Small Masthead


Microsoft's Real Sin

Dave Hitt

A few years ago when I heard Microsoft was grabbing the directories of customers who registered on-line I was sure it was a silly rumor. It would be impossible to get away with for long, and they would know that. I was even more surprised when I found out it was true. How could they be so stupid?

Most companies reflect the personality of their CEO, and Bill Gates isn't stupid. It wasn't stupidity, it was arrogance. Of course they knew they'd be caught. As soon as they were they apologized, said it was an error and stopped doing it. By then they had already gathered reams of valuable information about their customers.

It wasn't stupidity...Now they're at it again, and once again they are saying it's all a big mistake. Windows 98 creates an ID based in part on the unique number embedded in your network card. These IDs then become part of every Word and Excel document created on that PC. Within days of this discovery someone else figured out that Microsoft was gathering this ID information from everyone who visited their web site. A spokesperson for Microsoft said "As with the earlier issue, these numbers were used only as a unique 'ID' for transfer, storage, and look-up reference in our product registration database. Microsoft did not use these numbers to track [an] individual's behavior on"

Again, they had to know they'd be caught. Again, they didn't care, evidently deciding that the value of the information they gathered before they were exposed would be worth more than the negative publicity they'd generate.

They have been prominently displaying their arrogance throughout their anti-trust trial, and are likely to lose as a result. Their lawyers continue to treat the government's attorneys as easily fooled rubes. Over and over they presented evidence that wouldn't fool a talented twelve year old. Each time the feds ripped it to shreds. It's obvious to everyone else their adversaries aren't stupid after all, but they continue to assume otherwise. They're not unable to learn from their mistakes, just unwilling.

Few things are as dangerous as pissing off the US government. The only way to deal with them when they're angry is to bow down immediately or give up after a brief, ineffective fight. Those who do usually get off with a relatively small punishment. For example Intel, who is also being punished for becoming an industry leader, is giving in rather than go through a trial. The terms of the agreement haven't been announced yet but it's likely they'll get off with a minimum of fines and restrictions. But stand up and display your arrogance, as Microsoft is doing, and you're going to get slapped down hard. It is unlikely they'll wake up and realize this (if it's not too late already). When the case is finally over and Judgment Day arrives, Mr. Gates is likely to find he has finally been humbled.

Additional Links:

Windows 2000 will have the arrogance Built In

One Option Microsoft hasn't Considered Yet


© 1999 Dave Hitt

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