PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
November 30, 1998
I didn't have to go to Comdex, neener neener!
I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.
Table of Contents:
Back to the usual column of this and that this week. I find, as I mentioned last time, that writing a column like this really does become a matter of a pocket full of notes (a headline the late great Herb Caen used to use over his column once in a while). As I sit to write, I face pages from Reporter's Notebook, e-mail I have sent myself (and received from you out there), articles torn from the newspaper and various scraps of paper. My memory is poor, so when inspiration strikes I try to preserve it on paper so I can share it with you.
By they way, either no one read my offer of Emily Dickinson, Jerk of Amherst, or no one was tempted by it, because I received exactly zero requests for it. Oh well, I thought it was funny.
In the blizzard or Microsoft trial coverage, you may have overlooked the internal memo that suggested that the way Microsoft will make money on Windows 2000 and beyond is to charge a recurring fee for its use, rather than a one-time charge, as is now the case. Microsoft rushed to say that this was only one of many ideas thrown out, and that they had no present plans to rent their software to you.
My friends, where there is smoke, there is fire. This reminds me of the beginning of monthly charges for credit cards. I was there. I know the precise meaning of "no present plans." Digress Here.
First, Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer, floated a very similar idea in a New Yorker interview, in which he used the word "vigorish" or "vig." I believe the term is used by loan sharks to describe their interest, and perhaps by bookies to describe the "piece off the top" they take for their services. Myhrvold claimed he was quoted out of context. And now this memo turns up in the antitrust trial.
Microsoft is going to do it. Mark my words. The minute they feel the coast is clear, you'll be paying a monthly fee for Windows. It will start small. It will be disguised as a "premium upgrade service." But it will be the start of paying Bill Gates, probably on a per-transaction basis, for everything you do on your computer. Because he doesn't think it is yours, he thinks it is his.
By the way, Microsoft's defenders are saying that it was all talk, that Microsoft never acted on any of its plans to destroy its competitors. Being a bully doesn't make you a law-breaking monopolist, they suggest.
This isn't about talk. It's about actions. It's about contracts, and threats that caused other companies to act in Microsoft's interest and not their own. Don't let the smoke and mirrors dazzle you. Microsoft is on trial for abusing is power as a monopolist.
What about the Netscape/AOL merger you say? I'm glad you asked. Just because one defeated Microsoft competitor is staggering into the arms of another firm whose business is still under threat from the Redmond bully does not retroactively mitigate Microsoft's illegal actions of the past.
I have heard William Neukom, Microsoft's chief legal counsel, make his argument on the courthouse steps that the Netscape/AOL merger means the government should drop its antitrust case. "This proves the market is vibrant and competitive," he says. "No thanks to Microsoft," say I. His arguments give new meaning to the words disingenuous, hypocritical and misleading.
Microsoft is, of course, entitled to vigorous advocacy under our legal system. But when a prominent well-educated attorney takes advantage of public ignorance of antitrust law to deliberately mislead people about what's at stake, I think that borders on unethical behavior.
Shame on you Mr. Neukom. You know better. The government doesn't have to prove that you crushed your competition (to use a favorite Microsoft term); they just have to prove that you tried to crush them, and that you used your monopoly power to do so.
OK, how many of you remember the National Computer Conference? From the 1960s through about 1983, it was this country's premier annual computer show. Then, suddenly, it lost its momentum and in just two years it was as extinct as the dinosaurs.
Like the dinosaurs, there are several theories about the cause of death. Some say it was the rules that bound the non-profit organization that ran NCC. These rules specifically forbade conducting commercial transactions on the show floor. That was strike one.
Another blow came with the invention of the microcomputer. Under the usual methods of trade show operation, the companies that return year in and year out and buy big booths get the most prominent positions on the show floor. At NCC, that was mainframe and minicomputer makers. PCs and peripherals were banished to basements and sideshow tents. Yet that was where the action was. The best stuff at NCC was hard to find. Strike two.
The last "real" NCC was in Anaheim, California. NCC had outgrown the Anaheim convention center, so most of the "minor" exhibits (PCs and peripherals) were in tents. Through (apparently) no fault of the NCC show management the air conditioning in the tents broke down for long periods of time. It was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the tents. Attendees sweltered. Equipment failed in the heat. Strike three.
Waiting to pick up the pieces was Shelly Adelson's Computer Dealer Exposition, or Comdex, a Las Vegas-based show that wholeheartedly embraced the doing of business on the floor and everywhere else. It took less than a year for the industry to shift all of its attention to Comdex. The NCC withered and died.
