November 22, 2004, 11:35 AM — If the goal of an opinion column is to stir the pot, I'd say we've succeeded. Lots of you responded to the column two weeks ago about Novell's laughable and inept stewardship of the WordPerfect brand and its preposterous attempt to shift the blame to Microsoft by filing yet another antitrust lawsuit.
One reader writes: "I have been saying for years that Microsoft gets sued as much for competitors' bad business decisions as it does for monopolistic practices. Your article is the first one I have seen for a long time that documents this in print."
This obviously astute (and probably good-looking, too) person cites other examples of vendors' ineptness. "Netscape made the blunder of going from a free browser that controlled approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of the browser market to a paid browser at the same time Microsoft came to market with a tremendously improved and free browser of its own. Within six months, Netscape's market share was down significantly and dropping daily."
How right he is!
This same writer also points out a blunder by the long-defunct Digital Equipment Corp., which was acquired by Compaq, which itself was acquired by Hewlett-Packard. One of DEC's worst decisions, he says, was not allowing a rewrite of the VMS operating system to a language that would allow it to be ported to any hardware platform. Yes, and soon after, Microsoft hired away the brains behind VMS, Dave Cutler, to create something called Windows NT.
I'll add that, similarly, Apple kept tight reins on its Macintosh operating system, allowing the marketing of Mac clones at one point, but killing that off after about a year. Apple's desktop market share has continued to plummet since then. And remember, it was IBM's failure to secure an exclusive license for DOS that propelled the IBM-compatible PC market to dizzying heights. (I could mention the DEC Rainbow, TI Professional, AT&T 6300, and lots of other early PCs that were not quite 100 percent IBM compatible, requiring their own special versions of Lotus 1-2-3, WordStar, and other applications. But I wouldn't gain anything by doing so.)
Another reader writes: "No, Microsoft is not to be punished for its inept competition, but for abusing its monopoly position through many unfair practices that killed many good products that are not even here to sue Microsoft."
He's absolutely right. It is not my point to absolve Microsoft of its sins --- and believe me, there have been plenty (fodder for yet another column) --- merely to let the company off the hook when it is not to blame. But deep pockets are alluring to plaintiffs and their lawyers, and no one's pockets are deeper than Microsoft's.
This isn't over by a long shot. Just a week after Novell filed its latest suit, Microsoft fired back, waving money at NetWare users, enticing them to ignore Novell's own SuSE Linux and make the jump instead to Windows Server 2003.