The real competition is not in operating systems but in applications. We need Windows!
Special to The Observer
Published: Tuesday, June 2, 1998
The better the mind, the longer the range. A man whose vision extends to a shanty, might build on your quicksands, to grab a fast profit and run. A man who envisions skyscrapers, will not. Nor will he give ten years of unswerving devotion to the task of inventing a product, when he knows that gangs of entrenched mediocrity are juggling the laws against him, to tie him, restrict him and force him to fail, but should he fight them and struggle and succeed, they will seize his rewards and his invention.
A whining remark by Bill Gates? Hardly. It is a remark by the character John Galt in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged. A powerful book about the rise and fall of an entrepreneur-written 40 years ago. If my month in 1978 spent at the Copernicus Center in communist Poland confirmed me as a capitalist, my reading of this work almost made me into a Republican!
Like the enemies of the industrial protagonist in the novel, the enemies of Microsoft are out to get Big Bill. Even as the lawyers duke it out the Company proceeds with bringing out Windows 98 with the controversial Internet browser integrated into the operating system.
Computer programs depend on the operating system to control the hardware and allow the user to interact. Windows is the standard on which PC programmers depend. While not perfect, it at least allows a huge number of developers to write programs to run on the PC, independent of what each computer uses for video, keyboards, sound and other input/output devices. Standards like this are absolutely necessary.
Ok, so Microsoft has essentially the entire PC operating system market, due to sweet deals for computer manufacturers to offer it pre-loaded (to save you a headache, by the way). This is actually an advantage in many ways, compared to other areas of technology where there are more choices: camcorder tape, electrical connectors, tire sizes, nuts and bolts. There the joke is that standards are so great because there are so many to choose from.
I am part of a beta test group for an image processing program. The "beta" version is the one before the first one you can buy-it is our job to try to drag it to its knees to allow as many bugs as possible to be found. One member of our group ran nine copies of it simultaneously on a dual-400-MHz PC, under Windows. He let it run animations of 32 4-MB images for six days. This task required 22 times the actual memory the computer had, so it was continually swapping data on and off the hard drive. Any programming error and the machine would have crashed. The fact that both the program and Windows survived is a testimony to each! . We are a small group testing a special, scientific package. What if we were testing a complicated program like the next version of WordPerfect? A much more difficult task. Now, what if we had a world where there were a dozen commonly used operating systems. Could the company afford to test each application under all of theses systems? I think not. Think of that when you walk down the aisle of your local computer store and marvel at the enormous variety of programs available (most not written by Microsoft). Would you prefer to have a tenth the offerings of actual applications, each able to run under ten different look-alike, Windows-like systems? The real competition and entrepreneurial activity results in that selection of great, cheap software at the store.
I completed the experimental model of a motor that would have made a fortune for me and for those who had hired me, a motor that would have raised the efficiency of every human installation using power and would have added the gift of higher productivity to every hour that you spend at earning your living.
The very real motor of the Information Age will be the Internet, and every effort should be made to keep it growing. If combining Web browsers with the computer's system removes competition for that one kind of program, then so be it. We would be fools to stand in the way of the continued development of another motor-Windows-that has already made gifts of higher productivity in both professional and personal life.
So if you want to support competition, buy WordPerfect instead of Microsoft's Word. But, support the continued evolution of Windows. And, if you've not picked out your summer reading, consider Atlas Shrugged!
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