Daniel Eran Dilger
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Soviet Microsoft: How Resistance to Free Markets and Open Ideas Will the Unravel the Software Superpower

Soviet Microsoft
Daniel Eran Dilger
Somewhat ironically, one of the most financially successful capitalist companies of the 90s has positioned itself as a modern counterpart to the old communist Soviet Union. Microsoft’s ideological contempt for and resistance to free markets and the open expression and propagation of fresh ideas and technologies is not only a close parallel of the old USSR, but also a clear reflection of why Microsoft is currently failing and why its troubles have only just begun. Here’s a comprehensive look at why this is the case.

Talk to the Hand.
The free market is hailed for its powers as a magical omniscient hand that sorts winners and losers objectively based on merit. It also sets prices with accuracy and precision, rewarding excellent products with premium prices and rewarding efficient production with higher sales volumes.

In the last century, passionate intellectuals fought against the powerful, all knowing hand of the market and lost. They hoped to solve the frequently brutally and indiscriminate actions of the capitalist free market, which set prices that bankrupted the weak and rewarded the rich without regard for grandmothers and children, wars and disease, fraud and treachery, and various other side effects of humanity.

The Communists hoped to replace the free market with a planned economy, where growth would only proceed orderly in one direction. Anyone in the way of such progress could be carefully removed by the appropriate bureau and reassigned to a different role that served everyone else collectively in the best possible way.

In the same way, Microsoft ushered in Windows as a common platform for all computers in the 90s. Windows promised to replace the risk and uncertainty of a world splintered by different platforms under just one operating system. Anyone who didn’t play along with the official party line was ostracized to a Siberian gulag, or at least ridiculed as an enemy of compatibility and a threat to low Total Cost of Ownership. Pundits warned of the risks of associating with alternative platforms, and expressed fear, uncertainty, and doubt concerning the future prospects of anything independent of the Microsoft Mother.

The Problem with Communism.
The problem with the ideas from the left edge of reason is that nobody on Earth is smart enough to plan such an economy, and everyone else is smart enough to be wary of anyone ready to accept the challenge. The only way to usher in communism is to remove alternative thought by convincing the populace that the only good choice is no choice, overturn the establishment, and then prop up the centrally planned system with misinformation campaigns that assure everyone they’re better off not wanting to experiment with dangerous outside ideas.

On the other hand, the best way to prevent anyone from trying to take over and establish such a centrally planned system that insists on making all the decisions is to marginalize power in an informed democracy, so that any political change based on unworkable ideas is at best glacial and difficult.

The less forced political change can occur, the more the invisible hand of the market can make decisions that benefit individuals. Socialist ideas about insuring the health of the populace, educating children, transporting people and goods effectively, and looking after the welfare of the weak and less fortunate can be addressed by the market with minor changes that don’t demand misinformation, removal of choice, or violent political upheaval to enact.

The Power of the Invisible Hand is People.
That’s because the free market isn’t really an invisible hand, but a collective of individual human actions that involve conscience. The market is both the world’s democracy and its commune. Every dollar spent is a vote, and every dollar earned is political capital to carry out plans. Once the hippie generation realized that the free market was actually the ultimate commune, the most competent members sprang into action and changed the world in a way that really changed the world.

Apple’s Steve Jobs was a long haired dropout experimenting with Eastern philosophy and LSD. However, he saw the potential in personal computer toys and teamed up with hardware genius Steve Wozniak to develop and market them. He then saw the potential in technology being developed by Xerox and worked to make it affordable and relevant to consumers. He then saw the potential of object oriented development and the leveraging of open source code at NeXT, and later returned to Apple in 1997 to turn around a dead corporation and give it a new vitality and productivity that no Ten Year Plan could have have ever decreed in a state sponsored program.

Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

Silicon Valley is full of old liberals who once thought that human nature could be shed along with the trappings of the past to usher in an Age of Aquarius where everyone was just cool and everything just worked out. They discovered that their parents had been right in a manner of speaking; you can’t change everything about yourself even if you do change everything about yourself.

Individuals with a humanity large enough to share were attracted to the rebellion against old thinking in the 60s, but the 70s began to slowly teach us that rebellion has its own problems. Our ancestors have amassed too much knowledge to ignore, and at least some of the solutions they created for dealing with the problems of life are far too valuable to simply throw out. Ignoring the wisdom of the past is as dangerous as ignoring fresh ideas for the future.

Bridging The Gap.
That leaves humanity stuck with no easy answers. How much of the old ways of thinking are worth holding onto, and how quickly should new ideas be adopted? Over the last thousands of years of recorded history, it seems clear and predictable that the old will demand an end to change and the young will always push for complete revolution. The only way to allow anything to get done is to balance things out so that the old can push their efforts to stop progress and the young can force efforts toward change without either side winning all of the time.

Of course, being old or young politically isn’t just a product of age and experience. There are conservative youth groups just as there are plenty of progressive older people, some of whom have done the most to affect positive change because of their experience and wisdom. In fact, while the youth culture has made the most light and noise, it has rarely done as much to actually introduce real change without also ushering in disastrous consequences on the side.

The power for political and social change has to be orchestrated with the same objectivity as the overall economy, leveraging the same hyper-intelligent collective of thought that sets prices and sorts out competitors. Politics and culture need a free market.

Hacking the Market.
The biggest problem with free markets is that most aren’t really free. Free markets represent the needs and demands of consumers. The collective buying decisions of millions of people statistically reveal the collective reasoning of the masses. The problem is that this virtual network of human supercomputers is easy to pollute with viral misinformation, and like any system, can only return garbage output when it is fed false information.

When vendors manipulate the market to limit the availability of competing products or dump bad products on the market to overflow its buffers in an attempt to hack control in the future, the market no longer reflects the composite intelligence of a huge audience, and instead inherits all the problems of a communist planned economy where a few people making decisions simply can’t outthink the needs of millions, despite their best intentions.

This is what Microsoft did in erecting artificial barriers to competition to Windows and Office in the 90s, and what Microsoft and both NBC Universal and Paramount/Dreamworks are doing in media, and what Microsoft is doing in opposition to free and open source software: reigning in on the free market in efforts to instead establish a politburo where Microsoft remains the only game in town.

