Subject: Re: Returns to service professionals (was Re: New ESR paper: The Magic Cauldron)
From: Crispin Cowan <>
Date: Tue, 06 Jul 1999 20:50:57 -0700

"Stephen J. Turnbull" wrote:

>     Crispin> You're ignoring the explicit "embrace and extend"
>     Crispin> strategy that MS uses: take a standard protocol, use it,
>     Crispin> and "extend" it with proprietary features.
> Sigh.
> No, I am not ignoring this.  I just don't think it matters much;
> otherwise other companies would use the strategy successfully, too.

But this strategy can only be successfully employed if you are a market
leader with a substantial majority position.  Many UNIX vendors tried this
trick by embracing & extending the UNIX standards *without* having a majority
position, and the result was:

  1. Chaos
  2. Microsoft eats all their lunches :-(

> I simply do not believe they can get away with it indefinitely on that
> basis alone.

Certainly not on that basis alone.  It only works in combination with other
factors.  It is a strategy for maintaining market dominance; it blows chunks
for gaining share in a fragmented market.

> This strategy is a Red Queen's race.  You must maintain
> technological leadership[1] or the fact that your product emits broken
> protocol will break _you_.

I think this is incorrect:  you must maintain a dominant market share, by
whatever means, or else emitting broken protocls will break you.  Microsoft
has shown that technological leadership is irrelevant :-)

> However, far more important than "improved" protocols, as far as I can
> see, is the ever-increasing integration of MS products, leveraging
> overwhelming dominance in one market into dominance in others.

That's clearly what all the shouting is about in the DOJ case.  However, I
agree with other posters here that the file format wars may yet prove to be
even more important than the integration battle.

> As long as MSFT retains technological leadership, this is a good
> strategy.  But as Linux, Apache, etc begin picking away at specific
> domains, this becomes harder and harder to do.  The development of
> VMware now means that with the current generation of processors the
> kind of thing that MSFT is best at (desktop application environment)
> can be done quite well in a virtual machine running on top of a real
> OS.  This makes shooting at MSFT's weak points easier than ever; now
> you don't need to even dual boot.

And the above is the reason:  the combination of DOJ, VMWare, and superior
stability & performance may well force MS to cede the kernel space to Linux,
but they will still have the office suite/desktop arena sewn up.  There are
two important "standards" that one must conform to in order to do modern
electronic business:

   * the win32 API, which you can get around with VMWare or WINE
   * the MS Office file formats, which you can stumble around with competing
     products like Word Perfect, Star Office, and ApplixWare

The writing is on the wall for the win32 API.  The file format wars are just
warming up.

 Crispin Cowan, Research Assistant Professor of Computer Science, OGI
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