YinYang … or is that Jekyll and Hyde

The Yin/Yang of dealing with Microsoft was on display with two articles at the Infoworld site. Scarlett Pruitt details on how Microsoft is busy sprucing up its image particularly in the government sector. Better representation of Microsofts viewpoints, new support services and doling out goodies to cash strapped goverments is high on the agenda. Scarlett notes that “the software giant has waged a quiet campaign in recent months to change its image from that of monopolist to good corporate citizen”. She concludes “While Microsoft, by its own admission, may have learned a little late that being a good corporate citizen is ultimately good for business, it appears determined not to let the opportunity pass it by now. ”

Just down the page is another story: Lindows can keep company name, judge rules which details how Microsoft is attacking Lindows in Europe (and unsuccessfully in the US) despite the fact that Lindows has changed the name of their product from Lindows to Linspire – and only uses Lindows in a few small type credits on their marketing materials. This is the Microsoft Jekyll and Hyde – public crusader and legal thuggery at the same time.

The fundamental problem is that Microsoft is a zero-sum monopolist. It is constantly moving to win a dominant, 90%++ market share in all the markets it is in. The problem is that 90% market share means that for Microsoft to win, everybody else must lose. You cant keep a 90% market share and leave any survivors. No wonder the words “win-win” have disappeared from the Microsoft vocabulary. Do a search on Microsoft Press Releases for “win-win”- the last usage was back in 1996.

The problem is that zero-sum, 90% monopolies are bad for ironically Microsoft, the industry, the economy and capitalism in general. It leads to inefficiencies and/or innovation stagnation. Such diverse writers as Joseph Stiglitz in “Economics of the Public Sector” and Robert Wright in “NonZero:The Logic of Human Destiny” describe the problems with extreme zero-sum players. Even the Pacific West Coast Indians had a practice, potlatch, which helped to balance out wealth accumulation.

The double problem is that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer obviously consider a dominant, 90%++ monopoly as a critical success factor for their company. They simply are going to go forward with zerosum, not win-win. So until that notion changes expect Window-dressing PR campaigns on “a kinder, gentler Microsoft” like the recent “your potential, our passion” ad campaign neatly torpedoed with the demolition of MikeRowe-Soft.com:
Canadian teenager has a tiny web development firm. He creates a web site called MikeRowe-Soft.com in early 2004. Microsoft legal descends with a very, very nasty cease and desist order. Only very late, after the story hits all the news media, Microsoft backs down a little – gives the kid an Xbox, a tour of the Redmond campus, but still insists on the site name change. It was as if Steve and Bill had scripted a parable to all in the IT community – “you have seen our kindler, gentler PR but you remember the baaaaahhhd-ass adage about wolves in sheeps clothing … dont you ?”