Universal vs Apple in the iTunes Store Contracts

The New Soviet Union.
Microsoft isn’t evil for being Microsoft, but because its leadership values control above delivering good products or advancing the state of the art. Rather than competing in the market, Microsoft’s leadership has pursued a strategy of repeatedly deceiving the market. The result has been decades of productivity losses that negatively impact the rest of the world’s economy and distract humanity away from technical achievement to instead fiddle with shoddy software that is weak because it was developed outside of competitive pressure.

The other result is that one of the richest companies in the world is falling apart for the same reason the Soviet Union did: both attempted to develop power and influence by restricting ideas and forcing adoption. Those restrictions worked in the short term; the USSR roughly maintained and sometimes exceeded the technological capacity of the West across three decades, just as Microsoft briefly eclipsed independent development in a variety of areas.

However, the iron fist of resistance to outside ideas was as destructive to the USSR as the inbreeding of royalty was to Europe’s empire nations before it. Microsoft is facing the same failure by arrogantly pushing old strategies and ignoring the potential of open source. Microsoft’s anti-open rhetoric even sounds a lot like the Soviet’s view of free markets, laced with fear-based propaganda that promises dire consequences for experimenting with the open source ideas that are already proven to work outside of the Red Square of Redmond.

The Hot New Cold War.
As the USSR’s failure to maintain parity with the West became increasingly obvious, a conservative American movement launched in the early 80s alongside President Ronald Regan increasingly claimed credit for winning the Cold War. It fought battles of little consequence in Nicaragua and invested billions in Star Wars technologies theoretically intended to shoot down incoming missiles. Neither did anything to really accelerate the demise of the USSR and its network of satellite nations behind the Iron Curtain.

In the same way, companies such as Netscape and Sun launched ineffectual wars of rhetoric against Microsoft’s monopoly, but ended up doing very little to actually challenge its dominance.

What really destroyed the USSR was the rapid advancement of technology developed within the fires of cooperative competition among Western nations. The Soviets had brilliant scientists and researchers, but they couldn’t outmaneuver the efforts of thousands of individual companies, whose efforts were being selected by merit in a free market by millions of consumers.

Individual Western companies would have found it extremely difficult to compete against the vast resources of the Soviet Bloc. Similarly, many of the individual companies that launched into direct competition with Microsoft failed. Working collectively and in competition however, Western companies exponentially outpaced development of the USSR. This type of collective competition will also be the undoing of Microsoft.

After the failed ashes of Netscape were formed into the Mozilla open source project, it grew under the support of a number of companies to become Firefox and rival Microsoft’s domination of the web browser market. Parallel efforts by Opera and KHTML/Safari have cooperated and competed with Firefox to offer an even stronger standards-based challenge to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. That threat induced Microsoft to ship IE7 after years of leaving the web browser to stagnate, and has more recently forced it to exempt users from installing its Windows Genuine Advantage compliance/spyware system in order to download it.

Apple in the Web Browser Wars: Netscape vs Internet Explorer
The Web Browser Renaissance: Firefox and Safari
The Future of the Web: Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer

Winning By Merit.
Throughout the first half of the 90s, Apple offered ineffectual competition against Microsoft because it was developing all of its own technology just like Microsoft, while lacking the same access to resources that Microsoft had. When Apple began incorporating an infusion of open source technologies in the second half of the 90s, it broadened its ability to compete by leveraging the work already done elsewhere.

Microsoft’s refusal to participate in open development and its vilification of open source signal that the company still doesn’t understand what is happening in the world around it. Having established itself as an enemy of open development, it now faces the embarrassing prospect of being beaten by open companies while being unable to open itself to change, its only real recourse.

At some point, Microsoft will have to reorganize itself in a way that opens the door to open development and exposes itself to competition. Doing so will require the company to give up its buffer zone of comfort provided by its satellite bloc of competitive barriers, to disband its astroturf misinformation and propaganda ministries that underhandedly function like the KGB, and to participate in the global economy by dialing down its doomsday clock and ambitions to rule the world using the technology from previous decades.

iPod vs Zune: Microsoft’s Slippery Astroturf

Microsoft’s May Day Parade.
Instead, what Microsoft is actually doing is falsely proclaiming victory across its failing businesses in a way that looks a lot like a Soviet May Day parade: lots of impressive tanks that rumble past the harsh reality of a starving populace.

Just within this year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer proclaimed in January that his Zune music player had grabbed 20 to 25% of the market within a few months of being on sale, despite knowing that the company hadn’t sold any significant amount. The Soviet looking player got shipped to 30,000 stores, but nobody bought any until the price was dropped in a fire sale clearance sale ten months later. Microsoft then tried to stoke the story that its bargain bin sales were indicative of high demand for its Zune products.

Facing the conundrum of selling PlaysForSure DRM that doesn’t play on its own Zune product, and vice versa, Microsoft has now rebranded PlaysForSure DRM as “Certified for Windows Vista,” using the same logo it uses for Zune DRM content. This muddies the waters to confuse customers so they lose sight of the fact that Microsoft is selling two artificially incompatible DRM formats, and further suggests Vista as a solution, when nothing in Vista helps sort this problem out at all.

Why Microsoft’s Zune is Still Failing
Winter 2007 Buyer’s Guide: Microsoft Zune 8 vs iPod Nano
Microsoft Re-Brands PlaysForSure — DRM — InformationWeek

Ballmer also mocked the iPhone for being the “most expensive phone in the world” while in reality, his own Windows Mobile phones all cost significantly more to own. He also suggested that Microsoft had or would soon claim 60 to 80% of the market for smartphones but that Apple would be lucky to get 2%. In reality, Windows Mobile had a worldwide market share close to 6% at the time. After just one full quarter of sales in the US, Apple has already outpaced Microsoft in US mobile market share, which is the largest regional market for Windows Mobile by far. As Apple rolls out the iPhone globally, Microsoft’s efforts will look increasingly weak.

10 FAS: 1 - iPhone Price and Profits vs Nokia, LG, HTC, RIM, Palm

iPhone Price and Profits vs Nokia, LG, HTC, RIM, Palm
iPhone Grabs 27% of US Smartphone Market

Microsoft has also laughed off competition from Apple on Windows desktops, but the Mac maker has since surpassed Dell and HP in valuation because Apple’s sales are growing several times faster than its PC rivals. Apple’s laptops scored a major jump among consumers throughout the year, but Mac desktops are now seeing similar growth. Changewave is also pointing to forward looking plans by both consumers and corporate buyers that indicate a significant rise in plans to buy new Apple hardware.

