You Wouldn't Say That if it Was Microsoft

In response to a somewhat misleadingly-titled story, a number of digg comments bemoan the fact that Microsoft is treated differently than Apple. That is, the same people who criticize Microsoft for advancing their position in the market aren't as quick to judge Apple for doing the same:

Why is it that when Microsoft has a monopoly, every demonizes them, and when Apple has a monopoly, no one makes a peep? The underdog always wins, eh? (mevam)

Yes, why is it? More importantly, how exactly can an underdog have a monopoly? The answer to the second question is clearly that Apple does not have a monopoly. iTunes and iPod are far from the only digital music solution available. It just turns out that they have the one that is the most popular. Nor did Apple use the long-term, established success of one to force the success of another. They grew up together.        

Back to the first question, though. Why is it that these Apple folks demonize Microsoft for advances but not Apple?

What's Not to Like?

First, keep in mind the fact that Mac people that complain about Microsoft's actions are generally not upset about the principle of the thing in the way that the Linux community is. For Apple customers, the problem is that Microsoft's software simply drives them nuts and they don't like the idea of being forced to use it. (Contrast this to the Linux community's effort to re-create Microsoft software under a different license).

Handing a disadvantage to Apple does not actually level the playing field, it just artificially sabotages Apple's ability to confront the overwhelming juggernaut that is Microsoft, emboldened by the American legal system's leniency. While the EU did rule against Microsoft, it's not clear if that ruling will really matter in the long run.

So to condense this down a bit, the concern is that punishing Apple for creating a well-designed product sends the industry in the wrong direction. Although some may try to model a completely open landscape where many music services can participate, the reality is that at the technology level, that this is between Apple and Microsoft. A ruling like this makes it just slightly more likely that we'll be forced to use Microsoft software to listen to music.

We've seen what the experience is like when Microsoft designs something, and we've seen the contrast when Apple designs something. The fact that many see their computer as an opponent rather than a tool underlines how out of sync Microsoft is with the needs of real people.

When a Mac or iTunes user speaks up for Apple, it's unlikely it's because they've brainwashed. It's because they don't find the idea of a Microsoft alternative very appealing. By contrast, the prospect of being forced to use iTunes or Mac OS X is like being forced to drive a well-designed, well-built luxury car.

So if you don't feel that Apple is treated the same way as Microsoft, you're right. Every point in technology history shows us why this is. Yes, in theory we all want infinite options and flexibility, but the more practical goal is that we want one thing that works really well. It's unlikely that Microsoft will be able to provide that.
Design Element
You Wouldn't Say That if it Was Microsoft
Posted Mar 14, 2006 — 8 comments below


Jesper — Mar 14, 06 932

I think there's an entirety of five people outside of Microsoft who really thinks that Microsoft - or WMA-based solutions - is the best solution out there.

What has consistently grabbed me in discussing iTunes with others has instead been its lack of support for, say, OGG Vorbis or open lossless formats like FLAC. (Additionally, there are people who rely on Winamp plugins to play tracker music, but they're far fewer.)

I don't know why QuickTime (and thus iTunes) doesn't support OGG Vorbis natively in the first place - it's open and there are well-known implementations of it ripe to just 'slurp up'. There are even multiple QuickTime components there already. I think the main holdup is getting it to work on the iPod, evidenced by the fact that iTunes already carries an "OGG" document icon.

That said, I'd also very much like for, when Jobs feels like the iTMS market share is high enough, WMA support. Beating the competition may be a high priority, but interoperating with them for the good of the user should always be higher.

Gavin — Mar 14, 06 933

iTunes can import WMA and OGG files, but you need to convert them to a compatible format for iPod: therefore, it is an iPod requirement.

Additionally, iTunes can play any QuickTime supported video format, but iPod requires a different format (basically H.264). Again, this is an iPod requirement.

In response to the article as a whole, iPod+iTunes should be considered the same thing. You generally can't use your iPod without iTunes... and iTunes is free, it relies entirely on the very capacious and free QuickTime, an can play files from sources other than the iTunes Music Store.

I don't see too many devices playing unprotected AAC files, either.

Generally speaking, iPod is a mirror of your iTunes Library. We should stop focusing on iPod, and focus on iTunes. Scott's point about the two growing-up together is very valid. They became popular together and in no way has one been forced upon the purchaser, who, by the way, understood the system requirements before purchasing and using the products (all Software License Agreements considered).

Preston — Mar 14, 06 934

I always found this easy to respond to. When someone mentions Apple's "monopoly" and compare it to Microsoft's, I point out the old coercive OEM deals. Apple isn't enforcing coercive deals with retailers that punishes them for selling competing alternatives. Apple won its dominance fair and square, whereas Microsoft cheated to ensure dominance of its monopoly platform.

There are plenty of competing players and services to iPods and iTunes. To compare it to the absolute, complete dominance of Windows, particularly during the 90s where competitors were actively shut out, is a ludicrous comparison.

