by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. XXII

This Week's Clue: House of Cards

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This Week's Clue: House of Cards
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of May 20, 2006

Microsoft is doomed.

Its fate was sealed over 20 years ago.

Back in the early 1980s, when I was just getting started in the business, both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates faced a fateful decision. They had text-based operating systems, Apple DOS in the case of Jobs, MS-DOS in the case of Bill. Both wanted to move toward a graphical user interface, toward an OS based on bit-map graphics.

Jobs bit the bullet. His 1984 Apple Mac was incompatible with his older gear. He shrugged and left his old users as orphans.

Gates went the opposite way. He made certain that Windows would be "backward-compatible" with DOS. Users would lose nothing. They would have the best of both worlds.

But that, in the long run was the mistake. Because while Jobs split from his past, Gates kept it alive. And in doing that he made certain that Microsoft Windows would become, and remain, a House of Cards.

The formula for a House of Cards is quite simple and elegant. Cards are stacked leaning against one another, in the form of a pyramid, and if nothing happens the pyramid is stable.

This is not as goofy as it sounds. Corrugated cardboard is based on the same principle. So is the honeycomb fiber used on modern jets. You clad the air-filled corrugations with something like paper (in the case of cardboard) or carbon (in the case of fiber) and the result is quite strong.

The trouble lies when you try to build on this platform, without the stiffening. If the bottom of a structure is unstable, it will fail. Windows is inherently unstable, and always will be.

Worse, the whole client-dominated world of Windows is inherently unstable. I learned this recently when I had what turned out to be a hard drive failure. I lost a ton of valuable stuff. Not to mention hundreds of dollars and days of valuable work time.

This has, in fact, been happening to me throughout my career. In contrast to most writers, most of what I have written in my lifetime has been lost. Anything that was not published in book format, anything that did not make it through the transition from the old text-based Internet to the World Wide Web, is gone. Anything I left on a floppy disk, or an old hard drive leading up to the present day, is gone - irretrievable, never to be recovered.

Note the exceptions. What I have done on the Internet - save the Interactive Age Dailies which CMP Media deliberately removed from view in the late 1990s - is still floating around. You can even find some of my old Newsbytes stuff.

The reason for that is redundancy.

The Internet is robust because it is redundant. Data does get through because, though you cut a variety of paths between a file and its destination, routers find new paths. A mesh network is highly stable, because of redundancy. Internet data is automatically cached - on clients, on servers, inside the network - so that once this goes out to you there will be literally thousands of copies of it around.

Now, caching and redundancy helped a lot in my recent crisis. We were able to get data from my old machine (like this file) onto a portable hard drive. My programs (nearly all of them) were already copied to my notebook. There will be some inconvenience, but most of my stuff will survive.

This is no thanks to Windows, however. It's thanks to Moore's Law. It is Moore's Law that has driven the cost of a 60 gigabyte USB drive down to $89 at retail. It is Moore's Law that has driven the cost of a new 160 GB drive down to $59.

If you're dependent on a client, if your security is based on a Windows topology, you or your company are literally living inside a House of Cards. If you based yourself on a network, with redundant paths and adequate back-up, you will survive.

Beyond the decision to maintain backward-compatibility, the Microsoft business model also meant the company would go it alone. The proprietary business model means that, if there is a flaw with Windows (and there always is) you are dependent on Microsoft to fix it. If there is a flaw in, say, Free BSD (on which the Mac OS X is now based) you can fix it yourself, and so can other members of the community. You will still need to distribute and load patches - the process for this remains a Windows strength - but again you will survive.

The Mac model, in many ways, offers the best of both worlds. You get a large proprietary vendor who stands behind your stuff, as well as an active community with access to source code. Other big companies like Sun Microsystems have figured out that this redundant model works well.

Open source, remember, is a byproduct of the Internet. It did not precede it in any meaningful way. True, Linus Torvalds hatched his kernel in 1991, but the process by which open source develops is dependent on the Internet, which in turn is redundant, multi-pathed, and stable.

No matter how big Microsoft becomes - and it's quite big - it can never win this game of Ogre.

Windows, and the Microsoft business model, are both based on sand. This is why Bill Gates has remained paranoid for 20 years, why he became so angry at the government's antitrust case against him.

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. And it doesn't mean they won't get you, either. In this case, they are certain to. It is only a question of time...


Shameless Self-Promotion

I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at

I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Best of the Week

My Favorite News Story

The Macon Telegraph reports that a 45 foot tall American chestnut has been found, thriving, on Pine Mountain in FDR State Park, just a quarter-mile from one of the former President's favorite fishing holes.

No Bill Can Guarantee Network Neutrality

The problem lies in defining "the Internet" in legislation.

QoS and Network Neutrality

There are times when you want less latency than a typical Internet set-up can get you.

False Dawn of Wireless Competition

At best this auction will increase the number of oligopolists from its present 4 to (maybe) 5-6. It will take years to build-out systems so service can be offered on them. Real competition, in the Internet Age, means anyone can get involved. And we know this by the enormous growth of WiFi.

The Phony Bull Market

There has been a bull market in corporate earnings. But these gains are not reflected in stock prices. People are paying less-and-less for every dollar of earnings ever since 2000. Thus the market has been treading water -- sometimes a bit up, sometimes a bit down.

Who Will Fight for the Real Internet?

The Real Internet -- an Internet controlled at the edges, by its users, rather than at the center, by carriers -- is under assault as never before.

Open Source Warfare?

Robb's thesis is these ethnic, political, and criminal groups are creating "virtual states" with the ability to destroy America and civilization. Only two problems:

Stealing the Last Mile

Is the "net neutrality" debate irrelevant?

The Internet's Strength is Also Its Weakness

The Internet is not owned by anyone. But this strength is also the Internet's weakness.

Missy Teaches a Lesson

Love is precious. Life is short. Use your time.

A Wall is Worthless

The funniest aspect of this whole immigration debate is the right-wing idea that a wall next to Mexico would "secure our borders." It won't.

A Champion for the Internet?

It may just be rhetoric, but New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says he wants to be a champion for the Internet.

Open Source Publishing

Open source publishing happens when a non-publishing company producesa book (or similar product) which is aimed at the market.

Advertising vs. Editorial

It takes courage to stand up against the interests of an advertiser, and always has.



Jail Bar at the Color Line

Cox Campaign Taking On Water

An Election Georgia Democrats Can Win

Russell Decision Kills Democrats' Chances

Is McKinney More Valuable Politically Dead or Alive?

The Risks of Web Campaigning

There is Still Bush Country Here

Pigs May Fly

ZDNet Open Source

Jitterbit Goes Open Source

Should Linux International Become a User Group?

Linux' Secret Weapon

Windows is Still Client-Driven

What is Open Source?

Has Sun Blown its Chance?

Software Security Embraces an Open Source Model

Where Open Source Leads?


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Glenn Greenwald, who knows what scares me and writes about it clearly.

Clueless is Glenn Reynolds, who continues to lose audience share despite his word-for-word copying of Bush talking points and WSJ editorials. His audience wants meatier stuff.

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