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Hooked on the lowest bidder

Mar 15, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Oh get a grip! Come on guys, of course I wasn’t serious! How could you not have immediately guessed that that was what I was doing?

You know I don’t think the government and its agencies have a clue about communications technology, so why would I really ever seriously propose to hand it control of Microsoft or encourage it to legislate the design of operating systems (see last week’s column)?!

From your letters it appears the majority of us (around 60% so far) agree we have a serious problem on our hands. Not only do we all know that our corporate operating-system monoculture is dangerous, but most of us also recognize that we have been willing participants in the creation of it.

But let us be clear. It wasn’t that we knew better when we started down this track, and it wasn’t that we had a lot of choice. But that period of innocence collapsed like a cheap deck chair.

There was a time when corporate wisdom was that no one got fired for buying IBM. Why? Because you were making a serious strategic decision when you purchased or leased IBM equipment and the company was a serious business partner. This last point was important because IBM provided real service and had a track record – the decision you were making had legs.

Then along came the PC revolution and the LAN revolution and then the Internet, by which time Microsoft’s market dominance had been consolidated as the company made some smart moves, papered over the cracks of its dumber moves and did some really aggressive marketing while all the other vendors stumbled or fell over their own feet.

So today the perceived wisdom is no one gets fired for buying Microsoft – the company has achieved that “old school” veneer of respectability.

But wait! Microsoft did it with cheap products sold to mass markets! These weren’t system sells as in the IBM mainframe days or even the Digital minicomputer days – these were stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap building blocks.

By the time we started to realize the consequences it was too late! These weren’t systems products, particularly where networking was concerned, and they were built from a vast flotilla of proprietary and de facto standards that sprouted like mushrooms. Using this hodgepodge we built bigger systems than ever!

We all got hooked on cheap and easy PC operating system products and proved that we had about as much true grit available to change our habits as a crack addict has of turning down a free dime bag.

And despite our growing awareness through the 1990s that we were getting boxed in by Wintel, it wasn’t until the Aughts that the idea that this was actually dangerous started to get talked about.

What really got corporate attention was the proliferation of worms and viruses that capitalized on Microsoft software vulnerabilities. And now that we know what Windows source code looks like (see “We are morons“) it confirms our suspicion that Microsoft compromised the (dare I say) sanctity of the operating system code for the benefit of its own applications!

So what we have is a global computing infrastructure built by the lowest bidder that for all its sophistication and fine engineering is based on marketecture and compromises on top of trade-offs founded on hacks and old, old code.

It reminds me of that old quote by astronaut Alan Shepard (quoted by John Glenn): “I was up there looking around, and suddenly I realized I was sitting on top of a rocket built by the lowest bidder.”

We have only ourselves to blame and only ourselves to look to for a fix.

Ever heard of the Irish Potato Famine? You will next week . . . keep ’em coming to And discuss it all in the forum.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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