Rebirth of Reason


Microsoft's Overreach?
by Joe Trusnik

According to Yahoo News, seven computer security experts have decided that Microsoft must be taken down for the good of United States security. In a joint-report released in Washington D.C. at a meeting for the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a group funded by Microsoft's competitors, the authors claimed that "they issued their report to raise awareness of the risk to national security." The full article can be found here.

According to these experts, Microsoft has flaws that most major virus attacks have targeted. If Microsoft's products weren't so prolific, they argue, then individual viruses could infect, and cause "massive, cascading failures," on far fewer systems. As the article reports, "The best solution, the report's authors argued, is to adopt a mix of different computer systems that will reduce the risk of a single security incident crippling a company or a government agency"

If ever capitalism took the blame for something, here it is: the problem isn't that all computer programs have weaknesses that can be exploited is an industry-wide problem; rather, Microsoft's phenomenal success is the problem.

Now, they are correct in that several relatively new viruses target weaknesses in Microsoft programs, and they are probably correct that this system is targeted simply because these products are so widespread. However, this does not lead to the implication that, if any single computer company's products didn't dominate the market, that virus attacks would be far fewer, or less-reaching. Indeed, there would simply be new viruses to exploit the particular weaknesses of each system.

If they really want a corrective measure, then the result, ironically, is in capitalism. Microsoft has problems? Then why doesn't another software company approach businesses and the government, saying that the creators of these viruses haven't found the flaws in their system yet, meaning that they can start with a new system that can't be infected by the current viruses? Isn't this room for the competition that they claim is needed?

If Microsoft is too prolific for its own good, if having the lion's share of a market is actually harmful in the long run, then their clients will switch, and this will show on Microsoft's bottom line. This is how capitalism works; the clients switch because they're afraid of infections (or re-infections) of these viruses, not because it's for the good of U.S. cyber-security. It's to protect their bottom-line.

The only way Microsoft could keep their position is to have the best security features. In other words, even at the top, you need to stay competitive. However, the article doesn't address this point; instead, it calls for organizations to voluntarily accept any other company's products. This is reminiscent of Lillian Rearden screaming, "Anybody but her!" at her husband over his affair with Dagny Taggart. Please, use anybody, just not Microsoft! Don't think about the quality, price, and the other features of their products that determine the company's success; just consider how many other organizations use them! The only difference? Whereas Ms. Taggart was unattainable for most men, Microsoft has made its products available and affordable to an entire nation.

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