Thursday, February 26, 2009

Economics: My Microsoft Hypocrisy

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Some in the technology community have been excited by the news earlier this week that Microsoft (which I normally write as Micro$oft) would be making limited versions of the main Microsoft Office applications available through a web browser, which would make them available to Linux and iPhone users for the first time. The news was buried in reports about a version of Office to be released later this year. I didn't care. I finally weaned myself off of Microsoft products for all personal use more than three years ago and have relied on OpenOffice and other competing products like MacOS (instead of Windows) and Firefox (instead of Internet Explorer) ever since.

Perhaps it was living in California at the height of the "vaporware" era, in which Microsoft would announce a product equivalent to one that had already been announced by a startup, causing that company to be unable to get financing, and then never actually release such a product. Perhaps it was talking to people that worked as programmers at Microsoft and hearing about a work environment that encouraged extreme hours and juvenile behavior. Perhaps it was simply the fact that with the exception of Office and Flight Simulator pretty much every Microsoft product I've ever seen was buggy, inelegant, and did not offer features superior to those of its competitors. Perhaps it was being paid to be an IT administrator and discovering that the only way I could keep most Windows desktop computers working efficiently was to wipe their entire hard drives and re-install everything once every six months, a process that cost me many weekends. For whatever reason, I've never had much respect for Microsoft.

There has been a fundamental hypocrisy in my position about Microsoft that hasn't been lost on me, though. Every single job I have ever held in the western Washington state has been a direct result of Microsoft, based for most of my life in Redmond, Washington. A software buying position? It wouldn't have existed in the area had Microsoft not been around. Software packaging? Microsoft literally provided half the work for that facility. Quality systems? Not only was Microsoft a prime customer for that company, but the position would never have existed in a form in which I could have done it without Microsoft Office, and Office skills were the key to landing that position.

Furthermore, it's not much of a secret that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a railroad enthusiast. A favorite hobby store in Kirkland, Washington likely would not exist without his business. And, some of the most impressive railroading events in the Pacific Northwest in recent years would not have happened without Gates doing some things quietly behind the scenes.

I benefited greatly from Microsoft's success early in my adult life, and in some sense ever since. I just wish the company had earned its fortune in a manner of which I could be proud, instead of in a manner that has led me to reject its products in the marketplace.

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