It may not be that "Every woman adores a Fascist," as the poet Sylvia Plath once caustically penned, but it certainly seems that every market appreciates a monopolist. However much we may wring our hands over Facebook's dominance of social networking, Google's heavy hand on search, and Apple's grip on mobile market, the reality …
We shall overcome.
"History shows time and again that a certain amount of monopoly is good for the development of a market, and that entrepreneurs and open-source developers cleverly adapt and overcome entrenched monopolies through technological innovation."
Yeah, cos like 2001 was the year of Linux on the desktop. And 2002. And 2003. And 2004.
the problem with linux and its community
is that its trying to be all things to all people. Spreading themselves too far and too thin.
Companies like MS, Apple, Sony, Google etc succeed due to their drive in a particular direction.
Its a strategic gamble, that their research into the availability of opportunities is accurate. If they are spot on, they clean up, if they dont, some disappear into the ether (SUN) or have enough to bankroll another attempt (googlewave)
Linux does not have the benefit of that single aim or drive. The closest you have at present is Ubuntu, whose aim is clear to be a SIMPLE userfriendly alternative OS to windows.
and to some degree its working, because their prominence has been on the rise.
Monopolys succeed due to their strategic drive, which focuses the company, and the bankroll which starves other like minded companies of much needed funding.
Then once a monopoly is gained in one market, they start spreading their wings and encroaching on other markets.
Thats why you have google heading into the browser then OS market.
You had apple encroaching on and gaining a signifcant foothold in the mobile market
Sony encroached and dominated the gaming platform (PSOne/PSTwo)
it might not be liked, but t'is the way of the world.
You're hurting my brain
You're making a bold statement just so we'll read your article, right? You don't actually believe it do you?
The reason that monopolies are bad is that once they start doing things you don't like, you can't get your service from somewhere else.
It's like praising a dictator for making a country better, it's all well and good until he starts executing people who disagree with him.
Nerds and Nazis
I think it's more a sign of how limited and unimaginative, many nerds are, that they will run headlong from one monopoly to the next: pestering anyone they can engage, in conversation, to take up a strong opinion on whatever technology they have managed to obtain a tenuous grasp of, at the moment - jumping ship, the moment some new thing hoves into view.
The logic of the monopoly, is the logic of the carrot; that travels from Ayrshire, where it was grown, to Basingstoke, for storage, before being shipped back to Ayrshire, to be sold. That's what monopolies in other markets have given us: why should IT be any different? This thinking holds us back, it diminishes us, and, of course, it defines us
And many geeks buy into this approach, wholeheartedly: they're so afraid of the stick, than they'll grab at any carrot they can see. It's a function of a lower-socially-functioning minority, from a bullied background, that they naturally gravitate towards the biggest bully in the schoolyard. That's how brilliant scientists end up using slave labour, in caves, to assemble missiles, to fire at civilians; it's why Linux nerds brag about the US Airforce using Slackware in artillery radar systems; why Mac-heads carp on about farms of OS X servers being used to model nuclear explosions, and why Windows geeks get all soggy-pants, at the mere idea of a warship, cruising along under the combined might of Windows Server.
You know you've arrived, when the people in charge of killing people love you: the bigger the death tole, and the more remote the slaughter, the more your chosen technology is vindicated. You only have to look at (some of) the commentards, on here, to see that the ones who weren't smart enough for missile-assembly might well have been first in the queue, for the job of extermination camp guard.
What are you harping on about?
Most of the "nerds" I know actually like being in a minority of users of their particular OS or device. For example, for some people I know a Nokia N900 would get you great geek points, regardless of whether anyone really wanted one or not -- because it's different and clever.
Same goes for OS -- if you're in the *Ubuntu crows then, yes, you're OK because you're part of a large group -- but to be a real nerd or geek even running something as mainstream as Debian is considered a bit too normal. Tell real geeks and nerds that you're running Linux From Scratch or something like VAX or UNIX7 and then, despite being in a minority, you'll get "geek cred".
I think the people you are looking for who go from MS to Apple to whatever as fanboys are "fashion victims".
I also don't know how you reconcile "...jumping ship, the moment some new thing hoves into view..." with supporting a monopoly? Surely jumping ship stops things being a monopoly?