Among consumers, Changewave found that expectations to buy new Apple systems had interest in both HP (21%) and Dell (28%) in laptops and beat HP (24%) and approached Dell (31%) in desktops. Just a year ago, Dell exceeded 40% of the vote in both categories, while Apple lagged at 11 to 16%. Apple is also up significantly in corporate purchasing plans, jumping from 2% to a 6 to 7% share of future plans, but still lags behind Dell and HP. Following its blockbuster year of 2007, those plans suggest that Apple is just getting started in its market share expansion.

 Assets Alliance Reports Pc 20071203 Chart1

Apple Macs: Dominant PC Story of 2008 – ChangeWave

Fueling that growth in part is Apple’s strong showing with Mac OS X, recently upgraded to the Leopard reference release. Reviews of Leopard have been stellar. Despite the usual efforts needed to migrate to a new system, the new update has suffered none of the show stopping problems of the year old Windows Vista, which has been plagued with poor sales and consumer resistance. Pundit’s efforts to tar and feather Leopard with Vista’s problems have been vigilant, but ineffectual.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 11 Leopard.Vs.Vista.016

Ten Myths of Leopard: 10 Leopard is a Vista Knockoff!

In desktop applications, Microsoft has tight control over Office, but this year was forced to announce a reduction in the entry price on the Mac side from $300 to $150 in order to compete against Apple’s new $79 iWork 08. Within just weeks of being on sale, iWork 08 has captured 16% of the Mac market. On the Windows side, the lack of any strong competition has kept Office 2007 expensive and unrivaled in overwhelming market share. That lack of competition has also resulted in no new updates for Office for a three to four year period.

Microsoft’s Outrageous Office Profits

Microsoft also likes to talk about its position in digital media. It is vigorously pushing its Windows Media/VC-1 in HD-DVD and its Xbox Live online video download store. However, the reality is that HD-DVD only has any support because Microsoft and Toshiba are propping the failure up by paying one studio to exclusively support it: Paramount (which also owns Dreamworks). The agreement excluded Steven Spielberg films, but not those by director Michael Bay, who has expressed fervent disapproval of the ploy, because it will result in putting a damper on HD sales of his blockbuster CGI movies such as “Transformers.”

Blu-ray vs HD-DVD in Next Generation Game Consoles

Among downloads, Microsoft’s online TV and movie business with Xbox Live isn’t significant enough to be counted among the top 99% of sales. That comes despite the fact that Microsoft maintains monopoly control over the PC market and can ship its media player software on all new PCs. When free market choice is involved, Microsoft frequently can’t win even with a huge head start.

Apple TV Digital Disruption at Work: iTunes Takes 91% of Video Download Market
Should Apple TV Copy Tivo and Media Center?

The Xbox 360 entered the market with a year long lead over rival new consoles from Sony and Nintendo. Despite using a strategy that flooded the market with unsold inventory and then advertised a huge margin in its installed base, Nintendo outsold the 360 within months, and Sony has outsold the 360 in every market outside the US. Even in the US, Sony’s Playstation 3 has achieved first year sales that compare to Microsoft’s.

In its rush to create the appearance that it controlled the gaming market, Microsoft ended up rolling out hardware with significant heat issues that resulted in a billion dollar Red Ring of Death recall. Gamers also complain about the noise of its disc player and its penchant for scratching up media.

Nintendo Wii vs Sony PlayStation 3 vs Microsoft Xbox 360: Q2 2007
PlayStation 3 vs. Xbox 360 vs. Nintendo Wii

The consumer market is voting against Microsoft’s products everywhere it has a choice. The result is that stock market is also voting against Microsoft’s future, leaving its stock flat over the last half decade. The conservative Dow Jones Index has outpaced Microsoft’s stock by a factor of two; Apple has outpaced Microsoft’s valuation increase by a factor of 100 over the same period. (click to expand)


The Floodgates of Competition.
While the USSR struggled to maintain the appearance of parity with the West in terms of flashy technology, it left its citizens unsupported and unfed. Similarly, while Microsoft can throw out clever impersonations of the Apple iPod, Google search, Adobe Flash and PDF, MPEG video, the Apache web server, and other leading products, it’s sticking its core customer base with old software, high prices, and unsolved problems such as security concerns, malware, and instability.

Once the people of the former Soviet Union gained access to Western goods refined by a competitive marketplace, they increasingly sought more independence and more competition. Microsoft still has yet to suffer the full brunt of competitive efforts currently tearing down its walls.

For example, Apple’s Mac desktops are competing against Windows hegemony and challenging the idea that homogeneous desktop solidarity is the only way to deliver software to the people. As Apple pioneers successful independence from Windows, other competitors with less marketing clout will also be able to make inroads to compete against Windows.

Once the competitive barrier cracks, alternative desktops and appliances running Linux or BSD will rapidly eat into the volume of Microsoft’s Windows PC empire, offering far lower prices for basic computers that browse the web and email. That will in turn destroy the market for Office for Windows, replacing it with a common office document format that can be read by any vendor’s software, just as the web and emails can be accessed by any browser and mail client.

Like the old Soviet hard line, Microsoft will initially respond with tanks and more barbed wire to contain its losses, as it did when attempting to stifle development of the XO laptop for children in developing countries, or in threatening open source developers with patent lawsuits, or its attempts to pad standards committees with paid votes to declare its ambiguous and interoperability-resistant OOXML Office format as the lingua franca of business for the next decade.

At some point however, Microsoft will be forced to face the reality that it can’t contain its citizens behind its walls forever, and that resistance to free and open markets is futile. The process will be painful for Microsoft’s users, who will face coping with a rapid upgrade of technology. For independent spectators, watching Microsoft’s hard liners fall will be a mixture of long awaited celebration and a new era of optimism in the future of free and open technology markets.

