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Ralph Nader Bazaar Keynote Suggests New Industry Path

Dec 20, 1999, 03:40 (22 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Emmett Plant)

By Emmett Plant
Editor, LinuxToday

Last week at The Bazaar, consumer advocate Ralph Nader spoke at a keynote. His speech not only condemned Microsoft for their business practices, but through his keynote he indirectly suggested a proper path for the software industry to do business in a way that would cause no harm to the consumer, at least not in the way Microsoft has. Here are some of his words:

"Microsoft charges consumers a list price of $109 for an upgrade of Windows 98, which is discounted by retailers to $89 -- but to get this price you must already own Windows 95, so it is like a maintenance fee. ...The "required to buy" Windows problem is a particular galling issue for Linux users who are often actively trying to avoid using Microsoft products. ...A consumer who has been using computers since 1995 may have already purchased a half dozen or more Windows licenses. You might begin with Windows 95a, but bought Windows 95b so you could better use the large hard drives. And then purchase one or more upgrade computers, with new Windows licenses. Then one has to consider the number of computers that need license. Often a person may have a PC for work and home plus a laptop for travel. So it isn't simply the price of Windows, it's the number of licenses for Windows that you end up buying, and how often you have to pay upgrade fees."
The message here is simple. The 'maintenance fee' needs to go. No more breaking backwards compatibility to sell more boxes. If you've based your company's sales on this concept, you need to re-think it as soon as possible. Choose an Open Source business plan, or release 'fixes' for no cost. Mr. Nader continues...
"Any given version of Windows becomes obsolete within a few years, because it will no longer support the latest innovations in hardware. This is intentional, because Microsoft's biggest "competitor" in the OS market is its installed base of users who have already purchased Windows. Microsoft forces consumers to buy what is essentially the same product again and again."
What an amazing concept! Microsoft's biggest competitor in the OS market isn't Linux, and it's not MacOS. It's the existing customer base! You can see how this works, and again, you can see a simple way around it. Microsoft's innovation isn't in technology. Microsoft will go out of their way to not support newer hardware so you need to buy the 'latest' version.
"The most common complaint is that Microsoft crashes. "At least once a day," according to many Microsoft Windows users. We also hear countless complaints that Microsoft attacks non-Microsoft products, so they don't work. For example, when Microsoft released its Windows Media player, as a competitor against the RealAudio player, consumers wrote to say it disabled dozens of third party multimedia software programs. Little wonder that people call Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the "Internet Exploder," because it attacks and disables an unpredictable number of non-Microsoft applications."
Don't break stuff; it only makes people angry. You wouldn't want anyone to write software that breaks your software, would you? Follow the Golden Rule when you're entering a marketplace. Treat other programs the same way you would like others to treat yours. It's not a difficult concept, and although no one can ever be sure that their program is safe to all other programs, a reasonable amount of testing can show that you can be reasonably sure you're not stepping on anyone's technological toes.
"There are, of course, alternative methods of setting standards than relying upon a private monopoly. The Internet is a powerful and relevant example of how a non-monopolistic standard can facilitate enormous innovation. And, as pointed out in Judge Jackson's findings of fact, Microsoft has sought to crush third party technologies, such as Java, that create cross platform standards that Microsoft does not control."
I don't think that the alternative could be any clearer. Open up your standards, and the world will test it to the breaking point, and give you feedback and changes. If you're going to compete, you need to demonstrate that you're willing to compete on a fair playing field. Open those standards, and may the best man win.

It's good to see Microsoft cleanly within Ralph Nader's crosshairs. His name alone lends massive credibility to the Open Source and Free Software communities.