Many tell us what to think. I ask my readers to be skeptical. Question me and others.

Life and politics

Let’s buy Windows XP

I am not talking about going to the store and buying my copy of the latest Windows upgrade. I am talking about buying from Microsoft and Bill Gates the ownership of the Windows family of operating systems, and making them public domain.

The Department of Justice is trying to stop Microsoft from abusing its monopoly of the computer operating system market. They targeted the Internet browser expecting that personal computers will evolve this way. For the same reason Bill Gates is absolutely right stating that Internet Explorer is an inherent part of Windows because this is the direction of progress. The Government cannot stop any corporation from developing and enhancing their product the way they would like.

That said, I am among the many who have a problem with one corporation dominating and de facto controlling the computer software market. We can forecast a long war between the government and Microsoft. It will slow the entire industry and the attorneys’ fees will finally be paid by all of us, in taxes or overpriced Microsoft products. Following the old saying that war is too important to be left to generals, we may say that the Microsoft dispute with the Department of Justice is too important to be left to lawyers.

In the exchange of arguments both sides have made references to Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Standard Oil. We buy Windows like every other product but we do not consume it like drinks, hamburgers or gasoline. Windows, installed in 90% of personal computers worldwide, are at the core of the way we communicate, run our businesses, and develop our civilization. Looking for an analogy, I would reach to medieval England where contemporary English language was shaped. William Shakespeare by his writings defined the standards for a language just recently born. Bill Gates set the standard for the environment in which we communicate in the computer era that has just begun. It would be ridiculous if Shakespeare or his descendants tried to collect royalties from everyone speaking English, or if Bell asked to be paid by everyone who is using the telephone. Bill Gates differs from Bell in that Windows are technologically very complicated. We as the humankind have to realize that the new revolutionary discoveries – like electricity or radio – are less likely to be the result of lone innovators as it was common in the past, but rather will be the sophisticated products of big corporations. Take for example the recent advances in biology (genetics) and communication (computers). We as a society have to work out a formula which describes how the ownership of these new discoveries should be transferred from the corporations to society, which should have the freedom of using and developing them. Windows is the first practical case of this kind in the history of our civilization.

The Windows dominance can be credited to the genius of Bill Gates, but Microsoft’s success can also be seen as fairly coincidental. Circumstances required someone like Bill Gates to create a worldwide standard in computer operating systems. If not Microsoft, it would have been someone else. We have to recognize that Windows includes ideas that have been floating around for a while – Bill Gates incorporated them by buying or crushing competitors. He was able to dominate the market and quickly accumulate such enormous wealth because we as a civilization entered a new era where the old rules were not sufficient and the new ones had not yet been established.

No one can take from Bill Gates his historic role in computerizing the world. No one can take from the people of Microsoft their achievements in designing a coherent family of software products. But, with Windows becoming a standard, Microsoft has to give up its monopoly on it. Bill Gates and other key people at Microsoft may realize the inevitability of this turn of events and manage this transition on their terms. Alternatively, the widespread dislike of a monopoly on Windows will result in giving the government extra power to curb Microsoft. The society will have to decide which big brother is a lesser evil: corporate or governmental?

This is Bill Gates’ call. Can Microsoft put the good of society before clearly available short term profits? This question has constitutional gravity – can we resolve major problems among ourselves and entrust the government the implementation of our decisions? Or, should we, as new problems arise, give more power to the government to have these problems solved for us? In the case of the Windows monopoly Bill Gates will make this decision.

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