Microsoft's Unwinnable War on Linux and Open Source

Microsoft’s Unwinnable War on Linux and Open Source

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  • kunduz

    people seem to confuse what FOSS is all about, let me give an example ..

    lets say you want to study calculus, you can do that is many way including the following:
    1. you can go to your local library, borrow a book, go home and study by yourself.
    2. do as one above but hiring a tutor
    3. go to your local community college and pay a bit of money
    4. go to your local university and pay a bit more
    5. go to one of those expensive school and get the same education.

    if you go first two route, you can go and get some sort of exam somewhere to get certification.

    why is the above possible? because the knowledge in itself is free, you dont pay for it, you pay for the service ..just because because you can get something for free it doesnt mean everybody will go the free route ..this is why universities get a lot of money giving something that is already out there

    FOSS is about open standard and openness ..its about not being forced to anybody way of doing things …foss views software as knowledge, something that should freely available and publicly shareable ..

    FOSS is not anti-capitalism or anti-business ..it is anti-secrecy and pro standard ..

    FOSS is about having the basic knowledge freely open and publicly shareble ..capitalistic empires can be built on public knowledge

    to make an arguments that business will go bankrupt is FOSS takes over the world is the same as making an arguments that universities should go out of business because the knowlege they give is already publicly available..

    when was the last time society as a whole and in a long run benefited from anybody keeping secrets? abd use non standard tools?

    this is the basic idea about FOSS ..money can be made in FOSS ..same as money can be made in propietary software world

    if FOSS is communism, is the world’s sharing of basic knowledge and goverments and private institutions contribution to it communism?

    dont confuse linux is FOSS ..linux is a part of FOSS as apple and microsoft a part of proprietary world ..

    people are afraid of change and fear what they dont understand ..FOSS is here to stay call it anti-capitalism all you want but its not going anywhere ..if linux fails, something else will take its place .. the idea will survive

    ..at the end of the day ..everybody wants to be free..and what is freely available knowledge is what will survice in the long run ..

    case in point, UNIX

    [I agree with most of what you say, but ideals behind FOSS aren’t shared by all of its users the same way. It’s a bit like talking to communists who insist that the USSR, China, and every other expression of communism as a political experiment “wasn’t really communism.” That may be very true, but it doesn’t account for the fact that what we know about how communism really works is based on the experiments that actually happened, as they happened.

    Idealistically, one could say that Apple’s software is about “just working,” which is true despite the fact that somethings don’t just work perfectly. The GPL is about ensuring FOSS ideals through enforcement. That’s very different that BSD, which is about reusing technology that works in any way possible. Same idea, very different intent, very different licensing, very different outcome, both FOSS.

    That makes it important not to look at things as they are, not as they should ideally be. The two are rarely ever the same.

    Also, I might be reading your comment wrong, but I want to clarify that I’m not saying that Linux/FOSS/GPL is a communist cancer eating away at companies like Microsoft. My comparison of Microsoft to the Soviets was more about resistance to outside ideas, purging of any heterogeneous interaction (one platform), and the systematic use of misinformation campaigns to prevent dissent. I made that comparison in part because a contrast between Microsoft and USSR is at first strikingly unnatural given that I think most people would recognize Microsoft to be economically capitalist/conservative and likely socially liberal/progressive.

    One can compare two elements of any number of groups and find similarities; I was trying to make an interesting, thought provoking contrast, not repeat a common tired idea. Incidentally, I agree with your comments that FOSS is not a threat to business, but an opportunity. Apple isn’t in the business of marketing or supporting FOSS sales, but instead integrates and contributes toward a variety of open projects – Dan]

  • UrbanBard

    Morris, I am not opposed to the FOSC. They have a place in the computer world. As I said– it’s a big world. There are many interests in it. The FOSC simply do not have a marketing plan that appeals to me.

    I’m a customer. I’m the one with the money. If the government keeps out of things, I’m the one who decides. But, my choices may be limited by what is offered. I do not choose what either Linux or Microsoft offers. Perhaps one day, Linux will be mature enough to change my mind, but not yet. A dismissive attitude will not persuade me, though.

    kunduz seemed to look down his nose at us in the Apple world and he was certainly off topic. Perhaps, I should have let it slide. I’m sorry if I stepped on any toes.

  • Steve Nagel

    I’ve owned Apple products since the early eighties, and even I don’t believe that Apple has always been about excellence rather than money.

    In the eighties, Apple was arrogant as hell and put profits well ahead of product. It was definitely not the computer “for the rest of us” in terms of price.

    In the nineties, Apple lost its mind and much of its hardware excellence. It was hard times for Apple product owners.

    Fortunately, Jobs returned and it’s his savvy and perhaps trust of Ives’s genius, that’s given Apple its renewed engineering and design excellence.

    Even now, however, Apple does a great job of playing Wall Street; its new excellence extends to money, including delivering high profitability.

    In other words, Apple grew up and learned that corporations are like cows: Cows need grass to make milk, but even with grass, cows that stop making milk are soon hamburger.

    And Apple got really lucky. Does anyone think that Apple was cagily waiting to make its big move for the music industry to fail, for flash drives, for the internet, and for Microsoft to rise to its level of incompetence—all at once?

    “Corporations offer love to get money; consumers offer money to get love.”

  • UrbanBard

    The story line gets muddled, Steve Nagel; a lot of early mistakes were made.

    Steve jobs invited into Apple’s management an old line business type, John Sculley from Pepsi, who showed that he didn’t understand the computer business. Sculley thought he was selling a commodity, like soda pop, not a complex mixture of products and services. The clone fiasco was the result. Apple needed its own business plan. It could not simply copy Microsoft and its Wintel partners.

    The goals of a company and the actions of its management are often derived from the character of the company’s founders. It takes time and effort to turn a company from the path it was taking. It is much easier to follow along.

    What is the character of Microsoft’s founders? Paul White seems like a good guy who did most of the early work. Bill Gates is a sharp dealer who brought in Ballmer who has the ethics of a used car dealer.

    Microsoft’s character was to underpay and cheat its employees while grasping for whatever advantage, money, power and influence it could. It developed a reputation for shoddy goods which, after a low initial price, locked you into their system where they could exploit you. They borrowed from IBM their disinformation campaign against their competitors. They used industrial espionage to steal Apple’s ideas. They rushed flawed copies of Apple’s programs to the market to steal Apple’s thunder.

    Dealing with Microsoft was like dealing with the Devil. Many of Microsoft’s partners found out that to their dismay.

