Barney's Rubble

A Monopoly Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Vista isn't a perfect OS, not by a long-shot. But that doesn't mean Microsoft's hold on the desktop is going to weaken any time soon.

I covered Microsoft before it was a true monopoly power -- just an unrelenting and inexorable force. And as I got older and weaker, their market share got bigger and stronger.

Lest anyone fool you, Microsoft has a nice share of server operating systems, but Linux (and even Unix) also nab their fair portion. On the Web, Microsoft is just one of many -- Google, AOL, Yahoo! all steal a chunk of the action.

What Microsoft does control makes it the envy of red-blooded capitalists everywhere. It has a monopoly on browsers (one that admittedly is declining fast), and a tight grip on office suites.

The Microsoft choke on clients is as tight as a Chief Jay Strongbow sleeper hold. Some of you may scoff, pointing to your Ubuntu desktop, or take a break from your pinot noir and warm brie to tell me about your MacBook Air. All that is well and good. But you are the minority, the computing elite, and have the bravado and blog postings to prove it!

If these options are so good, and if there is real client competition, explain to me how on earth Windows Vista could be the only installed OS I see in retailers? Linux desktop distros are almost there, and Apple's Leopard is undeniably sweet. So why can't you walk down to the local big-box store and get either of these offerings? 'Cuz their market share is softer than a Vince Vaughn bicep.

I thought of all this when my two sons, Nick (13) and Dave (15) set out to buy themselves new Macs. I wanted them to look at the machines, hit a bunch of buttons, see what really happens. No dice. The nearest retailer is an hour away, and I don't live in no dang sticks (we may have cows, but we also have Walmart!).

For anything but Vista, you have to go out of your way. For a Mac you drive 50 miles and talk to a pretentious Mac genius with silly facial hair and piercings. For Unix you install it yourself, usually on a machine that already came with Windows (for which you paid). And to get Windows XP, you have to yell at the retailer or OEM to give you the OS that, while old, works darn well.

Now this is the weird part. Vista is not a great operating system. Yeah, some of you love it, but most Redmond readers who write me want to throw Vista out the window. The sheer power of the Microsoft grip on OEMs, retailers and the channel means that Vista is still pretty much the only choice -- even if no one wants it. And that tells me that Windows will dominate for years to come. Vista problems don't actually hurt Microsoft or help its OS competitors one bit!

The good news is that Windows 7 appears to be very good, and may well earn Microsoft back the right to hold onto its monopoly.

What do you think it would it take for the Microsoft desktop monopoly to fold? Send your prognostications to me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Mar 18, 2009 Ken Chastworth, CA

Mac Books are now available at Best Buy ... with pretty good online reviews. I think it's well worth driving 50 miles to try a Mac. I recently purchased a Mac Book (13.3" aluminum) for my Daughter, after seeing the blue screen of death on her HP Notebook ... she was up and running (on her Mac Book in no time.

Thu, Mar 12, 2009 Winthrop Dickinson Los Angeles

I'm really getting tired of the Microsoft (and Vista in particular) bashing. If Vista isn't working well for you, chances are you have prehistoric applications or hardware built by companies that either don't exist anymore, failed to make the necessary upgrades, or are inept. Vista is light years better than XP.

Wed, Mar 4, 2009 Ted Boston

The most interesting Microsoft development to me was that the net books that Radio shack was selling as part of the $100 laptop when you by a monthly data plan came with XP. When you start selling your old OS on a commodity product that competes against your flagship product, the end is near.
MS has sought to postpone this by blocking the OEMs from selling XP. But my understanding is the netbooks aren't up to Vista. Windows 7 may be the savior, but unless it can run on cheep hardware at a lower price point, the horse is going to leave the barn, and the monopoly will end.

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