February 23, 2019

Editor's Note: The Devil You Know

Do the Right Things for the Right Reasons

  • April 27, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

I'm not known for being a Microsoft defender, and occasionally readers of this Web site take me to task for being too ardent a critic of Microsoft.

So it will suprise many of you to know that I'm actually going to defend Microsoft here, at least to a certain extent. I am going to express agreement with Chairman Bill that Microsoft should not be broken up in the way that the Justice Department and the state attorneys general want to break up the company.

There's a saying that gets repeated in self-help and therapy circles: be sure and do the right things for the right reasons; it's not enough to do the right things for the wrong reasons. In the case of Chairman Bill, his arguments fall on the side of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. He argues that breaking up the company in two units--one devoted to operating systems, one to applications--would harm consumers because the application-development side would would suffer. Application developers would have less access to the latest and greatest from the operating-systems side.

Well, duh! Chairman Bill still doesn't get why Judge Jackson kicked his butt all the way from here to Montana: the cozy relationship between operating-system developers and application developers is exactly what caused Microsoft's monopoly in the first place. To argue that the monopoly should continue because consumers benefit from less choice is truly illogical.

Instead, the solution is to keep Microsoft in one unit and force some truly unique penalties on the firm. Make Microsoft publish and stick to a standard rate that any PC vendor can reference. Make Microsoft publish the source code to all Windows platforms and level the playing field for any software developer, including the Microsoft Office developers. We have all seen the benefits of the Open Source movement when applied to application development.

But don't break up Microsoft, at least not yet. Besides, it's usually better to do business with the devil you know than two devils you don't.

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