell phones to GPS receivers) manufacturers are bundling software that adds value along with their devices.  Is Wilcox suggesting that Microsoft shouldn't be doing this but it's OK for the rest of the industry to be doing it?  Microsoft bundles Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player with Windows, Apple bundle Safari and iTunes.  So what.

And while we're thinking about Linux, what about open source in general?  Does he disagree with the principals behind free software? 

Let's move on and look at another area that Wilcox looks at from a Microsoft-only viewpoint - browsers.  Here's Wilcox's take on Internet Explorer:

"Lower cost is a good tactic, but Microsoft has done much better with free—and really valuable technology. Probably the best-known example is Internet Explorer, which Microsoft integrated into Windows during the browser wars with Netscape. While Netscape had to separately sell its product, Microsoft could give away its competing software for free. Microsoft regarded its Web browser as adding value to Windows, so it gave away the technology as a way of enhancing the appeal of the operating system and subsequently sales."

This is just revisionist history and is plain wrong.  Microsoft didn't kill Netscape.  Netscape killed itself.  With Navigator 3, Netscape went ahead with HTML 3 where no standard existed.  And then with Navigator 4 they released a browser that was incompatible with HTML 4 and the DHTML that web developers wanted to do at the time.  I know.  I was there.  Another point worth noting is that Microsoft was late entering the free browser game.  They weren't the first.

While on the subject of browsers, it's odd that Wilcox has nothing to say about Firefox.  The Mozilla Foundation is no Microsoft but it is using a free browser to bankroll millions of dollars.  Is that wrong?

And what about Virtual PC 2007?  Again Wilcox is ignoring the fact that Microsoft is late entering the virtualization game.  VMware already offer free software that offers similar functionality to Virtual PC 2007.  As a VMware user I'm pretty sure that I won't be ditching VMware Workstation and switching to Virtual PC 2007, and I'm sure most VMware users will feel the same way.  They target entirely different segments of the market.

The thread running through the article on Microsoft Watch seems to be that Microsoft is releasing free software in order to gain a market share, and once they have that market share, they can do whatever they want, maybe charge you a fortune for the next version or something like that.  Problem is, I don't really see Microsoft leveraging their market share that much at all (unlike companies such as Google which is aggressively leveraging its market share).  Most products that Microsoft offer for free are poorly marketed.  How many people know about Virtual PC 2007, Visual Studio Express or Office Accounting Express?  Outside of tech circles I bet it's not many. 

Sorry Joe, but free software that is, as you say, just "good enough" is the way things are now. 

What are your thoughts on free software?  Do you believe that it harms existing businesses or is the "free" market different to the "paid for" market?

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Erroneous history

    Sorry, but you are wrong with regard to "revisionist history".

    The reason it is bad for Microsoft to give away free software is the very reason why it was wrong of them to give away Internet Explorer, and the US federal legal system concurs that what they did was illegal (even if the punishment under law was really a kiss of the bishop's ring). At issue is the use of monopoly power (Microsoft was found to be a monopoly under legal statute, regardless of your personal opinion on the issue) to fund expansion into other areas and thereby eliminate competition. I don't know the current standing of things, but as of a few years ago, Microsoft made a profit on two things: its operating systems and its Office platform. *ALL* other products are/were given away or sold at a lower cost in order to garner further market in areas where Microsoft does not yet have a monopoly, undercutting the competition and driving them out of the market. Bill Gates was caught stating in an interview years ago that the goal of Microsoft was to have a controlling interest in every aspect of computing and the corporation has continued relentlessly in that direction. Microsoft should be prohibited from giving away free software/services or selling such for less than cost so long as they remain a monopoly according to legal statute. This is the only way to ensure a healthy market and allow for competition.
    Tumbleweed_Biff
    • Well said. No one likes the bully

      If it's difficult for bloggers to understand why no one likes the bully, here is some info from the register(tip of the ice berg)

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/20/microsoft_missing_archive/
      sweklaweklfwe@...
      • groklaw nabbed that

        before they locked it all up in the vault.
        http://groklaw.net/
        Voodoo187
        • Is it up yet?