Now, it may well be Comdex's turn. After years of complaining about expensive booths, union labor, lousy phone lines, bad cellular telephone service, sky-high hotel room prices (when you can find a room closer than Ely, Nev.) constant overcrowding and 90-minute taxi lines, the industry may finally have become fed up. A dozen major vendors simply didn't exhibit this year. Attendance was down for the first time in memory.
What will take its place? Well, I don't know anyone other than the aforementioned Shelly who predicted, in 1982, that by 1984, NCC would be wiped out and Comdex would replace it. Last December, before he sold out his company, Alan Meckler of Mecklermedia told me that he believed his New York/LA show, Internet World, would wipe out Comdex in a few years. Seems awfully audacious, but from an historical perspective, it makes sense. A major shift in the computing paradigm killed the dinosaurs and their show, the NCC. Could be that history is about to repeat itself. Let's check again after next year's fall Comdex.
This week, I am turning this space over to my friend Craig Reynolds, because I agree with what he has to say about this web site.
Several times over the last month I've seen well-reasoned and thoughtful anti-Microsoft arguments attributed to various people identified as being affiliated with ProComp (the artfully named "Project to Promote Competition & Innovation in the Digital Age", suggesting that they are not so much anti-Microsoft as they are pro-competition).
Anyway, I tracked down the ProComp web site, a useful resource for anyone who thinks that quality software and a free market are more important than Bill's ego:Procomp
I like ProComp. I find their regular briefings, using experts to debunk Microsoft's spin inside and outside the courtroom is a welcome balance to the daily coverage of most outlets.
If you want to see the pro-Microsoft spin, you can catch the much-less-sophisticated (and much less frequently updated) web page of the Association for Competitive Technology (more members, smaller companies)
Every time I hear a Republican plaintively bleat "It's not about sex," all I can think of is Shakespeare; "methinks they doth protest too much." It's about sex. And now, to borrow another anachronistic phrase, the GOP is "hoist on its own petard," as it struggles to extract itself from the lose-lose business of an impeachment that might not even pass the house and will certainly never result in a Senate trial. Thank god for the Senate!
I love Molly Ivins, columnist for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram in Texas. I have all the books of her collected columns. She reports for the paper from Austin.
She pointed something out that few people noted about Ken Starr's testimony:
Excuse me? Uh, either I missed something, or everyone else did.
I listened to Kenneth Starr testify before the House Judiciary Committee, and I thought the news -- as in, what was new -- was that Starr announced, rather causally, that he had cleared the Clintons of wrongdoing in Whitewater, Filegate and Travelgate. Did anyone else notice that? Has it been previously reported? Hello?
Read her whole column. Insist your local paper carry her regularly. She is a genius, and, like me, a yellow-dog Democrat.
If you don't live in San Francisco, or do but don't read the San Francisco Chronicle, you are being deprived of one of life's little pleasures, Leah Garchik's Personals column. It appears on the back of the Datebook section (reviews, comics and TV listings) and is a 3-dot column collected from here and there. Ms. Garchik is a friend of a friend, so I met her at a Fourth of July Picnic. She's as much fun in person as she is in print. This comes from her column of Friday Nov. 27:
In this season of brotherly love and making money, more and more companies, AOL and Netscape for example, are tying the knot. Bob Cullinan offers some swell corporate suggestions:
-- A merger of PolyGram Records, Warner Bros. and Keebler: Poly-Warner-Cracker.
-- A merger between Yahoo and Netscape: Net 'n' Yahoo.
-- W.R. Grace buying Fuller Brush and Mary Kay Cosmetics, then merging with Hale Business Systems: Hale Mary Fuller Grace.
-- 3M and Goodyear: mmmGood.
-- Knott's Berry Farm and National Organization for Women: Knott NOW.
-- Federal Express and UPS: FedUp.
Eagles may soar, but weasels aren't sucked into jet engines.
In reference to the "be sure to read my column" email I sent for the Nov. 16 issue, Dan Dern of Massachusetts wrote:
BTW, are you sure you want each of us to see all the other people's names and addresses (to field). You might want to either switch to bcc'ing us, or use a list manager. (Some free web based ones available.)
I already apologized once, but I think I'll apologize again. I will send all futute versions without a full address header. As long as I remember. The Nov. 16 embarrassment should help.
Neal Macklin of Northern California wrote:
Thought you'd enjoy this if you haven't already seen it.
He was right. I did enjoy it. You might too. Thanks Neal! (He also tipped me to the trial testimony about Microsoft's plan to charge a recurring fee for Windows, described and decried in the Computer News section).
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