I was reacting to the thesis of the article
...Which was that monopolies are somehow 'good', because they allow a 'groundswell' of early adopters to solidify around a platform or technology. The truth (as I see it), is that most 'early-adopters', in this model - far from representing some radical group of experimenters - actually constitute a "Brownshirt Vanguard", that rush to support and entrench any technology that appears to oblige their own narrow niche of expertise, upon the world - preferably at the expense of any other view - and be damned to whether anyone benefits, or not.
My observation was, that many people who consider themselves 'geeks' have never gone beyond being passive consumers of their own preferred technology, as handed down by the real creators. Furthermore, once an audience builds up around a creator, the creator ceases to create: you can spend your whole life trying to change the world... but what happens if you succeed? History shows us, that the tendency, then, is to dedicate what remains, of that life, to trying to prevent it changing any further.
A such, the monopolies act as no more than boat-anchors against progress - at least, progress at any pace, or in any direction, that these armies of adopters do not personally care for. The argument being put for the merits of monopoly, here in this article, are that geeks are radicals: my assertion is, that the majority of 'geeks' are chicken-shit-conformists - who passively support and consume that which is given to them, and attempt to bully the rest of the world into supporting their chosen tribe.
I'm sure none of the geeks you know, are like that, but I am increasingly convinced that a number of the 'geeks' that comment, herein, are.
I have nothing to offer, on the relative merits of N900s.
It's not about monopolies
It's about the market place and liquidity.
The most liquid markets are those that are standardised, open for most participants and don't have high cost of entry/maintaining position. If you have that, the market will tolerate a certain amount of abuse/manipulation as long as it is not too much.
However, that tolerance does not mean that the market may not become even more liquid if you take active measures to reduce manipulation further. That's why the most liquid market places are regulated exchanges.
When you look at say MS Windoze - it is accepted as a "market place" because most PCs in the world use Windoze, anyone can write a piece of software to run on it and the information on system's functions is mostly accessible to everyone. This outweighs the multiple faults of the Windoze itself and the attempts at abuse and manipulation by MS (IE, MSMPlayer, MS Office etc.)
So, MS is a known market manipulator which is temporarily tolerated by the market it runs. Everybody knows it would steal a bit here and there where it can but it won't let some other guy to chop down your market stall and beat you with a stick, so to say.
However, this model is still stinks (just like lots of quasi-exchange markets in the world do) and it can be easily improved by introducing regulated competition.
For example, ff some standards body were to publish a set of APIs that are mandatory for an operating system this would immediately bring competition into the OS arena and MS's "monopoly" will disappear very quickly. Same with the other stuff you mention...
@The Indomitable Gall:
What this is actually about is standards that people can rely on and learn/target.
What everyone seems to forget, with regards to FOSS, is that they largely have no respect for standards at all unless it is a closed source company who doesn't adhere to them. Every distro has its own package management, file system layout, audio/video api's, widgets, filesystems and custom crap and it's touted as 'choice', yet MS having the audacity to use their own document format is 'lock in'. DirectX is evil, yet having multiple sound API's on Linux is somehow not?
The only difference between 90% of distros is their utter failure to adhere to any meaningful standards or API's, and if they did all these differences would vanish. As far as 'innovation' goes people love to attribute that to Linux and act like it's not just a clean room version of Unix. Any serious research into things that Linux 'invented' quite often reveals significant 'prior art' in the commercial sphere. Compiz, the majority of the apps, the majority of the games and even the UI itself are just v+1 versions of proprietary products.
As the article says if Linux presented a single united target platform rather than a thousand competing fiefdoms it may have had a chance. The very fact that they can't even decide on a unified package system where a 6 month old app is too old when I can run a Windows 95 installer and have it still work is nothing less than a disgrace.
@kerberos - I take it you're the embraced and extended "standard", are you...?
The difference is Choice and Interoperability
Unlike MS, when there is more than one Linux you get to choose, and they will all send email and talk on a network and share files with each other. The large majority of programs will run on all Linux/Unix platforms with little to no changes needed.
Windows programs have a much WORSE track record at continuing to run on newer versions. Linux, has a much better approach of updating any older useful programs to continue to work (vi for example). Try to run ANYTHING meant for windows 95 on a Windows 7 machine and I will be shocked if you can find one non-OS portion that still will install, let alone run.
