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DOWN TO THE WIRE

DOWN TO THE WIRE

The highlight of Billy's birthday party was the breaking of the pinata, after which Billy and his friends competed for candy, gathering what fell from the broken sculpture.

This party was held at Billy's home, so Billy was able to secretly wire the pinata with 20,000 volts. He handed each of his friends a metal rod. The first child stepped up to the task and took a swing. When the rod made contact, the boy's body convulsed, began to smoulder, and then burst into flames.

Fortunately for Billy, most of his friends were rather stupid. Despite this frightful scene, it took about half the kids to step up to the pinata and meet a similar fate before the rest of them began to think this was not such a good idea. Billy anticipated this moment, however. So he pulled out an AK-47 and mowed down the rest of his competition with hot lead. Because Billy was in control, he easily switched off the power to the pinata, took a swipe, and collected all the candy. He shared some of it with a few close friends who helped him rig the pinata.

Today Billy is heralded as the world's most successful, candy-rich boy. He is widely regarded as a hero, known for his ruthless competitive spirit as well as his mastery of electricity and firearms. Although Billy credits himself for innovating the idea of an electric pinata, few people know that he really copied the design from the boy who was first electrocuted at his party. The government wants to put Billy in jail for his actions. But Billy thinks the case against him is irrelevant at this point. After all, most of the victims' families have gone on to have other children.

The story of Microsoft's anti-competitive behaviour has obviously been much less graphic and dramatic than my intentionally strained allegory. The exaggeration is meant to illustrate a point: sure, MS is a very successful company that has made many people rich, most of all Bill Gates. And few people would contest the fact that Microsoft's competitors were often stupid enough to walk knowingly into a trap.

But to admire Microsoft and Bill Gates for their success is to consider only the ends and not the means. Granted, business ambition and morality rarely mix well. And public opinion is largely what it is because most people don't know or understand how Microsoft got to where it is today, or what Microsoft is doing to manipulate the market so that it can remain in a position to murder its competition. But in view of Microsoft's success in manipulating public opinion to its advantage, I couldn't help but get my sense of outrage off my chest.

In my view, the trial and its potential outcome are two very different things.

The trial has already done wonders for Linux. But at best, the potential outcome probably will be meaningless to the future of Linux. Microsoft already owns the office productivity suite market. The application company wouldn't need Windows anymore to maintain that monopoly. People speculate that Microsoft would port Office to Linux. But the application company would have no reason to do so unless Linux captured a significant portion of the desktop.

Microsoft the OS company will attempt to capture the greatest server market share by infecting open Internet standards with proprietary features that only work on Windows.

If Microsoft is successful in its appeal, it will use its server market share to maintain its hold on the desktop. Microsoft the applications company will continue to sell its wares only on Windows while leveraging its Internet Explorer market share to make Internet Information Server the standard.

Conclusion? Unless open Net standards can maintain a lead on Microsoft standards, we'll be living in an all-Microsoft world for many more years.

So what's wrong with that as long as the stock for both Microsoft companies remains healthy and more people get rich? Nothing, I guess, as long as the ends justify the means - and you're not stupid enough to attend one of Billy's parties.

Nicholas Petreley is editorial director of LinuxWorld. Reach him at nicholas_petreley@infoworld.com


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