Andreessen: MSFT did us a favour

I don’t normally like to praise Microsoft for things. Not only am I not a Microsoft fan-boy, but I think some of the ways that the software company has done business in the past have been — well, bordering on unethical. I also think many of its products suck in terms of useability, and give new meaning to the word bloat-ware. But I’m glad that Marc Andreessen (of all people) said something that I’ve often said in the past, which is that love them or hate them, at least Microsoft standardized the operating-system market around something.

Maybe it wasn’t the best something — maybe DR-DOS was better, or whichever flavour you happened to like if you are old enough to remember those days (and yes, I am; thanks for asking), or IBM’s various tries at recapturing its lost glory. But that doesn’t really matter. You may think DOS was bad and Windows was worse, but at least Microsoft stabilized what was a fragmented and chaotic market, and that arguably pushed us further ahead faster. If they hadn’t done it, someone else would have had to, and it might have taken longer and been even worse. More from Marc Andreessen’s chat with John Battelle here.

20 thoughts on “Andreessen: MSFT did us a favour

  1. Yeah, it's thinking like this that gets dictators into power.

    (and I'm actually one of the few people I know who has no ideological problems with Vista)

    • Oh come on, Slava. It's an operating system, for cripes sake — not
      the fate of the free world, or democracy, or anything like that.
      Let's try and keep things in perspective, shall we?

      • It is in perspective. I never said it's equivalent, so don't get sidetracked on that point.

        It's just the thinking of “Oh well, at least it's one company/person controlling the market now. At least we don't have all this pesky competition confusing people…” that I have real trouble agreeing with.

        • Well, if it's not equivalent then why make the comparison? As for the thinking about Microsoft, I'm talking about in the very early days of personal computing — when DOS became the standard and that made it easier for companies to roll out things that built on top of that. I'm not talking about controlling a market or stamping out competition.

  2. Agree totally. In the early days (Yeah, I was there too), Gates talked about “empowerment”. I seriously doubt he realized the depth of those statements but because of the rapid evolution of the PC and the Internet, all of our lives were changed.
    While not all for the better, the foundation is just starting now for a 'worldwide dialog among people'. It's real. All we have to do (is occasionally put the profit motive aside and) use it.

  3. … isn't UNIX a standard? Aren't pretty much all non-Microsoft operating systems based off that standard now, desktop or server? GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, BSD…

    Isn't Microsoft moving to make its server more UNIX-like with more command-line utilities, playing nicer with free and open source software stacks, etc… and didn't Vista take some steps in a unix-like direction, at least regarding security and user permissions (it's access control thing was basically an annoying version of 'sudo' on Ubuntu, for example)?

    I don't get it. What was standardized?

  4. I can certainly see the point of this. I've never been one to be religious about technology, but there are certain benefits to there being a dominant platform – or at least there were until the idea of web-centric applications and data.

    When I was a kid, and we're talking 26 years ago, I saved all of my money, extracted some from my parents and bought a computer on the MSX platform. This was going to be supported by multiple vendors and had some hope (I thought) of being well supported in the future.

    Soon after the MSX platform died and my investment was down the drain. Well, I was young, so what does it matter, but that the fact that there was then no reliable platform to invest in (from a user or a developer perspective) made things a lot less certain.

    Perhaps we've moved beyond that now, with cheaper computers and at least three flavours of stable platforms. But if you look into deep, dark history, you can at least see some advantages.

    • I remember when my childhood friends and I had PCs as kids: TRS-80s and the follow-up Tandy/Radio Shack models; at least 4 different types of Commodore computers; Apples, then the early Macs; the early IBM PCs (virtually no kid had these at home – way too expensive); the Coleco Adam… all pre-emergeance of the Internet outside of the universities and pre-Web. You couldn't share stuff without great, great pains. You can argue, quite convincingly, that OS standardization on the PC platform, which moved computing to the average citizen's desktop, spurred widespread business adoption, leading to economies of scale and even further adoption.

      No one really knows for sure if Gates was knowingly visionary or just lucky when he scored the deal with IBM. And, to be fair, let's give some credit to IBM, who allowed it all to happen.

      But, yes, OS standardization was an important step and Microsoft/IBM deserve a bit of credit for that.

      • It may have been luck, but I believe I read somewhere that his mother had a role to play with him landing IBM. Bill came from an influential family, and his mother was a well connected socialite I believe.

        Furthermore, the most promising company that Bill took out had to have been HyperGlobalMegaNet, started by a chap named Homer Jay… can't remember that last name, but it was caught on camera.

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  6. Totally agree! I'm not a big fan bloat-ware either but it's lets face it – Microsoft did take the lead where many others failed

  7. “I don’t normally like to praise Microsoft for things. Not only am I not a Microsoft fan-boy, but I think some of the ways that the software company has done business in the past have been — well, bordering on unethical”

    um, well..no shit. you do remember that a district court in washington convicted ms of being a predatory monopolist? still, there's something distasteful, if not juvenile, in your studied promotion of yourself as being in the anti-ms camp. there are no “good” or “bad” guys out there anymore…..google, yahoo, ibm, oracle – pick your poison. and i can think of many companies who regularly turn out lousy products. i suppose it's easy to pitch spitballs from the cheap seats. still, you do need to take a fresher look at what's going on in the business. time to hop on a jet sometime and visit the tech industry for a first-hand inspection, matthew.

    • Michael, if you want to talk about the U.S. and anti-monopoly law, then we could be here for a long time. The fact is that having Microsoft dominate the market for personal computer operating systems helped more than it hurt the industry long-term. I'm not sure what that has to do with me “pitching spitballs” or having to get on a jet to go somewhere, frankly.

      • “The fact is that having Microsoft dominate the market for personal computer operating systems helped more than it hurt the industry long-term.”

        What possible grounds do you have for asserting this as fact? Microsoft is a predatory monopolist, noted for killing its competitors, and also noted for not being very innovative (their persistent self-application of the term during the US antitrust era notwithstanding). This kind of environment does not foster progress or innovation. You must have a very particular notion of how this state of affairs is helpful.

        • My point is that having a single dominant technology standard helped
          the PC market develop early on — Microsoft's monopolistic behaviour
          later on is a separate issue.

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  10. My point is that having a single dominant technology standard helped
    the PC market develop early on — Microsoft's monopolistic behaviour
    later on is a separate issue.

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