Is Bill Gates Just Doing What He Should?
In a few years, the PC, television, telephone, and radio will be combined into one unit that might be called an Information & Communications Device (ICD). With a click of a button, we will be able to surf the Web, watch cable TV, or listen to a radio broadcast from halfway around the globe. With another click, we will be able to get E-mail, talk to our friends across the country, and send images along with our voices. From the same ICD, we will be able to do our banking, purchase items, and run businesses from our homes.
All these things can be done now, but it takes many different software packages to do so. It is only natural that Microsoft Corp. and its competitors would seek to develop integrated software that can carry out all of these functions. Consumers want the simplicity that is offered by combining software functions that logically belong together. Microsoft is attempting to meet this need by combining the Net browser with Windows ("Microsoft's Future," Cover Story, Jan. 19). This is just one small step in the natural evolution of the ICD.
The Justice Dept. action is premature. If successful, it would create a major barrier to the integration of information and communication technologies. This will have a negative effect on their growth far beyond the effect on Microsoft.
James J. Higgins
Sometimes, you just can't win. The guiding principle of capitalism is to dominate your marketplace. But if you succeed in doing that, it appears, you lose. Microsoft's domination of the computer-software industry is not an accident. They have delivered products that their customers want and need. The wild success of the Windows operating system means that consumers now have fewer compatibility problems than they did five years ago. Why do we continue to penalize (and demonize) corporations that become the dominant player in their marketplace?
Bill Gates's detractors cannot make the case that Microsoft is abusing its market power either to gouge on prices or push inferior products, so they are arguing that Gates is building a monopoly in technology that will inhibit innovation in the Information Age.
It is a tenuous argument. While the U.S. has twentysomething-year-old techno-entrepreneurs like Marc Andreessen and has venture capitalists like John Doerr who are eager to back them, Microsoft will not cause innovation to decline and thereby "threaten the entire entrepreneurial culture of America," as your editorial noted ("Microsoft: What's really at stake," Jan. 19). On the contrary, Microsoft's success has not only stimulated a host of entrepreneurs who want to be the next Bill Gates but has also triggered a flood of venture capital to back their technology startups.
Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
I thought you put together an entertaining piece. One thing it didn't cover is that, as popular as it is these days to bash Microsoft and its growing influence, its success is not totally its fault. A lot of other very powerful companies had to screw up big-time before Microsoft could become so preeminent. Lotus Development Corp. got stupid with 1-2-3. WordPerfect had to have a brain aneurysm. Ashton-Tate Corp. imploded, and Apple Computer Inc.--well, they just had to keep doing what Apple does best: screw up. The Justice Dept. can't protect the American public from stupid companies that hand an entire industry over to a competitor. Bill Gates's sanctimonious response notwithstanding, it's not his fault.
Many thanks to Robert Kuttner in "Bill Gates, robber baron" (Economic Viewpoint, Jan. 19) for debunking Microsoft's specious claims of innocent entrepreneurial zeal in attempting to corner another piece of the PC market. Browsers are a hot topic now because the Internet is perceived as an opportunity for business growth, not because they are inherently different from other applications. In fact, they are no more fundamentally linked to the function of a computer's operating system than software for word processing or modem communication.
Perhaps the telephone system could offer a picture of the future of the PC. That's a decidedly high-tech business that began as a monopoly but is now served by numerous separate companies even though it physically connects almost every home and business in the country. Maybe it's time to end vertical integration. Let Mr. Gates keep his near-monopoly in PC operating systems but require divestiture of all the applications software, network services, "content providers," and other businesses in which Microsoft now dabbles. And if Bill Gates wants to know how to "do his job" to improve Windows, he can focus on making it smaller, simpler, cheaper, more efficient, and error-free.
Robert C. Wells