Top ten reasons why Microsoft is a good citizen

Why does everyone have to dump on Microsoft? Despite its antitrust troubles, the company has done some very good things for us all.

COMMENTARY--One of the main things that you give up upon leaving the United States is late-night television. I haven't seen David Letterman in over two years. My cultural lifeline to the Etats-Unis (as the natives here in Switzerland call it) has been Conan O'Brien as featured on CNBC, although I'm finding that my ability to recognize his guests is inversely proportional to the amount of time I spend in Europe.

Thus, in honor of my one-time favorite late-night talk show, I present the top 10 reasons why Microsoft is a good corporate citizen.

10. Microsoft drives computing costs down
With all the rhetoric surrounding Linux and its "free" status, it is often forgotten why consumers (Linux users included) pay so little for computer hardware these days. Not only have Microsoft's desktop efforts led to led to greater hardware economics of scale, the company has actively worked to drive down hardware prices through standard PC specifications, including simple things like the WinModem. Though WinModems drive Linux aficionados to distraction, the reason WinModems exist is that they cost less, saving consumers money on new PCs.

Furthermore, let's not forget that Microsoft has historically charged FAR less than its proprietary cousins. Compared to Sun Microsystems' high-priced Unix servers, Oracle's incredibly expensive database and the price combo of Apple hardware with ANY Apple OS, Microsoft products have been an incredible bargain.

9. Microsoft has been instrumental in bringing computing to ordinary people
Although that might be a "negative" for those who don't want to be bothered by hordes of "newbies," non-technical computer users wouldn't be on the Internet if it weren't for handholding from companies such as AOL and, of course, Microsoft. Through its marketing and products, Microsoft has done more than any other company to help users find ways to integrate computing into their daily lives.

8. Microsoft employees absolutely love their company
Microsoft regularly is ranked one of the best places to work. Programmers are respected, and creativity is encouraged. Plus, the company pays well to boot. That leads to one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the industry, even at a time when the company is in the midst of a government suit which has dragged its name through the mud.

7. Microsoft pays loads in taxes
According to information found on Yahoo Financials, Microsoft paid $1.288 billion dollars in income taxes for the fiscal quarter ended March 31. This will probably go down in the history books as my stupidest analogy ever, but imagine Microsoft paid that sum in pennies. A penny weighs 2.5 grams, and at a grams-to-pounds conversion rate of .002205, would result in a weight of pennies of approximately 270,774,000 pounds (or 135,387 short tons). To put that in perspective, the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier weighs in at 95,000 tons, making Microsoft's quarterly income tax charge worht the weight of 1.5 aircraft carriers.

6. Its founder has donated more money to charity than anyone in history
At the last count, Bill Gates, as an individual, has given about $22 billion--or just under 26 aircraft carriers--to charity. To put that in perspective, George Soros' donations as an individual total a "measly" $2 billion. Andrew Carnegie, the famed philanthropist, gave only $3 billion in current dollars over the course of his life.

5. Microsoft creates a computing economy worth far greater than its own net worth
If one counts up all the companies that develop Windows-compatible software (including such industry luminaries such as Oracle and IBM), all the hardware companies that make money selling to Windows users, and all the technicians engaged in writing software for Windows or providing technical support for it, you'll find that there is far more money made from Microsoft products outside of Redmond than is made inside of it.

4. One of the largest R&D budgets in the industry
In fiscal year 2001, Microsoft spent $4.4 billion, a spending total that rose to more than $5 billion in fiscal year 2002. R&D benefits us all through technological advancements. Though developing software that is more productive might not seem as earth-shattering as, say, finding a cure for cancer, such advances improve the efficiency of the digital infrastructure upon which we build our lives.

3. Microsoft takes risks
This might seem a strange reason to consider Microsoft a good corporate citizen, but consider the results. How many companies would have the courage--much less the stamina--to take on Sony in game consoles, Palm computing in handhelds, Sun in server operating systems, Oracle and IBM in databases, AOL in internet access, and practically every wireless phone maker in existence (Nokia and Ericsson among them) in the provision of operating systems for advanced cell phones? Not many.

Microsoft is the primary competitor to these leading companies in most of these markets, which helps boost quality and innovation. I might be going off on a tangent, but if Microsoft can enter already dominated markets and manage to keep its head above water, why can't other large companies compete in markets Microsoft dominates?

2. A beacon of profitability in a sea of red ink
Microsoft is one of the few companies TO have managed to maintain robust sales throughout the current recession. That should matter to those who care about the health of the U.S. economy.

And last but not least...

1. No accounting scandals at Microsoft
In contrast to all the revenue-padding at Enron, WorldCom and even AOL, Microsoft was prompted by the Securities and Exchange Commission to adjust its past income upwards.

So there you have it. My apologies to David Letterman for dragging him into the mother of all geek wars.

John Carroll is a software engineer who lives in Switzerland. He specializes in the design and development of distributed systems using Java and .Net.

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