Thursday, February 21, 2008

The death of HD-DVD, the fall of Microsoft and the power of free markets.

In Lessons from the Death of HD-DVD, Daniel Dilger points out the Blu-Ray's success (now almost inevitable) over HD-DVD is a lot more than just one media format winning out over a rival. It is also the combined energy of an entire industry focussed against Microsft's attempt to "embrace and extend" and take over that industry.

In the article, Dilger points out that this is hardly the first example. A lot of Microsoft's recent projects have suffered the same fate, including the XBox 360, the Zune, Windows CE, and even Windows Vista. Part of this is due to the technical merits of the competition, but a lot of it is a direct result of the competition deciding to gang up against Microsoft.

On the surface, this would seem like a cartel, which is illegal in the US. For those unfamiliar with the term, In a cartel. industry leaders conspire together in order to control a market. This usually results in high prices and (when the market does not involve commodities) inferior products. IMO, it also destroys a free market economy, since the cartel prevents customers from having choices, and it prevents competitors from entering the market.

But here, we're seeing something different. Microsoft's competitors are not conspiring together. They are all independently deciding to focus their individual efforts against Microsoft. And it's not because they want to control the market (although I'm sure they wouldn't object to that outcome), but because they want to prevent Microsoft from establishing itself as the controlling entity. And not just for arbitrary reasons, but because Microsoft has a well-established history of abusing its monopoly power.

There have been anti-trust lawsuits against Microsoft, but history has shown them to be ineffective. Microsoft consents to token actions and continues abusing their monopoly power. This time around, however, the industry is not trying to use the legal system. Instead, the competition is using the power it has always had - they are choosing to support and promote competing standards, they are shipping products using competing standards, and they are selling those products to customers. The market is bringing down Microsoft where decades of litigation could not.

I find this very uplifting and reassuring. A monopolistic company does not inevitably dominate its markets. As long as competitors (no matter how small they may be) are free to sell alternative products, consumers end up with all of the real power. When they choose to vote in unison with their dollars, not even the biggest company can fight the trend.

The only real question here is: Will Microsoft see the writing on the wall and start delivering what customers want, or will they continue their current behavior and be further marginalized in the marketplace. Regardless of what they choose, it's good for consumers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Your tax dollars at waste

Maybe those of you who understand sports can explain why I'm wrong.

As many of you are no doubt aware, the baseball player Roger Clemens has been accused of using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. He's been testifying before Congress about these allegations, and recent news is that it seems he was lying about it and may end up facing criminal perjury charges.

What I want to know is Why the hell is any of this happening and why is Congress wasting our time and money on this nonsense???

As far as I know, there are no laws against using steroids or HGH. I can go and take them until I explode without violating any laws.

Major League Baseball has rules against players taking performance-enhancing drugs. This is not in question, and I don't even disagree with the rule. But that's all it is - one corporation's rules regarding the conduct of its own employees (which is what these players are, right?)

If I start a corporation and require my employees to wear yellow name-tags, and one employee refuses, I can fire him. If it's in his contract, I might even be able to sue for breach of contract to recover some kind of damages. But that's where it stops. There's no way this person could (or should) be jailed, and Congress certainly shouldn't get involved.

But that's what we're seeing here. MLB has a rule against steroid use. Clemens was accused. So MLB should conduct an investigation and depending on the result, they can fire Clemens and maybe sue him for breach of contract. If the investigation's results are in dispute, then maybe they should go to binding arbitration, or a local court (e.g. a wrongful termination suit.) But for some reason, it is going way way beyond that. Somehow, Congress - the supreme legislative branch of the United States - has gotten involved in what is still an MLB internal affair. They are having hearings before committees all over the place, treating this as if it was a matter of national security. And for what? Because a baseball player is accused of violating league rules? That's it?

And they're going to pursue criminal charge against him because of what? Because he was caught in a lie (so the committee says) while testifying about this BS that should never have begun in the first place?

What's next? Federal tribunals for people accused of jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk? At least in that case, a law was broken.

This is yet another incident in a long chain of prosecutorial abuses by our legal system. Somebody in Congress likes baseball and doesn't like Clemens. So he sets up a show-trial, with no actual charges, solely for the purpose of forcing Clemens to either lie or make a career-destroying statement (or even better, both).

But it's not all that surprising. It's now a tradition to send unpopular people to jail on trumped up charges. Lewis Libby and Martha Stewart were also convicted of perjury regarding crimes that were never committed. And this won't be the last case either - you can be certain that in a few months, some other unpopular public figure will be similarly railroaded.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Child Discovered In Word Code.

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Who would've guessed it? The Microsoft Word code is so big and bloated that a child got lost in there and was apparently living with Clippy for several years.