Microsoft and the Monopoly PC Software Market

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i.                    Content Page

 

i.       Abstract……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 1

ii.     Content Page…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2

iii.             List of Figure……………………………………………………………………………………… 3

1.     Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………………… 4

1.1      Introduction of Microsoft and its business ethics issues………………………… 4

1.2      Objectives of the report…………………………………………………………………….. 4

2.     Findings – Chronology of events…………………………………………………………………. 5

3.     Analysis……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 8

3.1      List of the unethical business practices of Microsoft…………………………….. 8

3.1.1     Microsoft’s infringement of copyrights in an ethical way…………….. 8

3.1.2     Microsoft’s unfair competition tactics and strategies………………….. 10

3.2      Market traits that created monopoly in operating system……………………… 11

3.2.1     Operating system as a unique platform for the development of application programs      12

3.2.2     Network based effects and establishment of industry standards…. 13

3.3      Utilitarianism, rights, and justice in a monopoly market………………………. 14

3.3.1     Violation of capitalist justice…………………………………………………… 15

3.3.2     Violation of utilitarianism………………………………………………………. 16

3.3.3     Violation of negative rights…………………………………………………….. 18

4.     Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………… 18

5.     Recommendation…………………………………………………………………………………….. 19

5.1      Encourage whistle blowing in the industry………………………………………… 20

5.2      Regulate the political lobbying…………………………………………………………. 20

iv.  References………………………………………………………………………………………………. 22

 

ii.                  List of Figure

 

Figure 1 Macintosh computer with the innovative Graphical User Interface (GUI)  6

Figure 2Market distributions between browsers from 1995 to 2010………………… 7

Figure 3 How the adoption of a technology leads to increased returns………….. 13

Figure 4 The monopoly price versus the competitive price……………………………. 15

Figure 5 Social welfare loss, or dead weight loss (DWL) in a monopoly-controlled market   17

 

 

 

 

Microsoft and the Monopoly PC Software Market

 

1.        Introduction

 

1.1    Introduction of Microsoft and its business ethics issues

Microsoft was established in the summer of 1975 when Bill Gates and Paul Allen moved to Albuquerque to write the software for the world’s first microcomputer, the Altair that had been developed by Ed Robert (Patching 2007, p135). The company has later grown into the world’s largest computer software provider with the best known products such as Window XP, Microsoft Office and the Internet Explorer. Though the Microsoft is a well established successful business, criticism of Microsoft has followed various aspects of its products and business practices especially the ethics of the company. In the long company history there are a number of ethical issues involving the companies such as dispute on licensing agreement, copyright, also the company is also accused of locking vendors and consumers into their products, and of not following and complying with existing standards in its software. Furthermore, company has been the subject of numerous lawsuits by several governments and other companies for unlawful monopolistic practices. With help of the various ethics theories such as the utilitarianism, rights, and justice theories, this assignment will discuss the ethics of these problems and the decisions and actions done by the governments and legal departments.

1.2    Objectives of the report

Identify the behaviors that are ethically questionable in the history of Microsoft and provide ethical evaluations.

Identify the characteristics of the market for operating systems that created the monopoly market that Microsoft’s operating system enjoyed.
Evaluate the monopoly market in terms of utilitarianism, rights, and justice.

Identify the parties that are harmed by the kind of market that Microsoft’s operating system has enjoyed.

Provide public policies to deal with ethical issues in industries like the operating system industry

2.        Findings – Chronology of events

In 1981, Microsoft released the first version of its Microsoft Disk Operating System, commonly known as “MS-DOS.” The system had a character-based user interface that required the user to type specific instructions at a command prompt in order to perform tasks such as launching applications and copying files. When the International Business Machines Corporation (“IBM”) selected MS-DOS for pre-installation on its first generation of PCs, Microsoft’s product became the predominant operating system sold for Intel-compatible PCs (justice.gov 1999).

In January of 1984, the Macintosh computer was released; it is run by activating pictures (icons) on the screen with a small hand-operated device called a “mouse”.  The Macintosh is considered to be the first commercially successful computer to use a GUI (Graphical User Interface), as seen below (Oldcomputers.net 2010).

In 1985, Microsoft released the first Windows system, Window 1.0. The initially announced version of Windows had features so much resembling the Macintosh interface that Microsoft had to change many of them. On December 9, 1987 Microsoft releases Windows 2.0 with desktop icons and expanded memory. With the improved graphics support, users can now overlap windows, control the screen layout, and use keyboard shortcuts to speed up the work (Docter, Dulaney & Skandier 2007, p191).

With the time passes, Microsoft improved the Windows system by releasing continual new update-version, from Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP and the most recent version is Windows 7. Since the new century, by controlling about 90 percent of the personal computer operating system market, Microsoft has virtually become a monopoly in the industry.

 Figure 1

Figure 1 Macintosh computer with the innovative Graphical User Interface (GUI)

Source: Oldcomputers.net 2010

 

However the monopoly position of Microsoft had been challenged by two companies: Netscape, best known for its web browser Netscape Navigator under Netscape Communications Corporation, and Java, a programming language originally developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems.