    Steve Wozniac and Steve Jobs were hobbyists who wanted computers developed and found that the major companies did not see the opportunity. They made a lot of mistakes along the way as they learned the business. Steve Jobs was obsessive about maintaining control. A number of his decisions on the Macintosh were stupid, selfish and self defeating.

    I see Steve Jobs now as a craftsman of fine equipment who is dismayed by Microsoft’s shoddy, third rate work and puzzled by its success.

    Steve is still a control freak who occasionally makes wrong steps. But, Apple is in a market it does not control.

    Apple found that openness led to it being copied, so Apple is secretive. It has long term plans at work. This makes them look arrogant. Little of what Apple does is impulsive.

    Apple patiently places its ducks in a row, one at a time, in a deceptive manner. We can look back and see those ducks and how they interrelated: Quicktime, the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, the Apple retail stores , etc.

    Was all that planned to happen this way? Yes. Was Apple’s success a surprise to Steve Jobs? I don’t think so.

    Steve Jobs is taking advantage of the gaps in services between Microsoft and the Wintel manufacturers who pull in different directions. He is offering unified hardware and software products which work better than the competition. He is taking advantage of flaws in the Wintel system. He has turned the tables on Microsoft. The fact that Microsoft is acting incompetent is just icing on the cake.

  • John Muir

    @ Morris

    John Gruber, the author of Daring Fireball, runs Leopard so I don’t think he’s much disappointed by Vista. Indeed I just delved into the archive and found this from October (2007 for a change!):

    “Microsoft hasn’t done anything interesting with Windows since XP. Windows-vs.-Mac arguments tend to be inflammatory, but there’s nothing in Vista — nothing — that would tempt a Mac user to switch. And given Microsoft’s pace of Windows development, it seems obvious that Vista is it for this decade: that come 2010, Vista, with a few subsequent service packs, is going to be all Microsoft will have to show for the 2000s. It was a long wait for Vista and it didn’t seem worth it.”


    I was already a full-time Mac user myself by the time Longhorn was branded Vista, and most of the long promised features were jettisoned along with any idea that it was much more than Server 2003 in lipstick. If I’d been asked back in 2004 though — when my first Mac was but a year old — I’d have said much the same thing and presumed that Longhorn would be much better than it turned out to be. I ran Windows 3.1 to XP and saw what seems in retrospect to be Microsoft’s golden era as a regular desktop user. It took a while, but their stagnation since 2001 has grown to the point of universal ridicule.

    I just linked that article because I remembered his skinning analogy, and comparison with Firefox.

    As for contemporary Linux experience, I’ve spent a few days running from LiveCD’s just to try them out … Ubuntu from Breezy Badger to Gutsy Gibbon, a spot of Xubuntu to try to restore an old laptop (but even Xfce was beyond it really), and Fedora and Suse in Parallels when I was new to it and eager to play around. (My old PC found itself on what was to be a long trial of Feisty Fawn but its drive died.)

    I found the distros to be fairly good on desktop machines: as wi-fi configuration (especially out on the road in environments where you are not the network admin) and sleep were longstanding sore points. But I can’t say I’m a fan of Open Office or indeed really any of the software they came with besides for Firefox. (I use Firefox on the Mac as my second browser for anything Safari still doesn’t like: including the heinously over ad-laden! It’s a true quality open source app.) And issues like adjusting mouse pointer movement and acceleration were over-complex compared to what I’m used to elsewhere. However, what really kept me away was the lack of Photoshop and my typical bafflement at just what on Earth is the great GIMP! At least Maya’s there though.

    I will gladly concede that Linux — Ubuntu especially — is pretty much at the level it needs to be to suffice for web browsing and email; but it seems further off for laptops, which are the increasingly dominant choice in the home. Let me refine that however…

    Apple’s marketing is, as always, a great example of how to target the home user. Leopard is being pushed as the biggest advancement in civilisation since sliced bread, is the rave of reviews, and promises a slick and refined experience which — most important of all — is presented as friendly and non-frightening to the vast untechnical majority out there. Most users aren’t likely to do much outside of Safari, Mail, iChat, iPhoto and iTunes; but that’s not the vision they’re after and so it’s not what Apple tries to push on them. The appeal of a Mac to unsure, Vista-doubting, average users is this great yet intangible promise of being able to do more with their computer; even if they won’t. Sure, kissing spyware goodbye is a big step up, but note that Apple always make more of the creative possibilities than that.

    Low end Linux PC’s are in a sense the opposite. I like in Britain so they’re still almost unheard of here, but I expect they’re marketed on one thing: price. Although there are open source alternatives to almost everything if you look and learn, that level of commitment is worrying to most people. Those of us who are tech geeks don’t think twice about trying competing solutions and finding fixes for the hurdles in our way, but we are the perennial minority. A Linux system comes loaded with complex connotations as far as consumers are concerned. I’d like to see them do well, don’t get me wrong, as they go after the market section Apple never tries to swipe. But I can’t see the enthusiasm yet, where the tipping point must lie. Most people see switching to a Mac as a big shot in the dark, despite all the good things they’re forever hearing about it. Linux has an uphill fight all of its own.

    I don’t think there’s anything absolutely unique about Apple. In fact something I’d really love to see is another major manufacturer give up on Windows, and do what Apple has done with Darwin but with Linux instead. I’d like to see someone else out there “make the whole widget”, and enjoy the advantages they too would receive when they have a platform in their pocket and their customers interests at heart instead of pushing middleware. Linux is strong at its core, but the GNU front end is where the most work is required. Work which needs singleminded and in my opinion commercial *design*. Gnome and KDE are workable alternatives to the ugly Windows desktop but neither wow me as a Mac user … nor does the underlying techie need to know about Xfree86 or the precise version number of every single thing you’re using. Try out installing apps by drag and drop (for real) and Apple’s software update mechanism (and Sparkle for 3rd parties), to see what I mean. Some may well love apt-get but there’s a lot more people who can understand the Mac way on first sight with no explanation. There lies the difference in development strategies.

    Imagine for a moment a big maker unveiling their own new platform, with Google and others in tow, where you buy their computers pre-installed, can download pre-compiled apps from good places everywhere, manage everything by drag and drop, and have outstanding compatibility with open standards. Make sure its desktop looks good and makes sense, and that the developer tools are free, and hey: we’re talking something big here. Make it a commercial product that can be licensed by other makers and you have many pundits alternate-to-Microsoft panacea. I wonder if anyone in those companies are thinking about this long and hard? Apple’s budget for OS X is far from astronomical, and look at how nimble they are now as to be able to put the best bits right in a phone.

