For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
June 22, 2000 - Microsoft
A company called Geoworks, then based in Berkeley, California, designed the first software for America Online. In 1986, Geoworks launched a graphical operating system that ran on the Commodore 64.
A year later, it rolled out a version for the PC world. When I bought this version, way back in 1990, I got an elegant, truly multi-tasking operating system. I also got a suite of fully graphic productivity tools. GeoWrite, for instance, offered word processing that was also desktop publishing. GeoCalc was a spreadsheet with features I still haven't seen in Excel. And so on. This whole product ran on even 286 machines. Geoworks -- operating system, software, and a host of goodies I haven't mentioned, cost $70.
At the time, I compared the product to its recent competitor, Windows 3.1. And by comparison, Windows was laughable. Windows was tied to 8 letter file names. Geoworks let you have 32, and it kept track of its own file extensions. Windows was (and is) a hard disk and memory hog. The whole Geoworks software package, operating system and applications, took up less than 10 megabytes. It ran in 640K, but it ran FAST with 2 megs of memory.
Not only that, Geoworks read and wrote all kinds of DOS file formats. It was also a whiz at printing. Even on 9 pin dot matrix printers, it produced truly laser quality output.
Reviews of the product were overwhelmingly positive. For a brief period, Geoworks was bundled with many new computers.
But then it ran into a problem. Microsoft. Computer manufacturers that bundled Geoworks suddenly could no longer afford to bundle Microsoft products. They had to choose. In other words, Microsoft leveraged its existing market share to put the pressure on retailers.
Finding it impossible to fight the juggernaut, Geoworks shifted gears. It set its eyes on the future: electronic books, handheld devices and smart phones. The year was 1993. By 1996, the company had produced a variety of high quality, inexpensive products, teaming up with some of the biggest names in the industry. But Microsoft has entered some of these markets, too.
The point to this techno-parable is not to sell stock. (Although I should at least tell you that the latest incarnation of the Geoworks PC product is still around, and still a bargain, at www.newdealinc.com.) My purpose this week is to weigh in on the proposed break-up of Microsoft.
Microsoft argues that no software monopoly exists, and that its unique combination of operating system, application, and internet software operations all need to be kept together in the name of innovation.
But as the Geoworks history demonstrates, Microsoft has actively suppressed technological innovation. It took Microsoft 8 years to begin to approach the functionality of Geoworks, and even then, Microsoft products require some 10 to 100 times the processing power, RAM, and storage needs.
How was Microsoft able to succeed, when their technology lagged so badly behind industry innovation? By tying license fees for DOS and Windows to its agreements with computer manufacturers and retailers.
Keeping track of technology is not the biggest part of my job. But it's important. I'm always on the look-up for high performance, low cost solutions for the public sector. To that end, I poke around with promising technologies.
Here's what I've witnessed: as Microsoft has grown, its business practices have become more predatory and arrogant, driving out some of the MOST promising of technologies, bullying or thwarting potential competitors until it can claim any new market as its own. It's hard to see how this helps anybody but Microsoft.
Along the way, Microsoft has also introduced its own set of problems, as in the many gaping loopholes in desktop security, recently exploited by Outlook-borne e-mail viruses and worms.
As a consequence, and despite Bill Gates's impressive and welcome library philanthropy, the Douglas Public Library District has spread its bets. Microsoft's market dominance means that most of our new PCs come with the full, bundled Microsoft suites. So be it.
But our web server is based on Linux. Currently, some of our other servers are NT-based, but using some technologies that do not depend upon Microsoft. I use Microsoft-free Macintoshes at work and home. I carry a Palm Pilot, not something running Windows CE.
I recognize that just one library doesn't represent much of a threat to Microsoft -- and it's probably as well that it doesn't, or WE might get run out of business. But I do think that it's unwise for any institution to put too many of its automation eggs in one basket.
Right now, Microsoft seems to want to be the only basket there is.