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Does it make any sense to "hate" Microsoft?

Marc Wagner at the ZDNet Education IT blog asks a question that has come up here (and elsewhere) many times. "Why do so many people hate Microsoft?" Marc begins his post exploring some of the antipathy that exists between the pro-Microsoft and pro-*NIX crowds with relative dispassion and points to a general lack of civility in our culture as the meta-driver for the flame wars that seem to spontaneously combust whenever a pro-Microsoft or pro-Linux post or comment is made.

Marc Wagner at the ZDNet Education IT blog asks a question that has come up here (and elsewhere) many times. "Why do so many people hate Microsoft?" Marc begins his post exploring some of the antipathy that exists between the pro-Microsoft and pro-*NIX crowds with relative dispassion and points to a general lack of civility in our culture as the meta-driver for the flame wars that seem to spontaneously combust whenever a pro-Microsoft or pro-Linux post or comment is made.

Ultimately though, Marc seems to think that the relative state of market share enjoyed by Windows and Linux, is a major cause of the boorish behavior on both sides of the divide and is a direct outcome of a decision made by Linux vendors not to compete directly for the desktop with Microsoft. A substantial percentage of the comments to his post seem to agree. Not surprisingly, an almost equal percentage don't. Marc concludes:

Well, it’s time for our readers to realize that Microsoft is not to blame for the small market share enjoyed by desktop Linux. Just as Apple decided over two decades ago not to compete with Microsoft in the commodity desktop, so have the Linux vendors.

Until they decide to give Microsoft a run for it’s money, Microsoft will continue to dominate and nothing Linux desktop users can say will change that.

Personally, I think this is missing the real point in the debate. Whenever I see these arguments burst into flames, there's more to the contention than market share. It's obvious, for example, that the Mac ios not destined to be the dominant computing platform. Apple is quite comfortable with this relaity as are many Mac users. Yet the flames continue.

Similarly, I spent many years working with grizzled old *NIX developers and administrators who also realized that railing against the then-emergent Microsoft hegemony was a waste of time. What did they do? Spent hours bickering over the relative superiority of emacs and vi.

Here at Office Evolution, we've had some pretty spirited debates about Outlook and Notes. No one is ever going to convince a Notes devotee that Outlook is "better". The same thing applies in reverse. So what? We almost always see these arguments settle on agreement that whatever works for you is good for you (with an occasional final jab of "even though what I use is better"). Neener, neener.

I think the contentiousness is part of the geek DNA to be honest with you. We geeks seem to like to argue as one of our favorite indoor sports. And that's all well and good when kept within certain  limits. Geeks have been arguing since the days of Plato and Socrates (yes, I know they were Greeks but they were geeks too).

There's also a certain undeniable tendency many of us have to be "right". To influence others to see our point of view. To be in the know. And the majority. On the winning side.

If you equate "winning" with market share, it's pretty foolhardy to argue that anyone but Microsoft has won. If, on the other hand, you see "winning" as achieving the strategic objectives an organization has used to define success, then I think you get a place where you can let go of the notion that there can be only one winner.

I remember many years ago, when Steve Jobs first returned to Apple and said in a historic keynote that "we have to let go of the idea that in order for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose". I'm paraphrasing - those might not have been his exact words but they certainly support the spirit of what he said that day. It's one of the smartest things I think he's ever said. And I think the company has prospered since then, in large measure, because they've left the demonization of Microsoft to others.

That's not to say Apple doesn't enjoy tweaking Microsoft's nose. The "I'm a Mac" ads are a perfect example, as are the banners hanging at every MacWorld event and in Apple's stores. But these days at Apple, it's all about being different and better, not bigger.

Bigger just isn't going to happen. Not for Apple. Not for Linux. Microsoft's market dominance may change in the future but it won't be in the immediate future. So let's move on.