    Anyway, I’ll believe Linux is taking off on the desktop when I see some figures. Figures like page views — just like the iPhone is beginning to pick up, already eclipsing its combined mobile rivals — and of course systems sold pre-installed. I’ll be happy if and when it does. But I’ve been following this one since before I switched to the Mac, and so far all the momentum I’ve been aware of is with the big cats.

  • John Muir


    1. I”live” in Britain, whether I like it or not is irrelevant!

    2. There are of course reasons why breaking into the PC operating system market is a massive challenge. Reasons Daniel mentions readily enough, and largely courtesy of Redmond. OpenStep was a failure before Apple bought the golden goose, and BeOS vanished into senseless oblivion as though cursed. Why? Lock in, anti-competitive Windows licensing contracts, fear, uncertainty and doubt. The same all still applies today, whether it’s Google delivering the product or (sigh) a “consortium”. Android is something else I’d like to see do well as I think it and the iPhone’s offspring could devour the opposite ends of the market. But it’s Apple’s position I consider the stronger, in phones as well as computers. Being the hardware and software integration outfit has benefits which can be measured in the interface of everything they make.

  • Steve Nagel

    @ UrbanBard

    I once asked my brother who has worked in Silicon Valley forever, if I should just quit Macs at work and home. It was the nineties and things were tough for Mac owners. It looked like Apple was going to fold up its tent. His response: Hang in there. Apple has so much technology in its portfolio, it will never die. If that’s what you mean by Apple’s long term strategy, fine with me.

    Yet, as you say, Apple made mistakes early on. Which to me was the eighties. And its biggest mistakes were due to greed. And mistakes were made later on too. The nineties. As you noted. And they were often due to stupidity. So lots of mistakes were made.

    On the other side of the ledger, consider the iPod: No one at Apple thought up music players. Music players were already out; even the iPod software wasn’t Apple’s to begin with.

    “Was all that planned to happen this way?”

    I don’t think so. The iPod was smart, quick, opportunistic thinking—a year to market—but the it certainly wasn’t an example of Quicktime to the rescue. Or any other long-term technology or strategy.

    Granted Apple took it home: hooked it up with iTunes and music content and DMR. And the rest was history. But did Apple see all this integration from the start? Doubt it. Wikipedia says the iPod began with the idea of selling Macs with some kind of music gizmo (my summary).

    But where Apple would be today without the iPod success? Out of luck, I’d say.

  • John Muir

    @ Steve Nagel

    The Mac was making profits all that time. No argument that AAPL would be a whole lot lower right now without the iPod, but the idea that the iPod defines Apple as a whole is well worn and flawed all the same.

    Mac OS X is Apple’s crown jewels. Vista would still suck, independently of the iPod, and the Mac was always still there to pick up at Microsoft’s expense. The iPod helped boost Apple’s finances, but they were never particularly short of cash in the first place.

  • Steve Nagel

    @ John

    The fact that Apple was making money all through the eighties and nineties makes my point: it was never about excellence instead of money. Apple isn’t just about excellence. That’s my point. Too often I hear that it’s money comes from some kind of mystical commitment, rather than the smart use of opportunities as they arise.

    Maybe the iPod took Apple out of the wilderness. Maybe not. I won’t argue alternative histories. I just remember how bad it really got in the nineties. Apple isn’t all that prescient. That’s my other point.

  • UrbanBard

    Hi Steve Nagle,

    I think most of the mistakes that Apple made were a failure of focus. The management forgot their vision. The biggest mistakes they made were in trying to adopt Microsoft’s business plan. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.

    I just think that there are different philosophies inside Microsoft and Apple. Sometimes, that spun Apple off into never-never land were they were designing applications which would never make them money. Steve Jobs, when he came back, stopped that cold.

    Perhaps, you have better insider info than me. From the outside, it doesn’t look like purely opportunistic thinking. It looks like that they had these technologies that they could leverage. Then there was a confluence of events: the right hardware coming along at the right time. I’d say that Apple was prepared to succeed. Opportunity presents itself to the prepared and Apple was prepared.

    The MP-3 players, for instance, were a cold market. RIAA and excessive DRM had killed it, mostly. Quicktime was necessary for the next step to the iTunes Music store. That was when iPod sales took off.

    The Mac was coming back without the iPod to spur it, though. The way it was doing it was through its consumer and professional software. Daniel make a big deal about the phrase” Software sells systems.”

    It was a hard slog for Apple in the late ’90’s and early 00’s. It was overcoming a decade of FUD. The iPod helped popularize Apple, but Apple needed to get good enough first.

  • UrbanBard

    Steve, I’m not saying that Apple had any detailed five year plans. It more like they had this star they were aiming for and had no way of getting there. But, they could start aiming their technologies in that direction, just on spec.

    Perhaps, they bought Final Cut and Shake to keep them from being buried at other companies. Then when those application became popular, they bought more. There is luck. But, a lot of luck is making the best of a good thing.

  • John Muir

    @ Steve and UrbanBard

    It’s common to think of Apple’s tale so far as a story in three acts.

    Act I: 1976-1984. Garage to Macintosh. (The first age of Steve Jobs.)
    Act II: 1985-1996. Costly Irrelevance. (Sculley to Amelio.)
    Act III: 1997-present. iMac, iPod and iPhone. (The second coming.)

    Steve Jobs removal from the company in 1985 was a big deal and shouldn’t be overlooked when delving into the past. The bad image Apple has among those who hate it seems to come from the wilderness years in the middle when Sculley milked the Mac for profits over sustainability, and every new thing they ever brought out (Newton) was at once ingenious yet fatally flawed. Apple was this snooty purveyor of premium priced but often downright clunky kit, whose operating system was as stagnant as Windows is today. This all changed in the late 90’s with the NeXT merger, yet it is still remembered and colours commentary to this day.

    As for just what they were thinking when the iPod was under development, I refer you to this (really long … good for a coffee!) insider’s tale … to Audion. It was the leading mp3 app on the Mac during the period Apple first woke up to the idea. Steve Jobs talked to these guys about buying their product, and their team, but the story didn’t work out that way. Instead, Apple bought out SoundJam — Audion’s chief rival — and soon unveiled their work as a little thing called iTunes.


