Microsoft: The winner we love to hate

Arnold G. York/Publisher

They say Americans love a winner. Well, at least Gen. Patton said so, or at least actor George C. Scott pretending to be Patton said so in a movie. But if it’s true, and I think it is, why do we all seem to hate the biggest winners of our time, Bill Gates and Microsoft?

If you think we don’t worship winning in this country, I challenge you to remember the name of the guys who finished second. Try to rattle off the names of the losing vice presidential candidates. Heck, I can hardly remember the names of the losing presidential candidates.

So why is everyone after the No. 1 winner and computer nerd of our time and his equally nerdish brethren as if they’ve committed some horrendous crime?

After all, didn’t they do everything they were supposed to and didn’t they do it spectacularly? It’s Horatio Alger come alive. They started in a garage, practically without any capital, and in less than 30 years have become the richest corporation in America and Gates probably the richest man in the world.

They practically created an industry — more than that, an age, the information age — something that didn’t exist before. They changed the way we look at the world, brought incredible wealth to this country, gave America, and with it California, a commanding position above this computerized world and smashed the competition. Instead of garlands, they’ll probably next be looking at a grand jury. What’s going on here ?

Let’s not kid ourselves about what they’ve done. Ten or 20 years ago, it was the equipment that counted. It was the manufacturers that were king. That wasn’t just American manufacturers. There were German manufacturers, Italian manufacturers and, most importantly, Japanese manufacturers, and the Japanese were winning. The rising sun was definitely rising. Praises of Japanese goods, Japanese quality control and Japanese management were in every business magazine. They gobbled up the consumer electronics industry and were on their way to getting control of the computer industry. Then came Microsoft, which realized what all of the big players didn’t — the future wasn’t in hardware but in software. With a combination of foresight, aggressiveness, ruthlessness and Lord knows what else, there was this little American company that kept swimming around in the fish tank filled with sharks, and somehow it was the sharks that kept getting eaten. Today, the information age is an American age, conducted in English, and the money is rolling in. The rest of the world wasn’t exactly happy about this new American age. They all fought it: the Japanese, the French, the Italians and the Germans tried to block this American domination of the information age, but they all lost, and probably a principal reason they lost was Microsoft. When it began, the others had smarter people, better technologies, government subsidies, and much more wealth, but Microsoft was quicker, more nimble and maybe more ruthless, and ultimately it ate them all.

Yet, despite all that, they find themselves in court being called a monopoly. When the judge’s findings came down, the sense I had from the interviews was that the people at Microsoft, from Gates down to the kid on the shipping dock, were all equally puzzled. What did they do wrong?

The answer to that simple question is really very complicated, because our attitudes are really very complex. We all worship success, but it also makes us angry, perhaps envious and certainly uneasy. When a single company, like Microsoft, becomes as big as the government, when we begin to get a sense there is no check and there is no balance, Americans get more than uneasy, and things begin to happen. Attorneys general start getting very aggressive. Grand juries start looking. Ultimately, political things happen.

Once Gates and Microsoft get over their initial reaction, which is to circle the wagons and fight back with everything, I’m sure cooler heads will prevail.

Microsoft will weather this storm, but to do it they’re going to have to do a few things.

They’re going to have to eat a little crow.

They’re going to have to do a major mea culpa.

They’re going to have to stop trying to grab up all the chips on the table even when they can.

Most of all, Bill Gates is going to have to give away a lot of his money.

And they’re going to have to do it even though they don’t believe any of it is fair, and maybe they’re right, but they’re going to have to do it anyway because if they don’t they will be devoured.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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