          ??? Wasn't last time I looked.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
          • no

            apparently it went down after I posted that. I was able to connect when I posted it and read some of the documents. as well as some documents for the AT&T case, where microsoft's defense is that "software, as in the sequence of 0s and 1s, is not patentable"... I know, crazy stuff.

            Maybe MS is behind groklaw being down ;-)
            Voodoo187
          • slashdot, probably

            unless, of course, MS is in fact to do with it. the register article is on slashdot, 3rd from the top or something. bound to be a link or several to groklaw from there.
            Voodoo187
          • Here's the Slashdot article:

            http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/07/02/22/1616211.shtml
            Tony Agudo
    • I agree with you ...

      ... but I'm sure you agree that things have changed.

      Coming back to Netscape though, it was Netscape that killed Netscape. Period.

      "Microsoft was found to be a monopoly under legal statute, regardless of your personal opinion on the issue"

      Again, past tense.


      "Bill Gates was caught stating in an interview years ago that the goal of Microsoft was to have a controlling interest in every aspect of computing and the corporation has continued relentlessly in that direction."

      Isn't the goal of every successful company to dominate the market?


      "Microsoft should be prohibited from giving away free software/services or selling such for less than cost so long as they remain a monopoly according to legal statute."


      Hmmm
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • MS still under Consent Decree

        Adrian,

        Your comment about Microsoft's status as an illegal monopoly being "past tense" is sorely incorrect. Microsoft must conduct its business under the restrictions spelled out by the Consent Decree by Judge Jackson until it expires November 12, 2007 (parts of the decree, specifically those relating to the technical committee overseeing the documentation of their networking protocols, don't expire until November 12, 2009).

        So, no - it's not PAST tense. They are still on probation.
        NetArch.
        • Huge change in market since then

          [i]Your comment about Microsoft's status as an illegal monopoly being "past tense" is sorely incorrect.[/i]

          When MS was given that status, the Findings of Fact specifically narrowed the market to include [b]only[/b] companies that provided OSs for x86 compatible computers. Back then, Microsoft was pretty much the only one (Linux really wasn't that viable back then). Since then though, Linux has gotten far better and Apple now sells an x86 compatible OS. These changes in the market had [b]nothing[/b] to do with the restrictions placed on MS: Linux get better through the efforts of volunteers and Apple was tired of getting ignored by IBM.

          For a company that is severely restricted in how it is able to compete in a market full of competitors trying their hardest to kill MS, it is amazing MS is still around today.
          NonZealot
          • x86 Apples...

            Sure MacOSX runs on the x86 architecture, however I would love to see you go pick up a generic laptop/desktop and simply install. There are quite a few hoops to jump through :|
            IanX
          • Was the relevant market...

            ...defined as OS's that are easily installed on the x86 platform? Or just OS's that run on the x86 platform?

            Carl Rapson
            rapson
    • So we need to destroy all large companies?

      If this applies to MS, this applies to everyone. Any company with a large market share needs to be hindered to such a degree that they are forced to loose market share? That is your definition of a competitive market?

      Thankfully, people like you are not in charge. And by the way, being a monopoly is not illegal(regardless of your personal opinion on the issue).

      All companies will be bullies, if given the chance. MS went too far, and the Justice Dept. stepped in. If they go too far again(and they are the most watched company on the planet), the Feds will again step in.

      So long as MS follows the law, stop whining. They are allowed to play the game just like everyone else.
      mdemuth
      • The EU considers Windows Vista a serious problem .

        Why ? Again they are still following in the same foot steps they were caught walking in before . When will Microsoft learn ? I guarantee that when Bush finally steps down , MS will no longer be able to monopolize .
        Intellihence
      • You extremetize and misinterpret

        Only those companies who meet the *LEGAL* definition of being a monopoly and who are illegally using that monopoly power to move into other markets should be so hindered. Yes, that is what a competitive market is. Microsoft, by bankrolling "free" or subcost products with their monopoly products is acting to prevent and eliminate competing products.