    Here’s a good quote:

    Jobs wanted to know how big we were, and how long we’ve been doing this. He wanted to know a few more things that I can’t even really remember. I remember he asked, “Do you have any other ideas for apps you want to work on?” I replied, genuinely, “Well, we’ve got an idea for a digital photo management program…” and he replied with a simple, “Yeah. Don’t do that one.” Everyone in the room laughed but I had no idea why — remember, my head was still exploding — so Steven Frank had to explain to me that he meant, basically, it was already being made and, of course, it would be called iPhoto. Oh. I get it now.

    So I think they really did have a digital hub strategy. iTunes and iPhoto would soon become the first (and still most important) blocks of iLife, while the pro apps were also being tended to. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the idea for the strategy came together from luck just as much as wisdom, but that’s technology for you.

    Daniel has mentioned this before, with that ancient yet always prescient slogan “software sells systems”. When you’re agile enough, you can pick up that software the moment before everyone else suddenly realise just how important it is destined to be.

  • Steve Nagel

    @ UrbanBard and John

    Good comments. And I’m all for Apple success on whatever basis. No argument there.

    I might extend Daniel’s adage to “solutions sell software and systems.” The iPod/iMac/iTunes music solution, including the DRM agreements, was a huge step out of the muck.

    I look forward to our TV/video quandaries being resolved as successfully by Apple

    To include a universal remote perhaps. The holy grail of technology.

  • UrbanBard

    Haven’t you figured out that universal remote thing, yet, Steve? It’s an iPhone, silly. LOL

  • Jesse

    What I think most everybody fails to understand on this forum and most others–even pro-Apple people–is that consumers don’t actually want choice. It’s a complete myth that people love choice. Choosing is confusing and time-consuming. What people want is to find something that works and never have to think about it again.

    Get it, Linuxo-philes? The only way for Linux to succeed is for it to scrap almost every single thing you love about it.

    Even if Apple users by and large fail to grasp this, Apple clearly does. They try to remove as much choice as possible–from their hardware configurations to their software designs to the freakin’ buttons on their freakin’ remote controls.

    It’s heresy because so much of our culture is built around the idea that freedom of choice is what makes people happy. If you actually look at human behavior, people avoid choice whenever possible.

    Even Linux users are deceiving themselves. You know what makes people happy? Close-knit communities and a sense of a higher purpose. And think about it–that’s what the heart of Linux really is.

  • Jon T

    Congratulations Dan. This page tells me you are finally achieving what you set to have happen – an intelligent blog, that attracts intelligent and sometimes controversial comment. My hat off to you sir, and long may it continue. I also re-issue my assurance that if you ever write a book about this stuff, I will be up for 10 copies!

    And on topic, Microsoft IS the Soviet Union. You only have to look at Ballmers brainwashing speeches to rally the MS troops… It’s not business, its totalitarianism.

  • Morris

    The Linux/Windows argument is not so dissimilar to people who look after their carbon footprint putting up with lone morons in SUV’s blasting up and down the road. The money from the purchasing of the SUV’s goes on adverts pointing out that at 18mpg they’re the most economical SUV’s yet. You can’t stop these people from living in blissful ignorance and believing the adverts.

    Big industry can’t cut off/control the supply lines for Linux. If they could, they’d have done it well before now.
    So they are left with their last resort, FUD. And that falls on deaf ears or gets laughed at in the Linux world.

    At one point some Microsoft exec even tried the “Open Source could be the end of capitalism itself” noise, presumably to try and keep industry rallied behind them.

    Understand that Linux is what it is without big budgets.
    Understand that Vista is what it is with big budgets. It’s not hard to see where it will end up.

  • UrbanBard

    “What I think most everybody fails to understand on this forum and most others–even pro-Apple people–is that consumers don’t actually want choice.
    …. Choosing is confusing and time-consuming. What people want is to find something that works and never have to think about it again.””

    I think it’s a bit more complex than that. People love choices, but not forced choices. Or irritating choices like Vista’s “accept or deny” dialog boxes.

    The Apple people are more of the “set it once and forget it” crowd. Or the “find someone you can trust to do it for you” crowd.

    That brings up the “intelligent servant” thing. Convenience, security and ease of use vie with each other.

    The wider the group of consumers you have, the more likely it is that they will be technically incapable. So, it becomes a matter of finding servants you can trust. Servants know all your secrets. The only way to keep secrets is not to have servants. Linux people don’t seem to trust servants; they must do everything themselves.

    “Even if Apple users by and large fail to grasp this, Apple clearly does. They try to remove as much choice as possible–from their hardware configurations to their software designs to the freakin’ buttons on their freakin’ remote controls.”

    Many choices are mundane, so we want an intelligent servant to make them for us. The question is, “Do these choices aid us in getting what we want done?” Also, “Are these decisions sufficiently important that I must decide them?” If all an activity does is to occasionally save us a few seconds, is it worth our while to spend the effort and intelligence on them?

    “It’s heresy because so much of our culture is built around the idea that freedom of choice is what makes people happy. If you actually look at human behavior, people avoid choice whenever possible.”

    It’s not the choices that make us free, it’s that we get to make them. We still have to accept the consequences of our decisions. If we decide stupidly or carelessly, we get bad results. If we allow someone or something else to decide for us, then we can wind up behind an “iron curtain.” Those servants may decide to take over our lives. The Soviet leadership tended to think that they owned people.

    “You know what makes people happy? Close-knit communities and a sense of a higher purpose. And think about it–that’s what the heart of Linux really is.”

    Different things make people happy. Some people are individualists who cannot stand communal living. The way to resolve this is to allow people to choose the groups that they want to belong to. If they want to sign themselves into a monastery of ridged rules, let them.

    If they find themselves exploited there , then let them escape. Let there be competition among the groups to please the customers. There is a place in this world for masochists, but I’m not one of them.

  • Steve Nagel

    I like the bits above about the importance of choosing and belonging. Cynically put, it’s about market segments:

    * 10 percent of buyers are both loners and choosers. They like choice and they like doing stuff themselves. Think male; think Linux.

    * 30 percent are choosers and not loners. They like trusted “intelligent servants” to narrow the choices to relevant, significant ones. Think Mac fans.

