Looking Back At The Microsoft Antitrust Suit: Did It Matter?
from the probably-not... dept
We’ve argued before that the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft was misguided (though, I’ll admit that I was in the camp that thought it made sense at the time, before realizing that was a mistake). The fact that the EU continues to go after Microsoft on antitrust issues seems even more silly. Farhad Manjoo has an article in Slate, officially about why it doesn’t make sense to go after Google on antitrust charges, but with most of it detailing why Microsoft wasn’t really an antitrust problem:
Many of Microsoft’s assets turned out not to matter, because upstarts like Google and old foes like Apple found ways to innovate around them.
Indeed, in many ways Microsoft’s size was a liability, not an asset. This is the classic innovator’s dilemma; the company was so intent on protecting its cash cows–it derives most of its revenue from two products, Windows and Office–that it was blind to opportunities in new markets. Microsoft couldn’t make a Web e-mail system like Gmail, because that would have threatened Outlook. And why should Microsoft bother with free online word processing apps when Office was doing so well? When journalist Steven Levy showed Bill Gates the first iPod, Gates’ first reaction was, “It’s only for Macintosh?” Gates saw the iPod through the lens of desktop computers; if the iPod connected only to Macs, it didn’t pose a threat to Microsoft. What he didn’t figure out was that the iPod would herald the iTunes Store, allowing Apple to become not only the most influential entertainment company in the world, but also the dominant software maker for mobile devices. Yes, the first iPod didn’t work on Windows. In time, it would help render Windows irrelevant.
Indeed. This is a point that we’ve raised often before. Underdogs beat out big companies all the time, by changing the rules completely. When we talk patents, we hear people insisting that small inventors can’t succeed because big companies will just “steal” their idea, but the simple fact is: if that big company recognizes the value in your idea, then you probably weren’t going to succeed in the first place. The real innovators get responses like Gates’ above to the iPhone. They come from so far out of left-field that the “big companies” don’t see them coming (at all), even when they’re right beneath their noses.