And don't throw stones about prior art when trying to defend M$. They have filed more patents on their bastardized versions of others prior art than, well maybe more than anyone (maybe Intel, Apple, Google are in the same ballpark) M$ unlike the other jerk monopolies has actually been caught more than once for directly stealing code and passing it off as their own.
Who knows how far computing would have gone on a unified platform in M$ hadn't broken the law and lied about DR. DOS? Sure they paid the petty fine out of their monopoly coffers later, but it was a pittance to the damage they did to the computing industry at the time.
You are very wrong about FOSS and opensource standards. The bulk of the systems we use to communicate today are open source standards created by the IETF:
DNS, SIP (voip), HTTP, HTTPS DHCP, all of these and MANY more (also IEEE specs like 802.x ethernet) all are very widely used and respected standards, and are the ONLY REASON that computers talk to each other on the internet!!
Not "Unified package management" again
*sigh* "unified package management" is a canard. There *is* a unified format for package distribution and installation. It's called the Source Code tar archive. Packages built from source can be installed on anything. It is at the Source Code level where Linux distributions are compatible: if binaries compiled on one system work on another, then as far as developers are concerned that is purely a happy accident, and by no means intentional.
If you think remembring how to spell "make install" is too hard for you, then you are of course free to choose a distribution's pre-compiled packages -- but then, they will only work on that distribution, because they are compiled against particular kernel and library versions. That is the trade-off you make: you sacrifice some choice for convenience, because someone has already had to make some choices for you.
It's the difference between choosing a WC, bath, wasbasin, bidet and fittings from a sanitaryware manufacturer with a catalogue of hundreds of different models, and choosing a bathroom suite from a plumber's merchant. In the second case, someone has already picked out a set of components that they think go together well, right down to the flexi-tails.
And Linux *purposely* does not include "binary compatibility" as a design goal, because the inconvenience of recompiling a package every now and again to suit an ABI change is still a lower cost than the need to maintain obsolete and possibly-insecure ABI features just so some poor sap doesn't have to recompile a package.
Much of the trouble associated with Windows derives from insecure, legacy features: legitimate software relies for its operation on exactly the same features that are used by malware. And since the Source Code isn't out there for a lot of Windows software, it would also be rendered useless by the ABI changes which would close such vulnerabilities forever. At least when an ABI in Linux has to change in package managementa way which breaks backwards-compatibility, the distributors can do the recompiling for you, and installing the updated package automatically brings along whatever else needs to change.
If you have written a really good package, then you need *only* release it as a Source Code tar archive. The major distros *will* pick up on it before too long. You can always submit it to them -- anonymously, even, if you think blowing your own vuvuzela is Bad Form. Either way, they will take care of the details when they package it up to suit their own system. If some distributor wants to have files store their configuration files in /apps/config/ instead of /etc/, good for them; they can give the appropriate arguments to the `configure` script. But something already compiled (by another distributor) to look for config data in /etc/ won't work on that distribution. And neither should it.
"Try to run ANYTHING meant for windows 95 on a Windows 7 machine and I will be shocked if you can find one non-OS portion that still will install, let alone run."
Doesn't compatibility mode take care of that? I believe Windows 95 is an option on the list. Not 95, but I've installed hardware drivers in XP compatibility mode and they worked fine as well as "not to be redeveloped" applications so that's both angles covered.
Immature vs mature markets
It's an intelligent and thought-provoking article. I can't help wondering if you contradict yourself, however, with the statement that Apple has a mobile (smartphone) monopoly yet...
"We're now seeing that mobile market further mature, with Google's Android playing the role that Windows did in the PC revolution."
...because you're then effectively saying that there is no monopoly there. Or are you? By stating that the market "matures" the implication is that a young market will have many players, an adolescent market will have only one while a mature market will have a few.
But this is perhaps because computing technology at this stage is defining its own industries. Or rather, individual companies are defining their industry. When Steve Jobs tells the world to go screw itself because the world is complaining Apple is a closed shop, it's because Apple is still in the process of defining an industry. It couldn't share this with others even if it wanted to, because the industry itself isn't yet defined. Mostly true of Facebook. Definitely true of Google.
