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Genius compromised

I suggest for your reading today this open letter to Microsoft about the flawed genius -- or genius compromised -- of Microsoft.

Opinion: A letter to Messrs. Gates and Ballmer
Mark Gibbs, Network World

08/10/2004 16:50:40

Dear Bill and Steve,

Considering that we've never met please forgive the rather familiar greeting. I suspect the chances of actually getting a reply from either of you is pretty low, as you are very busy people and the thoughts of one columnist are hardly likely to rock your world.

All the same, I figure that it is worth trying because even if you don't read this some of your employees and shareholders might, and the message might filter back.

So let me start by saying that despite my many criticisms of Microsoft products and corporate behavior over the years, I have at the same time admired what the company has achieved and have said so in this column.

What prompted me to write was the news that, following the European Commission's ruling against Microsoft in March, I understand the company has created a version of Windows that doesn't bundle Windows Media Player. Apparently you chose to do that as a back-up plan should the hearings over Microsoft's request for suspension of the European Commission court's demands not go in Microsoft's favor - this way the company would be ready to roll with a product that complied with the ruling.

So after all the assertions that Windows would be crippled by the lack of a built-in media player it turns out you can create a product that works perfectly well with the Windows Media Player as an add-on. Gentlemen, this comes as no surprise to any of us with basic knowledge of operating systems.

What concerns me is that Microsoft has yet again indulged in misrepresentation.

You have, not for the first time, let yourselves behave as if the end justified the means. For Microsoft the end has been simply making money and achieving market dominance, the means being untruthfulness.

Don't you occasionally feel nagging doubts over the fact that your company distorts the truth? I know that struggling for position and advantage are essential for a growing company, but you are in a different league from most.

You are in a unique position in cultural and business history. You hold the reins of one of the most powerful forces in the evolution of human communications, as well as one of the most widely used set of thinking tools.

You are not just rich, you are wealthy. Your company has created staggering wealth and power. Despite that - or maybe because of that - your perceived corporate ethical capital is at an all-time low. You seem to be unable to say "Enough!"

You are at the point where your company, without compromising its market hegemony, could become - and I know this sounds corny but stick with me on this - a moral and ethical force that has as its foundation a belief in the historical and cultural importance of Microsoft rather than in the immediate business value it currently represents.

As clich‚d as that might sound, the idea of being more than just another rapacious business behemoth really matters given your place in the world. When you are untruthful about something like the Windows Media Player integration with Windows you are compromising and devaluing your genius.

I'm not suggesting anything ridiculous such as that you should stop being competitive or give up on profits. What I am suggesting is that it is time for Microsoft to mature, to embrace the opportunity of being more than an 800-pound very rich gorilla.

I would go so far as to suggest that, should you even begin such a transformation - something that would take several years to realize - you will see greater profits and less resistance to your ideas.

Should you carry on as you are, you will have missed one of the greatest opportunities in history to make a difference to our culture.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Gibbs

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