Dealing with Microsoft Is the Lesser of Two Evils

Opinion: Using competing application products and dealing with fighting standardization battles with users would simply be trading one headache for another.

Despite the efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Commission, theres no question that in certain product categories, Microsoft is the only game on the planet.

Perhaps you remember the world when Microsoft didnt own certain software markets. For word processing, we had WordPerfect, DisplayWrite and MultiMate—not to mention WordStar and something called HAL from Lotus. For spreadsheets, there was Quattro Pro, 1-2-3, Excel and the last vestiges of VisiCalc. Graphics packages included Freelance and Harvard. NOS choices included Banyans VINES, Digital PathWorks, Novells NetWare and OS/2. Microsoft essentially owned the desktop operating system with DOS, Windows and its partnership with IBM on OS/2.

Had eWEEK given me this soapbox (an actual column name when this magazine was named PC Week) during that time, Im sure I wouldve been pontificating about the merits of software standards in the corporate environment. I can vividly remember "discussions" with users to explain why they could not have the same word processor they had at their last job and why they were restricted to "company standards."

The help desk frequently used several utilities to convert file formats. Periodically, I compared competing software to see if a change in standards was warranted.

Those days are behind us. We have accepted Microsoft Office as the lingua franca for products and file formats on just about a global basis—regardless of whether these are the best products or the easiest to use.

We ignore the fact that Microsofts quality assurance is frightening and its support makes us cringe. Is there a real alternative to Windows for those hundreds of millions of desktop users? Linux? Mac OS? Maybe, but users wont adopt any en masse until they can run on them all of the applications currently available to them on Windows.

Those who think the free market needs a nudge in this case might believe that Microsoft should be hobbled to foster more competition in certain software markets.

But as an IT manager, do you want that? Are you prepared to give up one headache for another? Would you rather live with the hassles Microsoft and its products put you through, or would you rather trade those for multiple choices—and headaches—for every software application, as well as fighting the standardization battles with your users?

Tough choice? Maybe not. We have already decided that dealing with Microsoft is the lesser of two evils. There are still competing application products, from major vendors such as IBMs Lotus and Corel, but weve chosen to look right through them.

There is no getting the genie back in the bottle once weve gotten what weve wished for.

Brian D. Jaffe is an IT director in New York. He can be reached at Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community and welcomes contributions. Send submissions to


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