        You like getting personal. You shouldn't. Its immature.

        The Justice Dept, although it did "step in" as you put it, was prevented from accomplishing anything substantial and Microsoft continues along on its merry way, which is why IE was never removed from Windows and why Microsoft continues blithely along using its monopoly to bankroll its expansion into other markets. Please explain why Microsoft would bankroll something like MSN which operated at a loss for about 10 years if not to try to undercut the competition? Any other company would have had to give it up, but Microsoft was able to continue to sell its service below cost for a decade while forcing competitors to reduce earnings and yield market share - or close up shop.

        Microsoft is not following the law, has not followed the law historically, and is only in the position it is in because of its long term violation of the law.

        That isn't whining, despite your feeble attempt to make this about me, that is simply a factual analysis of the situation. The fact that you have to emotionalize it and attempt to attack me as person demonstrates your inability to approach this from a rational or objective perspective.
        Tumbleweed_Biff
        • Factual analysis

          would lead to an understanding that MS is following the law. And when it does not, the US legal system steps in.

          And it is about you. You feel the punishment against MS was not severe enough. You feel MS 'continues along on its merry way', regardless of the facts. Regardless of what the courts have done. Regardless that those entrusted to enforce the law have said there is no problem.

          You want to try factual and non-personal, fine, I'm here all day. Until then, stop whining.
          mdemuth
    • Exactly Right

      1. People ignore that Microsoft was found guilty of monopolistic abuse.

      2. They drove their competitors out of business with free software. Netscape and Stac Electronics come to immediate mind.

      3. People ignore the fact that a convicted monopolist has to play by and is treated by different rules.

      4. Tigers don't change their stripes over night and neither does a convicted monopolist.

      5. People forget that Microsoft is one of the biggest thieves of Intellectual Property in existence today. If you don't believe me just look at all the convictions and settlements that they have with numerous 3rd parties that have sued them.

      SPX sued Microsoft over the "whitboard" feature of NetMeeting
      Jury awarded $62 million to SPX

      Eolas Sues Microsoft Over Patent
      Jury awarded $521 million to Eolas

      Blue Mountain Arts Sues Microsoft
      Judge slaps an injunction on Microsoft

      Stac Electronics sued Microsoft for line by line copying of their code.
      Jury granted monetary damages ($1 million I believe)

      Bristol Technologies sues Microsoft
      Judge has accused Microsoft of untrue and deceptive testimony, and fined them $1 million

      The list just goes on and on and on.
      dragosani
      • Actually, people don't ignore a thing

        And as you have pointed out, neither does the courts. When MS does something wrong, they have gotten nailed.
        Let them (the courts) do their jobs. If they say there is nothing wrong with giving away free software, you have no right to insist otherwise. You don't write the laws.
        mdemuth
        • Actually they do

          They also try to rewrite history to boot.

          [i]Let them (the courts) do their jobs. If they say there is nothing wrong with giving away free software, you have no right to insist otherwise. You don't write the laws.[/i]

          The courts do not always do their job. Hence the reason for all the appeals processes.

          A monopolist should be scrutinized for what they give away. Some things can be given away without hurting competition. Other things given away for free can hurt competition and monopolist like Microsoft have and do give away free stuff to kill their competitors.

          I may not write the laws but I do vote for the people that do write the laws. Thus I have a vested interest in what laws are created and what poorly written laws like the DMCA get corrected or removed.

          Like it or not Microsoft is under a different set of rules than their competitors since they own greater than 90% of the PC market and are a convicted monopolist. Just like Mom & Pop shops are under different sets of rules and laws than large businesses.
          dragosani
          • very true

            If you don't like the laws, then your problem is not with MS. MS is simply playing the game within the structure set up by the law.
            And yes, MS does indeed work under a separate set of restrictions, as the law has declared them not only a monopoly, but one willing to abuse that status(by bundling a browser, which everyone does now...). The fact that the DOJ has people by the thousands watching every move by MS is proof of that. If under such close scrutiny, the law makers are saying that MS giving away stuff is legal, then they are free to do so.
            mdemuth