Because FLOSS is handy, isn’t it?

Proprietary formats and product lock-ins

Posted by isilanes on May 24, 2006

Many people wonder why, Linux and FLOSS being so good, is Windows the most used OS around. Generally, this leads them to argue that, since Windows is so popular, it must be because it’s better. After all, we the users are not stupid, are we?

No, we are not. Not even Windows users are :^)

The reasoning above rests on the premise of fair competition, which is not the case in the software market nowadays. No, it is not, and I mean it. Consider the following example:

There is a bicycle maker A, who makes A bicycles. She has no competition, no rivals in the market, hence A bicycles get very popular.

When the market is saturated, maker B comes into town, and starts producing B bicycles, which are much better.

No matter how monopolystic A was: in a short time, B will dominate the market, due to her better product.

This example is a good one of a fair market. But now consider another case:

We have maker A producing car A. Now, a car needs gasoline! As car maker A grows, gasoline A providers grow in parallel. Soon enough, all the cars in the town are A, and all the gas stations serve A gasoline.

Now, if an independent car maker B comes to town, and wants to produce B cars… she’s out of luck! B cars need B gasoline, but ALL THE GAS STATIONS ARE A!!

No matter how hard the newcomer tries, B cars will never be popular, because the potential buyers would have nowhere to get fuel. Conversely, someone could start providing B gasoline, and compete with A gas stations… but, how on earth!? B gas stations will always bankrupt, because ALL THE CARS ARE A!!

This is, ladies and gentlemen, the present situation in the software industry: a car/gasoline lock-in. We have to realize that Microsoft is trying hard to push this lock-in down our throats, because creating lock-ins is a most succesfull, albeit immoral and barely legal, marketing strategy. When forced lock-ins pervert the free market, legal actions have to be taken by governments… and that’s part of the reasons why we see Microsoft day after day in the courts.

Does Microsoft really force lock-ins unto us? Let’s consider some car/gas pairs these “gentlemen” try to enforce us:

  • HTML only IE understands / IE
  • DOC, XLS, PPS / MS Office
  • WMV, WMA / Media Player
  • Hardware with windows-only drivers / MS Windows OS
  • Windows-only games and software / MS Windows OS

Remember: each time you create a web page (say, with Frontpage) that can be properly viewed only with IE, you are supporting the Microsoft monopolistic lock-in. Each time you surf the web with IE, and ask a web administrator to modify her page so that you can view it with your flawed broser, you are supporting the MS lock-in. Each time you send someone a DOC file, instead of a PDF or an ODF OpenOffice.org document, each time you share some video or audio in a Windows proprietary format, each time you buy a windows-only TV card or Wireless card… each time you are surrendering your liberty to the Microsoft lock-in.

And this is bad even if you are a die-hard Windows fanboy, because the sad fact is, this lock-ins only benefit the locking vendor, not the locked client. It is a way of gaining power upon us, to enable them to charge as much as they want for a product of as low a quality as their self-confidence allows (which is much).

Fight them back, and use the alternatives: Firefox and w3c-compliant HTML code, OpenOffice.org and ODF-compliant documents, MPEG and Theora for videos (WMV deprecated, closed and under patents), OGG Vorbis for music (MP3 deprecated, under patents), JPEG and PNG for images (GIF deprecated, under patents)


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