These are leading edge companies in leading edge areas of computing. Theirs is the right to blaze a trail, then to tell others how it is. They are the modern-day colonial explorers, who got there first then sold what they had found on their terms.
So, Matt Asay, you are correct, especially when you say that "a certain level of monopoly is a very good thing for the development of a market." I would simply add that once the market is developed, the market itself will cease to be a monopoly. And that this will happen quite naturally.
Uhh? Do you believe in fairies?
Google's market(s) that it has a monopoly in are already clearly defined:
Online data collection
Online search indexing
Online internet services (Email, chat)
They are quickly becoming a monopoly in all 4 areas. They are not doing this by being the best, or innovative but rather by buying out the competition. Google was allowed to purchase several of the largest companies in the Data Collection, advertising etc areas. When you start with more money and are allowed to build a monopoly unchecked, you end up with everyone paying fealty to a bunch of F*cking barons and lords, and that is the whole point the US left England to begin with, the basic principle that everyone starts as equals and you should have to work hard if you want success, and not just live as some twit lord who inherited shit because GOD said so..
The authoritarian view of market standardisation, if it's not top down, it isn't worth investing. Forget emergent behaviour and public good regulation.
Matt, our politics are too different and I disagree with your views fundamentally.
Matt. Buddy. Pal...
...there's no effing way. The only good thing about a monopoly is that it gives us something to struggle against.
True standards only exist when they are forced upon the market by government, or when the threat of such enforced standards finally pushes a market to stabilise its shifting goalposts for a while. Monopolies have good reason to ensure standards never exit. If they allowed a standard to exist then how could they force people to upgrade? How could they lock out competition?
Competitive markets have no reason to allow standards to exist. How then could they lock customers into their “platform?” How could they differentiate themselves from their competition without *gasp* spending money on R&D? I’m sorry sir, I don’t’ mean to take the piss out of any author here on El Reg, (I know how crappy negative comments can be,) but I really do need to know why you think that ANYTHING other than regulation has any impact at all on creating sustainable standards of any type.
The only thing the technology market has taught is that technology companies are only as good as the people that own them. If the folks that own and operate the company in question are good folk who are genuinely trying to do a good thing…they will work with other similar folk towards mutually beneficial things like standards. These people make up such a small % of our industry they are completely and utterly irrelevant.
The majority of tech companies are owned by the soulless amoral sociopaths known as “shareholders.” They care nothing for the damage the companies they own do to technology, society, the environment or anything else. They care only for return on investment. There is absolutely no return on investment to allowing standards to exist regardless of who you are.
The only way I can even begin to wrap my mind around what you have said is to assume that you mean that the Ultimate Monopoly (government) is that which finally becomes the arbiter in any market and enforces a given standard to exist. If it weren’t, every rail system would use different sized tracks, ever power company would but out a different type of power and none of the telephony systems would interoperate. All so that you have to buy /everything/ from the monopoly. Technology companies are no different, and that brings me back to my very first statement:
The only good thing about a monopoly is that it gives us something to struggle against.
Author confuses Monopoly with Standards. Standards=Good, Monopolies=Bad
Yes a common platform is good. You make some spurious arguments here that it is monopolies supplying this benefit, yet I fail to see how this benefit is any different from or better than standards and open interfaces that allow for common development as well, without one king holding the reigns and gaining all the benefits.
I would argue that there is good evidence to show that Open standards such as BSD (which by the way Apple OS runs on) and the IETF (remember those guys who actually made it so everyone COULD use the internet?!?!?.) work much better, and have show far more REAL development than Apple Google and MS combined.
I think the only benefit you state could have been gained if governments and people had been more informed, without the evil of creating entrenched empires that we are all beholden to.
Yes a common platform allows for more developer growth, yet I think Apple store, and MS dominance on the desktop have show exactly how these monopolies only purport to offer this, when in reality they are building a monopoly with which to keep and gain more power. Once they can do it themselves they have no need for the guys who used to write apps for them.
Software developers should take to note the new provision (in the ever changeable rules from Apple) that clearly states they will deny apps that there is already an similar app available. In other words "APPLE WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO COMPETE FAIRLY IF YOU ARE COMPETING WITH OUR APPS". Why any company would spend the time to build an empire for another with no guarantee of results is beyond me.
