myths notwithstanding, Microsoft is indeed hungry for more influence
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #310 October 3, 1995 High Tech Office column
late '60s, a
guy named A. J. Weberman got his 15 minutes of fame by going
through Bob Dylan's trash, and using what he found as evidence
to support theories about his former idol. If Weberman were active
today, Microsoft and Bill Gates would be a likely
its great influence over today's computer market, has found itself
the subject of many myths and rumours. Windows 95, for example, offers
users the option of registering on-line rather than mailing a card
back to Microsoft. This is a growing practice among software companies,
which have found that users are more likely to press a button that
dials a 1-800 number than to mail back a postcard.
time I ran
into this practice was a couple of years ago while installing Delrina's
WinFax. It was no big deal, but when Microsoft does the same thing,
it becomes the basis for rumours of an evil scheme to find out what's
on your hard drive, to track down pirated copies of Microsoft programs
or to read your financial records. (One of the unsung changes wrought
by the Internet is that rumours can spread faster than ever, and are
harder to discredit. Reading something on the Internet seems--to some
people--to add credibility.)
was helped along when a columnist in U.S.-based Information Week
magazine published it, going so far as to call Windows 95's Online
Registration Wizard "a virus." The next week, the editors issued an
apology for a poor choice of words, but inevitably the retraction
gathered much less attention than the original charges. Despite denials
by Microsoft, and hard data like publication of what is actually sent
by the Registration Wizard (it's not very exciting), variations of this
rumour keep circulating through Internet and other e-mail circles.
to have taken in the Australian navy, which is waiting to determine
whether online registration is a security hazard. In the meantime,
it has banned Windows 95 from its computers. (Presumably, the
army and air force are prepared to risk national security, but at
least the fleet will be safe.)
one that depicts Procter and Gamble as a tool of Satan--may
never entirely die out, since Microsoft is a perfect target for these
sorts of things. Its supposed power over the entire computer industry,
and Bill Gates' on-again, off-again listing as the richest person
in America/the world, plus tales of sometimes-ruthless business
ensure an audience for any tale, however far-fetched.
reality, of course,
is somewhat different. While Microsoft is now number one in sales
of personal-computing software, this wasn't always the case. Even
though its MS-DOS operating system has run on nearly all non-Apple
personal computers since the debut of the IBM PC in 1981, its
applications were perennial also-rans throughout the 1980s to products
like WordPerfect or Lotus 1-2-3. For most of that
Lotus took in more in sales than Microsoft. Microsoft Windows, which
debuted in 1985 (only a year behind the Macintosh, but much more
took another five years and three versions to become a serious
seem to get all the attention, they aren't the whole picture. Windows
may dominate the personal desktop market, overshadowing IBM's Warp,
but IBM's sales remain many times those of Microsoft.
Office has become the dominant seller among desktop business
Microsoft has not been able to shake networking giant Novell
from its pre-eminence in that market. Unix remains the dominant factor
in the workstation market, and in the emerging client-server market.
have rarely been inspired: instead, they owe their success more to
persistence--to adopting the best ideas of their competitors, and
continuing to slowly improve on their original designs. But in order
to maintain its growth rates, Microsoft needs to expand beyond its
current dominance of the desktop to become a serious factor in areas
where it has little or no history and experience--where people use
terms like "mission critical" to describe applications which had better
not crash, or where huge amounts of money are at risk.
time, the paranoiacs
are right: Microsoft does want control over these areas, too.
Its corporate plans range from your TV set at home to your bank to
your office's network--to any place where digital data might be found.
week: Microsoft's plans for your office's future.