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ATPM 12.03
March 2006



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Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life

by Mark Tennent,

Post-Microsoft Entropy

Last month I was watching EU Justice Commissioner and European Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini on BBC News talking about the growing Islamic cartoons controversy, calling newspaper publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad “somewhat imprudent,” while acknowledging that freedom of expression was a “‘founding principle’ of most European nations.” This is the fair-minded man who holds in his hands the, shall we say, manhood of Microsoft. With one small squeeze Franco can make Steve Ballmer dance more lively than his famous monkey impersonation.

The current to-ings and fro-ings between Microsoft and the European Community are just some of the many cases Microsoft is fighting around the world, and some would say this is due to the seemingly toothless results of American Justice in the US anti-trust case. Nevertheless, Franco, with one squeeze, could extract ten percent of Microsoft’s gross profit, which could easily be in the region of forty billion dollars according to The Register. A nice sum by anyone’s standard, and one which would severely dent their piggy bank, rumored to be around fifty billion dollars.

No doubt we shall see Microsoft’s usual bag of tricks, delaying tactics, dodgy videos, and lost e-mails. In reality they will probably only get a modest fine of a few hundred million dollars—nothing compared with their anti-competitive behavior ruled illegal both in the EU and the US, as well as being questioned around the world. But if Franco Frattini were to tighten his grasp on Microsoft’s “round objects” and they did cough up and breathe their last breath, what would it mean to the world?

Probably nothing at all. After all, the millions of Windows computers will still carry on working. Microsoft Word will still produce the same number of newsletters with its oh-so-friendly clip art, centered and distorted text headlines all done in Times italic, heavy box rules, and ridiculous single-column layouts. Microsoft Excel will not suddenly stop crunching numbers and will still automatically add a fraction of a penny to my Mac dealer’s sales-tax miscalculation. PowerPoint will still dominate business meetings where more time and energy will have been spent on making the on-screen presentation than on thinking through the relative merits of the subject under discussion. Of course, eventually, Post-Microsoft entropy will create its own black hole into which all things Gatesian will gravitate as entropic force exerts its inevitable pull.

Perhaps, or more probably, the world will be a better place. Just as the work of Stephen Hawking, et al., has shown that entropy leads to an expanding universe, the world without a monolithic giant such as Microsoft will result in an entropy gap, the further in time from Microsoft’s demise. Already, Microsoft Office has been shunned by some of the world’s governments, as free, open-source software has taken its place. Linux, BSD Unix, and other free operating systems are taking an increasing hold on personal computers. For example: a one-man-band plumber I know got so fed up with his kids’ Internet use dragging all manner of infections onto his computer that he junked Windows and runs Linux instead. He is no geek, and unless it involves ballcocks, bleeders, and the contents of his large lunchbox, his conversation can be intellectually restricted.

A lot of this movement is due to the tax Microsoft puts on its products, one which most of its users seem glad to pay, year after year. Here in the world of Apple, we are not immune and we too have to cough up every year or so for new operating systems, but at least the old software still runs on it. That is, until MacIntel arrives on the scene and Classic pops its clogs at long last. As a long-time member of the publishing world, I cannot wait for QuarkXPress 4 to disappear and, come to that, QuarkXPress itself unless up-coming version 7 drops in price, gets true Adobe PostScript, and stops crashing for no apparent reason.

Which way the world would turn is a moot point, whether to open source or proprietary solutions. This is where companies such as Apple will have to be very careful. While they publicly embrace open source and have bet the business on the move to Free BSD in Next…er…Mac OS X, in reality Apple’s solutions are as locked as Microsoft’s. Would we want to see the rise of another company with so much influence on the world? My bet is that we would just take the path of least resistance, and if it comes from Apple, so much better for us already halfway down the path. Whether others such as IBM, now ex-partner with Apple, would let it happen, is entirely unlikely. But what interesting times we would live in.

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Reader Comments (1)

Angus Wong · March 16, 2006 - 02:46 EST #1
While Microsoft is struggling to reinvent itself with Longhorn Vista and Apple is riding the momentum it has initiated, I think this year will be the year of desktop Linux. I say that because there are many interesting things happening to finally make Linux acceptable to "the rest of us." Both Novell and Ubuntu, for example, are pushing a next generation enteprise friendly distribution, coming out probably around the time we will see the next gen Intel-powered desktop Macs.

Having to choose between easy to use OS X and easy to use desktop Linux is a long overdue decision we should hope to soon mull over.

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