Well now, today's news is that Microsoft is considered a European monopolist. Ironic, isn't it, after all these years of investigation for locking up the browser market by bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows desktop, the Europeans nail Microsoft for being piggish with the Media Player? Doubly ironic, when you consider another operating system vendor that bundles its browser and media player software on its desktops, and nobody is going after it. Of course, I refer to Apple, with its Safari and iTunes applications. I guess having a two or three percent market share is the best way to keep the government lawyers from tying you up in legal knots.
The trouble with Apple is that the company still thinks it can go this alone and forget that there is a hungry world of partners and developers out there, anxious to license and embrace and extend the company's work. As Chris Stone, the CTO of Novell told me not too long ago: "If Apple just could put Aqua in open source, Microsoft would be in deep trouble, and the game would be over. People would rush to develop apps using that software."
Instead, we say, "So what?" Say the Europeans fine Microsoft a bazillion dollars. Microsoft cuts the check. Its corporate treasury makes back the dough in about 3.5 days' worth of sales. Life goes on. Meanwhile, more and more ISVs write to Windows Media Player and IE. Eventually, the alternatives die on the vine, like an overexposed Netscape that has been through too many corporate acquisitions. Do you remember Netscape?
The problem is that the world court of opinion doesn't evolve fast enough to keep up with technology. In the meantime, we are stuck with IE. And soon we will be stuck with Windows Media Player too, Europe notwithstanding.
IE has become the defacto operating system environment for the Internet, like it or not. Just about every vendor that has come through lately to show me their latest and greatest software has something that works only on IE, only on Windows, and only on version 5.x or later. Why bother writing code for anything else? It is, after all, what most of us use on our desktops.
Those of us that are on Mac desktops know this drill all too well. I have a spare Windows machine on a nearby desk that I go to from time to time, because the applications that I need to run just run better there. Our corporate expense reporting system -- which is entirely browser based, I might add -- just runs faster and with fewer problems on Windows with IE than on a Mac. Every time I go to American Airlines' Web site, it runs faster on Windows with IE than on my Mac. All my WebEx and other remote desktop sharing demos that I get from the vendors around the country only work on Windows with IE. The list goes on and on. And these are the Web applications. Forget about those apps that are written specifically for Windows.
Yes, I know, I could get Virtual PC and run Windows under my Mac OS. But I shouldn't have to. And my Panther Mac desktop at home does run Web apps much faster and cleaner than my aging work OS9. My point is that developers have focused on IE and Windows and will continue to innovate on these products, as well as newer things that we can't even imagine that incorporate managing media files and applications for the future.
This is the next battle, as the European commission has rightly identified. But it is almost too late for any judgment in this sector too. True enough, iTunes is available on Windows, finally. It is a dandy application. It is so easy to manage my media; there isn't anything Microsoft has written that comes close to its elegance, simplicity and functionality.
But, eventually, Microsoft will dominate in the media player world, just as they have in the browser world. Once a monopolist, always a monopolist.
Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc.
David Strom, email@example.com, +1 (516) 562-7151
Port Washington NY 11050
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