We would not have the number of websites available by ANY stretch of the imagination if instead of Apache (that 70-90% of the web servers run) we had to purchase IIS and MS Server 200x for every site. Imagine if instead of the IETF's FTP, HTTP, DNS, DHCP etc, we had to pay a license fee for every product that used it.
I've said it a million times already:
THE US NEEDS TO ENFORCE FTC AND SEC RULES AND STOP LETTING COMPANIES BUY THEIR COMPETITORS, WHEN IT DOES NOT SHOW AN OVERWHELMING BENEFIT TO BOTH THE CONSUMER AND COMPETITION. They have been rubber stamping these purchases for years and years and if they reviewed this stipulation that is supposed to be enforced, we would not have this problem.
Google should not have been allowed to but DoubleClick, Inktomi and the other major information collection competitors.
MS should not have been able to buy 3 of the top 5 game developers to force X-box content only on their device. Buying a company that produces a product for multiple platforms and then forcing it on only one, is in itself an ANTI-COMPETITIVE action that should have been met with severe penalties, instead Halo becomes an XBox only game, and MS gets to build on their monopoly.
Intel, Apple, Cisco, etc all the companies that continually look like monopolies are usually also the most active at buying up their competition, and buying companies in whole in order to enter new markets and expand their monopoly offerings.
Droid is not the industry-defining platform
Droid is not the industry-defining mobile platform - Apple's iOS is. Droid is just another wannabe who jumped on the bandwagon after Apple had defined good UI, application-driven downloads and a store where you can buy these things. If we're talking about consumers here, then Apple are the standards-setters and Droid is just A.N.Other "free handset" enabler.
Apple doesn't dominate the mobile phone market, Nokia does. This article must be written by an American, the nation that loves any monopoly as long as it's an Amercianm monopoly dominating foreign markets.
Here's a monopoly the Americans would have been better off giving more respect to: The British East India Company - then the Boston Tea Party would never have taken place, the US would still be a British colony and the British Empire would still rule the world.
Monopolies are a "good thing"?
Err... tell that to the various exec's and CEO's whose lives were crushed by monopolistic practices, who then ended their lives and destroyed their families.
You might say "look at the big picture", but I think you're kind of looking at things only by forgetting important details, which isn't really the big picture at all. It's just a warped one. :(
<i>However much we may wring our hands over Facebook's dominance of social networking, Google's heavy hand on search, and Apple's grip on mobile market, the reality is that a certain level of monopoly is a very good thing for the development of a market.
Why? Because it gives developers a place to focus their efforts, and a (mostly) benevolent network effect for consumers.</i>
No it isn't. Monopolies are bad for both developers and consumers. If you think your statement makes sense, take a look at the state of IE before Firefox came along. It was insecure, allowed you to do things like spoof the address of a hyperlink, and you could see that Microsoft were trying to introduce as much binary shit into web pages (which would then lock you into Microsoft). The only thing that made IE better was that Firefox started to damage its market share.
You could also look at eBay who keep raising prices, and forcing you to use PayPal because they know that they can. If they didn't have a near monopoly on auctions, you'd still be able to choose other payment methods.
The world is a much better place now that we have multiple browsers, the Windows API and Office are diminishing in power and being replaced by open standards.
The argument of Wintel helping development much is somewhat dubious -- I had an Atari 8-bit, and back in the day most software was simply packaged for Atari, Commodore 64, Apple II, and usually 1 or 2 other machines. Later on, there'd be also ports to Atari ST, Amiga, and Mac, and PC (DOS). It'd be logical to think that this much fragmentation would completely screw up the market, but the fact of the matter is that it did not. On the other hand, Microsoft held back general development by about 10 years, by not advancing DOS, and then producing WIndows which was already behind the competition technologically when it was released. Really, Linux and OSX have been the best thing to happen to Windows, many of the improvements they put into newer releases were directly spurred by Microsoft working Windows over to remain competitive (they sped up IIS a lot, after the Linux kernel started first supporting in-kernel web servers, then supporting sendfile() and such to greatly greatly increase the hits/second Apache etc. can support.... Microsoft wouldn't have worried how much people hated Vista if people didn't have Linux and OSX to switch to, and so wouldn't have worked on speeding up 7... and so on.)
