Becoming a Programmer for Windows is Like Becoming a Dentist for a
By: Wil Shipley, President, Omni Development, Inc., May 5, 1998
original webdoc available)
Commentary by Craig Crowder
Following the logic of the argument the obvious answer is that supporting
any commercial platform would only replace one dinosaur with another.
Writing for Linux, BSD, or other free platforms is the only way to insure
that the platform you support will not come back and swallow you in the
What do you think?
Over the last year and a half since I was transplanted into the Mac
community, I've occasionally heard Mac developers on various forums cry
out, "Why don't I just become a developer for Windows?" This is in
response to various perceived injuries perpetrated by Apple, including
possibly dropping QuickDraw GX , changing the Mac UI, embracing UNIX, and
increasing the price of some developer support options.
Usually, I assume this is a rhetorical question, like a pouty teenager
asking, "Well, why don't I just go jump off a bridge, then?" But, I feel
that too many innocent observers may have heard this question too often,
and asked, with all sincerity, "Why don't all programmers use Windows? The
Windows market is bigger, after all."
Lots of small programmers have a vision that working with Microsoft is
like being one of those little toothbrush birds for crocodiles —
sure, the crocodile is the one eating the zebras and gazelles, but there's
plenty of crumbs left in the cracks between his teeth. The crocodiles
don't hurt the birds, as they appreciate clean teeth, and the tiny birds
can live very well off the morsels that the 20-foot crocodile deems not
worth bothering with, so everybody wins.
The problem with this analogy is toothbrush birds never grow up to be
crocodiles — they spend their whole lives just living off the gunk
in crocodile's teeth. Most people don't set out to create a tiny company;
they want to create the next killer app, and become, if not the next
Microsoft, maybe the next Adobe, or the next MacroMedia. Nobody wants to
stay a tiny bird forever, but that means giving up the gunk and going for
the big game.
A better simile is that becoming a programmer for Windows is like
becoming a dentist for a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sure, the market is big (lots
of seats, lots of teeth), but both Microsoft and the king of dinos are
vicious carnivores, and both will snap their jaws shut as soon as share
their leavings with you. Rexes don't distinguish between symbiotic birds
and predators — it's all meat to them.
Microsoft is deathly afraid that now they are a huge company they won't
have creative ideas. This is a good fear, because it's true: how much has
Word changed in the last 8 years? How much has Excel changed? I'm not
talking about adding a feature here and a feature there, I'm talking about
really changing the way people use software.
Microsoft doesn't know how to innovate any more. The problem is that when
Microsoft looks at new ideas, they don't evaluate whether the idea will
move the industry forward, they ask, "how will it help us sell more copies
of Windows?" (This is an actual quote of Bill Gates in The Seattle Weekly,
April 30, 1998).
So, their business model has come to this: wait for young companies to
create new products, and if the product starts to be successful, crush the
company and take its market. Some examples, by no means complete:
In 1995, Netscape pioneered web browsers, but Microsoft simply bought
some code, hired a bunch of programmers to duplicate Netscape's work, and
now gives away Internet Explorer. They paid Apple millions to bundle
Internet Explorer instead of Netscape with Mac OS, and Microsoft is
planning to bundle IE with Win98. Microsoft even claimed (in a letter sent
to Wall Street analysts last week) that it'll severely impact the economy
if they can't include a web browser in Win98, even though the economy ran
just fine before 1995, when Netscape brought the first commercial web
browsers to market.
The code Microsoft licensed was from Spyglass, who had written a web
client. Microsoft only gave them a couple hundred thousand dollars up
front, but promised a percentage of sales to Spyglass. Well, since
Microsoft gives away Internet Explorer, they didn't pay Spyglass anything.
Spyglass sued. According to PCWeek (April 20, 1998), Spyglass had to
abandon that market and moved into embedded applications, which Microsoft
moved into as well. So, Spyglass switched to making "integrated offerings
for Microsoft products" in order to, in the words of Spyglass VP Mike
Tyrell, "not be 'Microsofted' again".
In 1996, Netscape decided the money was really in servers, and started
selling their first commercial web server. In response Microsoft wrote
their internet server and bundled it, free, with Windows NT.
In 1994, Microsoft started to license compression technology from a
company called Stac, which invented the original disk-doubler. But, after
Microsoft had looked at Stac's source code, Microsoft said, "Nah, we're
going to write our own and crush you. Thanks anyway." Stac sued Microsoft,
but Microsoft counter-sued Stac, and Microsoft got an injunction against
Stac preventing them from shipping their disk doubler until the suit was
resolved. Then, since they had tied up Stac's revenue source, Microsoft
just sat back and waited for Stac to run out of money as the legal system
slowly cranked away. If you can't guess who won, check out the DoubleSpace
utility that ships with Win95.
Perhaps the best example of Microsoft's voraciousness is their dealings
with Intuit, creators of Quicken, which was at one point the best-selling
PC software of all time. Microsoft first came out with Money, to compete
with Quicken. Nobody wanted Money. So Microsoft reduced the price —
offering 'special deals' on Money for as low as $10. (This is a practice
called 'dumping', and it's supposedly illegal in America — it's what
we accused Japanese semiconductor makers of doing with memory chips years
back when we put a huge tariff on such imports.)
Even at the low, low price, nobody bought Money. So Microsoft made an
offer to buy Intuit, which the government, in their very first stirring
against Microsoft's monopoly, blocked. Microsoft then started teaming up
with banks, paying them to advertise that transactions could be directly
downloaded into Microsoft Money, conveniently overlooking the fact that
the file format was the Quicken format, and therefore Quicken would work
just as well. Finally, Microsoft started giving away Money with
subscriptions to MSDN.
Do I have to go on? Microsoft wants total domination of the software
market. If you create a mildly successful program on Windows, Microsoft
will attempt to kill you. They've already got a stomach full of the
severed heads of other innovators just like you.
Yes, the Mac market is smaller. But it's been a long time since Apple had
the kind of clout to say offhandedly, "We can't decide whether to become
your customer or to put you out of business," as a Microsoft executive
said to a friend of Robert X. Cringely.
It comes down to a choice: do you want to support Microsoft, the monopoly
whose only goal is to increase their market share; or do you want to
support Apple, the company that is trying to move technology forward?
Put this way, it sounds like a moral dilemma, and many people believe
companies should be amoral and market-driven. But in truth, it's not a
moral dilemma, it's a question of whether you want to help make Microsoft
stronger (so they'll be that much more powerful when they decide to crush
you), or you want to fight them now.
The beauty is that it's actually easier to succeed when fighting than
when giving in. My company made millions just servicing the NEXTSTEP
market, which was a tiny fraction of the industry even when compared to
the Mac market. It was easier to advertise in a small market, easier to
reach customers, and NeXT, like Apple today, was eager to help us rather
than crush us. Writing code for Yellow Box is ten times easier than
writing Windows code. Three programmers at Omni have written a web browser
that has the features of Netscape, IE and more, which runs on Rhapsody,
NT, 95, and (soon) Mac OS.
Microsoft isn't invincible. They won't be around forever. Dinosaurs are
huge and hidebound, and some global change always comes along for which
they aren't prepared. We little birds just have to stay out of their
mouths in the meantime.