Five years ago this month I sent legendary Novell chief executive officer Ray Noorda a letter. Although I'm a long-time admirer of Noorda's vision for the computer industry, I urged him to rethink his practice of lobbying the government to investigate Microsoft.
By publicly renouncing his willingness to participate with the then Federal Trade Commission investigation, Noorda could have sent a strong message to stockholders, resellers and users that Novell was confident in its ability to compete on its own merits.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Noorda ignored my advice. Novell's stock fell steadily until the latest CEO, Eric Schmidt, refocused the company on strategy execution and providing superior products. Fortunately, too, Schmidt has disregarded the tactics of his mentor, Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems. McNealy is ringleader of the gang using government muscle to attack their more successful competitor.
It's shameful that McNealy, Netscape's Jim Clark and many other industry executives and pundits advocate a government- led dismembering of the so-called Microsoft monopoly. My company's software customers certainly aren't complaining about Microsoft's success.
History indicates that it might be time to sell Sun stock short. When I wrote to Noorda, my business was focused around NetWare.
Sure, I was concerned about Microsoft's impending competition. I also doubted its commitment to building channel relationships anywhere near the magnitude of Novell's. But I believed then, as I do now, that government involvement in the computer industry opens the door to disaster.
The taste of blood attracts more politicians. First it will be Microsoft, then Intel and before long we'll face a computer-industry equivalent of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This agency regulated away the falling prices once commonplace in a formerly innovative US automobile industry. Like car manufacturers, we could end up enduring huge expenses to satisfy bureaucrats rather than consumers.
The market regulates success. Despite claims by McNealy and his cohorts, monopolies cannot exist for sustained periods without government intervention. Even the market share of Rockefeller's mighty Standard Oil had already fallen from near 90 to 70 per cent before the feds broke up his company.
Only 10 years ago it was widely asserted that aid by the Japanese government would enable Japan's computer industry to obliterate its free-market competitors in the US. Fortunately, our government ignored the cries for help by US chipmakers such as Advanced Micro Devices.
In a free market, companies either deliver long-term benefits to their customers or go away. Microsoft is no more exempt from this natural law of business than any other firm. Microsoft's total software licence revenues amount to about 15 per cent of the total worldwide packaged- software market, but new competitors are emerging every day.
The industry landscape has changed dramatically during the five years since I wrote to Noorda. Many Novell Platinum Resellers have grown substantially - and they also sell NT. They've flourished as increased technology options correspondingly increase demand for their services.
At a recent meeting, Microsoft officials asked me to let them know of any problems or whether I saw anything that they could do better. This attitude is so rare in our industry, particularly with manufacturers at the top of their game.
But these officials told me that that's the culture at Microsoft. If you go into a meeting with only good news, you'll be thrown out. Microsoft executives want to hear problems so that they can fix them.
This is a wonderful way to run an organisation and undoubtedly explains a lot about Microsoft's success. Maybe one of the best ways for integrators to profit from Microsoft is simply to adopt this philosophy for our own organisations.
Steve Kaplan is president of RYNO Technology, a US-based solutions integration company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org