Facebook? I agree with this argument. If the small companies had interoperated they may have been viable, but they did not. Analogy: phone companies, they do interoperate so there's no problem if I'm with one company and the caller is with another, they can still direct-dial me and get in contact with me. If they didn't interoperate, people would naturally flock to the one that already has the most customers.
Google? They are doing a great job making loads of money providing quality advertising services, and making loads of money doing it. But frankly, I don't think the previous market was in some great disarray; it's simply that Google bought the biggest couple ad networks, and did a very good job running them. Someone could potentially do better and cut them down a peg I think.
I see here and there quite often arguments and remarks regarding how widespread is (or is not) Linux on the desktop, or in the world in general. I have reached the point where I wonder if this really matters. Going back to the roots, the origins - I seem to remember that Linux (at the least the kernel, that is) grew out of frustration from the lack of control the user had over the system. The fundamental benefit of Open Source was supposed to be the fact that the user could take what he/she wanted, change it, make it work for him/her. And to that end, FOSS software has and is still fulfilling its role.
That indeed might not make it the most suitable system for the least skilled users (but you might argue otherwise), or the system with the highest chance of taking over the world (although it seems to have taken over enough corners of the industry in one way or another). But here we have a system and a large number of pieces of software which can be tweaked, which provide the freedom of access and modification, which supports open standards and fair competition, which are built in the spirit of FOSS. A whole ecosystem of software which represents our principles as a community (no matter how heterogeneous that is :-) ). Well, where I'm looking from, it seems like mission accomplished.
Micrsoft killed the cheaper superior competition
I keep hearing that Microsoft brought the computer to the common man. But look back to the early 1990s. A Wintel box was running Windows 3.11 and cost many times the price of an Atari ST or an Amiga. I found a price list from about 1997 listing a PC for about £1399.
So if anything, Microsoft killed off the cheaper friendlier and more reliable home computers. Later on in the decade people started to want the computer at home that they used at work, mainly because they were new to computing and wanted to practice or improve their skills.
It's funny how things change though as some people now are so sick of what they use at work that they buy a Mac or use Linux. I've heard it at my office quite a bit, "when my laptop dies I'm getting a Mac".
Wait, what, Diaspora is real?
I thought it was satirical performance art. Have they got to the part of the show yet where one of the nerds stabs the others in the back, steals the investment, code and userbase and forms his own zillion dollar company? I can't wait for that act.
Monopolies stifle innovation
And create barriers to entry for competitors and deliver substandard products (Google might be an exception to that.) Apples motto is to create insanely great products, which they continue to do and everyone else a parroting them. Apple's OS on its desktop line is fabulous and Microsoft has been chasing them since forever. Windows 7 is not bad. Ubuntu is catching up. However, to get Apple's OS, you have to buy their machines which are nothing special and way overpriced.
Come up with an insanely great product and you too, can own the market.
Here we go...
Out come the bedroom anarchists. It's a thought-provoking article and if you read it he doesn't say that monopolies are in themselves good, but the de facto standard they bring. As a developer the fact 95% of the people I want to write software for use the same OS is a GOOD thing -compare with writing a console game or (gulp) a mobile phone game.
For that matter, if Linux had dominant market share it would become the effective monopoly, not because of standards, but because everyone uses it. In which case I'd be just as happy to write apps for Linux.
As a developer I don't really give much of a toss about MS being 'evil' - or at least whatever ideology I have about software takes a firm 2nd place to real life... making software that works on my customers' computers.
Facebook should not be a monopoly
Remember when AOL chat users could not interact with Yahoo ones? Or Lotus or IBM mail didn't talk to Internet mail users? So, why can Facebook cell updates be possible, but not friendship with MySpace users? No technical reason, really. Thankfully, Internet carriers use interchanges (like phone systems), otherwise we all couldn't communicate with each other. Imagine if roads in one town didn't connect to those in the next!
It took Open Source, open protocols, and most importantly, user dominance to make TCP/IP dominate over SNA, DECnet, and others, RFC822 and 2822 to dominate over Lotus, IBM, Microsoft, and other proprietary, monopolistic mail formats. Unified connectivity without unique financial control. Handing Facebook its monopoly does not best serve communication. Only competition will force them to interact openly with other social networking systems.