Nick — Mar 24, 06 963

Contrast this to the Linux community's effort to re-create Microsoft software under a different license

The rest of your observations aside, I find this comment difficult to swallow for two reasons. First: unlike Microsoft or Apple, two companies, the people who make Linux work are a community. To that extent, how can you characterize the intent of a community? Within this community are many niche groups, each of which plays a role in shaping the direction and capability of not just the linux kernel, but all Open Source software on all platforms. I think a better source for observation would be in comparing a linux desktop project (Gnome, KDE, etc.) with the equitable applications sold by Microsoft and/or Apple.

Second: as a proponent of Open Source software, I find the idea of re-creating Microsoft products a difficult. Commercial products do provide a "feature bar" which the OSS projects strive to reach in their infantile releases. Even so, in the beginning stages of development, many OSS projects evaluate the function of the feature and give it the critical analysis which is often over-looked in commercial software. Not to imply that all commercial software is poorly written -- man products developed my small companies are top-rate. Just like a small company can fill a business niche and provide a superior product in a focused area, so too do the myriad of open source projects provide a superior product for their users.

Open Source is about choice. I can choose to use a clone of Apple's iTunes, a clone of Lavasoft's Winamp or a music player which fits my needs in a much more refined way. Microsoft Office isn't the best solution for everyone, nor is Open source gives me the freedom to choose. Isn't support of choice and an open market the very foundation of anti-monopoly laws?

Does Apple have a monopoly on personal music players? iPods are very popular, but I use iTunes because I like it's music library management capability. In fact, I can use my ancient Creative Muvo NX through iTunes, supporting my choice. The monopolies arise when the customer can only play music purchased from a single source on the given hardware. Choice is about being able to use iTunes to manage the music I buy from Yahoo! and Sony while listening to that music on a Creative Zen.

When a company locks customers into its products and services and denies access to competitors in the market, the very act of quelling choice, a monopoly is born. After years of this very business model, Microsoft has earned its demonized persona.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 24, 06 973 Scotty the Leopard

To that extent, how can you characterize the intent of a community?

That's a fair point. So I need to back off a bit and say that the Linux community, as whole, seems to not have a problem with using the Windows/Office design as a model. This may actually make more sense for the enterprise world, as business will be less scared of something that looks the same.

When a company locks customers into its products and services denies access to competitors in the market, the very act of quelling choice, a monopoly is born

Tying products together has nothing to do with a monopoly per say. The fact that you can't play PlayStation 2 games on an Xbox doesn't seem to bother anyone.

However, if Sony somehow prevented Microsoft from entering the market by blackmailing developers (which did not happen), then yes, that would be a bad situation that resulted from a monopoly.

Nick — Mar 24, 06 975

[q]This may actually make more sense for the enterprise world, as business will be less scared of something that looks the same.[/q]

I would agree with this; there are high-profile projects which appear to be clones of existing proprietary software. The reason for this would seem to be a regard for their target audience.

[q]Tying products together has nothing to do with a monopoly per say. The fact that you can't play PlayStation 2 games on an Xbox doesn't seem to bother anyone.[/q]

This is an interesting point. Indeed many popular titles are release for all three major systems (PS2, GC, Xbox). On the other hand, Sony and Nintendo have shared periods of monopoly over, say, the Final Fantasy line. Indeed Nintendo owns sole rights (as I understand it) to Zelda and Mario titles. This licensing isn't called a "monopoly", mind you; "exclusive rights" is somehow different.

I agree that the console gaming market would be more competitive were the console manufacturers to agree on a standard platform on which all games could be made. A universal game media just as we have a universal digital audio media. It would be more in the spirit of an open market, allowing consumers to select the console which met their needs rather than the one that has a particular line of games. (I am ignoring the possibility that the customer's needs may be defined by what titles are offered on a particular platform as that scenario is not possible under the proposed "universal media" system.)

I think the difference between digital audio/video and console gaming is that as a Music and Theatre are artistic works which exist outside of their delivery medium, (arguably) produced by a team of artists rather than a company. Many will argue with zeal that the video game is a work of art; an argument which has it's place until you think about "Madden '05". One could persuade much more successfully that "all music is art" rather than "all video games are art".

When I bought "The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap" last week it was because I enjoy Zelda games and I own a GBA. Indeed, one of the deciding factors in the purchase of my GBA was it's backward-compatibility to play GBC and GB games in addition to the lack of a Zelda for the PSP. When I bought "The Masterpiece Collection: Tchaikovsky" on CD last week it was because I enjoy classical music and own a multitude of music players. The fact that Apple manufactured my computer and Honda, Sony, and a handful of other companies manufactured my various CD players didn't influence the purchase of this particular recording on this particular medium. In fact, I made a conscious decision not to buy it via iTunes because I wanted to listen to it in more places than my computer (and the previously-mentioned music player which doesn't read ACC files). Granted, a purchase on iTunes music store licenses me to (iirc) 3 burned copies of the music. My CD doesn't tell me that I can only listen to it on 3 digital music devices. (This time, ignoring Sony's recent head-aches with their "enhanced CDs".)

Yay capitalism!

Rup — Apr 12, 06 1100

Sorry to pick up the thread rather off the subject, but

per say

which I have seen Scott write several times on this site should be written

per se

which could be italian or latin, meaning something like "on its own".

Scott Stevenson — Apr 12, 06 1101 Scotty the Leopard

which I have seen Scott write several times on this site should be written

Yep, I caught myself on that very recently. Pretty embarassing.


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