    * 60 percent are not choosers and not loners. Mostly they like to belong, so they like their choices narrowed down to those that the media proclaims to be great choices. Think iPods.

    The key to consumer marketing is to dup the sixty percenters into thinking that they are making choices that maybe one percent of the world can make because they are that rich or smart. Think Republicans.

    Please excuse that last bit. Just slipped out.

  • UrbanBard

    I caution you that I used to be a “Scoop” Jackson type Democrat who was forced out of the Democratic party by the “New Left” and wandered in the Libertarian wastelands for decades before turning Republican in 2002. What associations I will have after this war is over, who knows?

    I suspect that the rich and/or smart are trapped by their possessions or by their professional associations. That is why scientific and technological innovation is resisted. New ideas would gore their oxen.

    There are plenty of smart people in the humanities departments of our universities who dare not have a contrary opinion because of the fear that they will be shunned. Mind control was a part of the Soviet Empire–the Microsoft Empire as well.

    But, politics is so divisive. Let us, instead, speak of consumer choices. The point about freedom is that you are allowed to change your mind, not what decisions you make. A certain percentage of your decisions will be errors, anyway.

    The part that I like about choice, personally or in an economy, is that you can correct mistakes.

    The problem with coercive systems is that they try to hang onto a position long after it is obviously flawed. They have disinformation mechanisms who never get the word that their efforts are unnecessary. It’s like the people on the Wintel side who bring up the “one button” mouse issue. They are unaware that the Mighty Mouse is over four years old.

  • Morris

    If you ask anyone with an IQ higher than “I gonna blow your f***ing brains out muther f***a” which they prefer :
    a) The idea that everybody works together for the greater good of all
    b) To rule the world
    the answers will be the same.

    Maybe there should be a ban on the idea of career politics?

  • UrbanBard

    “Maybe there should be a ban on the idea of career politics?”

    You mean “line them up against the wall?” How messy.

    Or is ridicule enough of a correction? Public shame hasn’t kept Hillary from doing anything she ever wanted.

    America was an attempt at avoiding career politicians–kings and such. It was supposed to be a government by the Common Man.

    It hasn’t worked perfectly because of “Free rider” and “Rent-seeking” issues. There will always be people who prefer to seek money and power from politics than from working for a living. There will always be people ready to sell their votes for a mess of pottage.

    That is why Thomas Jefferson suggested a revolution every generation. “The price of freedom is constant vigil.” “The tree of liberty requires the blood of patriots.”

  • Steve Nagel

    OK, I am going to retract my “Think Republicans” phrase out of courtesy to the readership here. I can think of lots of ways the Democrats have pandered.

    Think demagogues.

  • UrbanBard

    There are plenty of people who want to control other people’s minds and actions. It’s not limited to Mother’s-in-law.

    The point is to find out what they want you to do. Sometimes, you can agree with the demagogue’s goals, if not his methods.

    One issue that you have to be careful about is that demagogues, once they hold power, will try to limit your access to contrary information. You would be surprised at the list of the “state controlled press” in the world.

    What Political Parties do is present you with a buffet of ideas and assumptions. There is much on the table in both parties that you cannot stomach.

    I am an individualist and that made me leave the Democratic party. But, I am a proponent of the Common Man, so I feel uncomfortable in the Republican Party. I distrust dictatorial power, thus, I mistrust governmental actions. I value pragmatism, so I want to continue what works. I love American society and culture, so I don’t want them discarded. Consequently, I feel uneasy, wherever I lay my head.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    I can’t believe no one posted this…

    Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory thoughts. Our Unification of Thought is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

  • Morris

    Interesting Johnny.

    Yes after FOSS is the prevalent norm I see people turning their attentions to building wonderful ways of improving equality, efficiency and so forth.

    Of course, there’ll still be the little Mafia’s trying to embed themselves somewhere within the framework.

    With our governments so obsessed with business, I do wonder why it is still legal to teach our children to share.

  • UrbanBard

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau would be proud of both of you.

    I hope that neither of you has Robespierre in his pocket.

  • Morris

    not @UrbanBard

    When discussing with elders over a few ales, it is always, in their minds, the ultimate argument to recite some Shakespeare, or some awkwardly English muddlings of thoughts from some century ago.

    “History always repeats itself” they cry, and so forth.

    Global communication and collaboration is not repeating itself.

    We are entering unchartered territory where the elders are mere buffoons.

  • Morris

    There are things apparent about “democratic governments”.
    a) Why is choice only a or b?
    b) Why do they merely follow us around, as opposed to innovating and lead as they pretend to do?

  • UrbanBard

    No, Morris, this is not about elders–or Shakespeare. It is about pragmatism. The world has its own ways. What failed in the past, often fails when tried again. “Those who don’t know the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.”

    As I said, I do not see a good marketing plan for FOSC. As I learned in my Economics classes, Co-op establishments do not compete well, long term, against commercial establishments.

    But, I have nothing against any non-coercive method or system. Free Enterprise means that people can experiment with new marketing methods. Have at it.

    Perhaps, I am wrong in this instance. We’ll see. I still have a few years left in me. Microsoft should be marginalized in ten to fifteen years. I’ll last that long.

    I see FOSC as a defense mechanism to confront Microsoft’s tyranny and power. Any profit seeking entity would be marginalized, bought out by MS or run over. There was no way to do that with Linux.

    When Microsoft loses its ability to sabotage the competition, will FOSC be necessary? I don’t know.

    Your post #79 makes no sense to me. Could you expand your thoughts for us mentally feeble oldsters?

    My point in #77 was that the writing in that manifesto reminded me of high flown Leftist proclamations. They are either ineffectual or misleading. They gave to the power hungry a chance to take control.

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau was directly tied to Robespierre’s reign of terror during the French Revolution. Rousseau wanted to overturn all traditional, religious, legal or customary restraints on society or government action. He wanted to return to a “state of nature.” This lead to Robespierre’s absolute tyranny and the Guillotine. The French Revolution is the model for every succeeding Totalitarian State.

    Some of the people in FOSC seem to want to overturn capitalism. At least, they seem hostile to it. You have to be careful what you ask for. You might get it.

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  • avocade

    Brilliant. Perhaps a new sub-headline to the article that sums up the gist of it: “Microsoft Corporate Practice = Stalinist Communism.” That should turn some heads.

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