After a heavy weekend's movie viewing, ARN's Matthew JC. Powell strongly advises against seeing Lost In Space . . .

Last week, I said Microsoft was slightly friendlier than IBM for using its PSB (Promise Something Better) strategy instead of the classic FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that made IBM great. Since then I've read that Microsoft and some of its partners have sent letters to the US Department of Justice warning of the "dire consequences" to the industry should Windows 98's release be delayed at all. I take back my previous favourable sentiments, this is FUD on a grand scale. Let's forget for a moment about the efficacy of trying to bully the US government and look at the main problems with this attitude.

First, if Win 98 absolutely has to be released ASAP, why wasn't it released sooner? Why was there no Win 97? What of Win 96? Hello? It's ludicrous to think that the industry will fall on its collective sword unless desktop operating systems are released to Microsoft's seemingly whimsical timetable.

Second, it's very hard to see why anyone thinks Win 98 is that crucial. From all I've read and heard there's not much more of a technological advance in Win 98 than there has been in any of the "Service Packs" that have been released for Win 95. Microsoft spent several years and an oodle or three of money building up user interest and developer interest in Windows 95. What's more, that product introduced a whole new 32-bit architecture that necessitated a lot of developers investing a great deal of their own money in rebuilding their old 16-bit applications. A lot was riding on the repeatedly- delayed Windows 95, and the industry was grateful when it finally arrived.

Gearing up for NBT

I have seen little or no evidence that any such grand investment has been made in Windows 98's advances.

Most developers I've heard from fall into two camps: those who are going to wait and see how much needs to be done to get their applications up to speed with Win 98; and those who reckon their apps will be fine and they don't need to do anything.

Obviously, it's important that Windows 98 gets released and it's important that it should happen soon.

Whenever the Next Big Thing (NBT) is promised, the Same Old Thing (SOT), however useful or powerful, starts to smell a little. No doubt there are some buyers who have delayed their purchases of machines based on Windows 95 in anticipation of the Next Big Thing - in much the same way as sales of Windows 3.x went kind of flat in the weeks and months before August 1995. Likewise, sales of OS/2, Mac OS and any number of other operating systems suffered under the tsunami of Win 95 hype.

If that same malaise is now flattening sales of Windows 95, Microsoft has nought but itself to blame.

There is no serious competitive product waiting in the wings to steal share away from Microsoft if Windows 98 is delayed. IBM is not going to roll in on a golden chariot throwing copies of OS/2 Warp to a starving IT public while the US government brutally and unfairly stops MS from peddling its wares. Fascinating as that sounds, it ain't gonna happen.

What else is MS afraid of? Linux? BeOS? Get Serious. The Mac OS is making strides towards respectability again, but Gates cannot see it as a threat at this stage of the game. Any FUD that's affecting Microsoft right now has come straight from Redmond.

For a while there, it seemed Microsoft had been chastened into a more humble attitude after its initially aggressive response to the DoJ action. Instead of standing up and saying it shouldn't be bound by the same rules as everyone else, it started agreeing to abide by the rules. This latest action is more of the same grandstanding that got it into trouble in the first place.

Microsoft is the most important company in the software industry.

Its core products are amongst the most widely used in the world, and a vast majority of developers have hitched their products to the Windows bandwagon. It's important that that bandwagon rolls on, but it is equally important that that bandwagon rolls on to the wider benefit of the industry, not merely to the very narrow benefit of one already grossly over-advantaged vendor.

I'm not saying Microsoft should roll over and play dead for the DoJ. That would be ridiculous and may well result in the company being unfairly disadvantaged. I do think that MS is in the unique position of being able to work with the DoJ to create equitable circumstances in the industry to foster and promote competition and innovation, and it would be a shame to waste that opportunity.

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