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August 16, 2005
Bill Gates is Right - Windows Stimulates Innovation - Much More than MacOS or Linux
I have been a fan of the MacOS for years — and still am. While I use a Windows machine myself, I maintain a mixed network at home and I have my entire family on MacIntosh machines. Why? To decrease unwanted tech support calls. The Mac just works. I still get tech support calls from my family, but they are usually quickly resolved by rebooting routers, cable modems, etc. and rarely do the problems have anything to do with the MacOS or the Mac Applications themselves. The stuff just seems to work without alot of problems.
When is comes to email, the same applies. While I engage in a daily battle from the pummelling I receive from SPAM and viruses on the Windows side, my family is hardly even aware that these are problems for others. Their Mac email clients just learn what is legit and what isn’t — and doesn’t seem to bother them with these issues. The same appears to be true for my programmers — who tend to live in Linux environments. They just don’t seem to complain as much — as long as they avoid windows and it’s associated applications.
This brings me to a weird realization.
Perhaps Bill Gates is actually right and that Windows, and therefore Microsoft, really does stimulate software innovation — I just get to that conclusion using a different logical path than Bill Gates.
I don’t think too many people would argue against the following statement —
Necessity is the Mother of Innovation. [ where Innovation = Invention ]
And I would argue that software which is often broken or has multiple flaws which are constantly revealed to end-users during the course of their misson-critical personal computing activities creates NECESSITY.
Given that the most common end-user experience of Windows is that is is often broken or flawed — it’s not a huge logical leap to conclude that —
Windows (and therefore Microsoft) is the Mother of Innovation.
As was pointed out to me earlier today on a phone call, a pretty good case could be made that —
In general, broken technology spurs on innovation.
If it’s broken, you have an opportunity to think about it and create solutions to solve these problems. In environments like the MacOS or Linux, where the shit just works, there are huge classes of problems you wouldn’t even realize are problems — because you don’t see them as problems on a daily basis as you do in the Windows world.
In the Windows environment, however, everything is a constant struggle. The stuff is barely useable.
Therefore, whole new classes of solutions have grown out of problems which originated as flaws or “feature voids” in Windows. The innovations that result often impact the Mac and Linux worlds positively — but they owe their existence to defects within windows. There are tons of examples that come to mind — SPAM filtering, Virus checking, desktop search engines, desktop performance enhancing utilities, browser technologies, etc. — to name just a few.
So, maybe Bill Gates is actually correct — Microsoft’s current monopoly position in operating systems, browsers, word processing software, spreadsheet software, presentation software, email software, etc. etc. —
IS ACTUALLY STIMULATING INNOVATION AND WEALTH GENERATION IN THE SOFTWARE INDUSTRY.
It’s just that the mechanism by which Micosoft is stimulating innovation is not necessarily something Bill should be so proud of.
I've shown that (1) none of the key software innovations have been produced by Microsoft, (2) Microsoft's key products are essentially copies of previous products, and that (3) Microsoft's key technologies aren't innovative either. Microsoft has always ``chased the tail lights'' of real innovators. Perhaps Microsoft has been creative in small ways, but there's absolutely no evidence that they're more or even as creative as any other group of developers, OSS/FS or proprietary. Others have come to the same conclusion; see websites such as the Microsoft "Hall of Innovation".
There's nothing wrong with a company that isn't innovative. After all, the purpose of Microsoft (or any other company) is to make money for its shareholders, not to create innovations for their own sake. But claiming that you're innovative, when you aren't, is disingenuous. Justifying illegal actions in the name of innovation, when that innovation has never occurred, is doubly disingenuous. And, if this is a key support for their argument that the government shouldn't encourage OSS/FS, analysis quickly causes those arguments to evaporate too.
Only Microsoft seems to think that OSS/FS is a fundamental problem for the computing industry. Several key innovations came from the OSS/FS community, including essentially the entire Internet, so clearly OSS/FS encourages innovation, not the other way around. In a wider view, OSS/FS is being widely embraced, and there are many quantitative benefits. For example, many major computing companies (such as IBM, HP, and Sun) are adopting, distributing, and supporting OSS/FS projects. Even other companies that sell proprietary software, such as Oracle, are finding ways to work with OSS/FS projects.
In this context, Allchin's statement ``I worry if the government encourages open source [software], and I don't think we've done enough education of policymakers to understand the threat,'' has a chilling undertone.
It instead appears that Microsoft simply doesn't want to change its business model to reflect the changing computing environment and its customer's desires. That's too bad; nothing prevents Microsoft from changing its approach. Yet monopolies before it have made the same mistake. I'm not anti-Microsoft, and I'm not against proprietary software. Indeed, I'm happy to praise Microsoft or any other company when it does good things. However, it disturbs me when any organization makes such baldly untrue claims. It's wrong for Microsoft to excuse illegal conduct by claiming significant innovation it has never had.
Intriguingly, the richest and most powerful software company currently, Microsoft, did not create any major software innovation as identified in this list. Microsoft did not even create the first useful or widely-used implementation of any major software innovation. Others have come to the same conclusions, for example, see the Microsoft ``Hall of Innovation''. This certainly casts doubt on Microsoft's claims to be an innovative company. For more information about this, see Microsoft, the Innovator?.
In contrast, several major innovations were first implemented as open source software / Free Software (OSS/FS) projects, especially for those involving networks. Examples of innovations initially released as OSS/FS or first widely distributed as OSS/FS include DNS, web servers, the TCP/IP implementations on BSD systems to create internetworks using datagrams, the first spell checker, and the initial implementation of lockless version management. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, stated in December 2001 that `` A very significant factor [in widening the Web's use beyond scientific research] was that the software was all (what we now call) open source. It spread fast, and could be improved fast - and it could be installed within government and large industry without having to go through a procurement process.'' This may be because the ideas of open source software are quite similar to research approaches in general, e.g., in both systems publications are available to all and can be used as the basis of further work (as long as credit is given). The paper Altruistic individuals, selfish firms? The structure of motivation in Open Source Software found in a 2002 survey of 146 Italian firms that their primary reason for supplying OSS/FS programs was that "Open Source software allows small enterprises to afford innovation". For more information, see the information on OSS/FS innovation from my paper, "Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers!"
It appears we're not as impacted by changes in software technology - we're more impacted by software's ubiquity and changeability, as the computers that software controls become ubiquitous and the software is adapted to changing needs.
Most people take it on faith that a high technology company as wildly successful as Microsoft must have invented something of consequence. After all, this industry is built on invention, isn't it?
Certainly, Microsoft holds scores of patents and copyrights -- but we'd like to know which products or basic technologies we use can be credited to the big brains in Redmond. This is a prime opportunity for Microsoft defenders to provide some evidence for the company's original contributions to the industry, because frankly, we're at a loss to think of any.
Posted by cmayaud at 10:12 AM | Permalink| Comments (2)
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Here are stolen notes from Bill Gates new book on innovation.....
Posted by: Imran Anwar at February 22, 2006 03:09 PM
You're smoking crack.
Seriously, Microsoft has the worst most un-innovative software on the market.
It's not only slow and insecure, it's unreliable.
Bleh, this isn't a hateful message or anything, personally I'm not driven by Microsoft's sloth to create something better.
I'm merely driven to develop something better because I believe I can develop better than many others. As much as I hate Microsoft and will crush it in a few years, there's nothing they provide that creates any drive in my system.
My teachers were right, the world is illiterate.
Posted by: Aaron at February 24, 2006 12:00 AM
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