 Figure 13

Figure 2Market distributions between browsers from 1995 to 2010

Source: Wikimedia Commons 2011

 

Netscape Communications Corporation began to sell its Internet browser, Netscape Navigator on 15th December 1994 and in a very short period of time it occupied more than 80 percent of the market share as illustrated in the figure 2.0 above. By mid-1995 the World Wide Web had received a great deal of attention in popular culture and the mass media. Considering the threat from Netscape to replace operating system some day, Microsoft started the first browser war with Netscape in 1995. Netscape Navigator was the most widely used web browser and Microsoft had licensed Mosaic to create Internet Explorer 1.0, which it had released as part of the Microsoft Windows 95 Plus Pack in August. The browser came to a turning power in 1997, the year when the Internet Explorer 4.0 was introduced and it was bundled into the Microsoft Windows system. And rapid decline of the market share of Netscape was directly resulted by this bundle strategy because the Internet Explorer was already there and users will be discouraged from purchasing any other competing products. And in 2004, Internet Explorer appeared to be wining the browser wars as it controlled 95 percent of the Internet browser market (Gosselin 2010, p4).
The Java programming language was developed by Dr. James Gosling and introduced by Sun Microsystems in the late 1995 and similar to Netscape it also became very popular in a short period of time along with the rising popularity of the World Wide Web (also well known as WWW in short) because the language can be used as bridge to create interaction between the applications that run on the servers and the users (Smith & Farrell 2011). The threat of Java to Microsoft Windows Systems came from the nature of the Java language that allowed computer users to run Web browsers, word processors, and numerous other applications without the need of Windows. The strategy that Microsoft adopted was to compete with Java was to “kill the cross-platform Java” by closing the door on Java compatibility in their Web browser through developing and distributing a changed Java after obtaining the right to license and distribute Java with its Windows Systems (News.cnet.com 2009). The result was that Java could no long have obvious threat to Windows.

 

3.        Analysis

 

3.1    List of the unethical business practices of Microsoft

 

3.1.1            Microsoft’s infringement of copyrights in an ethical way

As early as in September 1985, Apple lawyers warned Bill Gates that Windows 1.0 infringed on Apple copyrights and patents, and that his corporation stole Apple’s trade secrets. Microsoft Windows had similar drop-down menus, tiled windows and mouse support. And in December 1987 when Apple Computer found much similarity between its computer Mac and the Microsoft Windows in term of  having icons to represent programs and files and strengthened support for expanded-memory hardware, Apple sued Microsoft in 1988 claiming that Microsoft broke the 1985 licensing contract.
The lawsuit lasted for four years and the fact that Microsoft’s smart decision that it had written the licensing agreement to include the legal usage of the features of the Apple system in Microsoft Windows version 1.0 and all the future Microsoft software programs (Inventors.about.com 2011) helped Microsoft win the lawsuit. When in a legal perspective Microsoft win the lawsuit but in an ethical way it did not win.

Before referring to the ethics within this dispute between Apple and Microsoft, it is helpful to review the nature of the business ethics to strengthen our theoretical base. According to Manuel G. Velasquez (2011, p8), ethics could be defined as simple as “the study of morality” and the morality refers to the standards that an individual or a group has about what is right and wrong good and wrong. The moral standards are those norms that we have some of the actions that we treat as morally good or bad in term of general rules about our behaviors and also the values that we apply to judge the behaviors as morally right or wrong. We had been taught since we were children regarding these moral values. One of the most common moral rule and value that we had been very familiar with could be expressed in this way: honesty is good. But to Microsoft, its behavior in using the Apple Mac’s features by and design to build its Windows operating systems with very similar functions and features simply broke such the rule of being honesty. The logic is quite simply, if Microsoft told Apple about its plan to build a quite similar computer using the Apple’s design and innovative features, Apple Computer would definitely refuse to endorse such licencing agreement. But it was obvious that Microsoft had hidden its intention and became dishonest and unethical. Similar case could also be found in Microsoft’s development of its own browser, the Internet Explorer, as Microsoft developed the program by copying many characteristics and functions from the competitor Netscape Navigator (Hall & Rosenberg 2010, p510).

 

 

3.1.2            Microsoft’s unfair competition tactics and strategies

Unfair competition is another unethical strategy that Microsoft was blamed as using to keep the competitors out of the business and maintain its market monopoly. First, we will refine some of the concepts relevant to unfair competition. The moral concept and value of “fairness” is composed of various normative elements which according to Elspeth Attwooll and Annette Brockmöller (2011, p95) include the demand for the rectification of grave inequality and the protection of the weaker in competition, the requirement of give and take or reciprocity and the law abiding spirit and the claim for free participation. This explanation of fairness indicates that it is one of the moral values and market ethics to request the participating individuals and players to share a sense of fair competition. Unfair competition is unethical because it is against the moral value and principle. According to David Pressman (2011, p28), an unfair competition situation exists when one business either represents or offers its good or services in such a way as to potentially cause the class of buyers who purchase the particular types of goods or services to confuse them with good or services offered by another business, or the it is unjustly enriched as a result of using the fruits of other business’s labor or creativity.

Some of the behaviors of Microsoft demonstrate that the company had used unfair competition tactics and strategies in competition with other competitors: (a) As stated above in the description of the chronology events about Microsoft’s development, in the Windows 98 Microsoft operating system the company attended to unfair competition by the incorporation of a copy of the Internet Explorer, its own browser into the operating system and also made it difficult for the users to “uninstall” the Internet Explorer because even after the “uninstallation” of the Internet Explorer, it is still there and in some cases it would come back while some commands are activated. By bundling the Internet Explorer with Windows by Microsoft, the market leader Netscape loss the competition almost overnight. Though Netscape sued Microsoft shortly, but it was forced to be sold to AOL in a $4.2 billion to get the support from a company that had a deeper pocket (Botti 2006, p565); (b) In addition to the practice of bundling applications software with operating system that raised cries of unfair competition, Microsoft asked the personal computer manufacturers who would like to install the Windows operating systems on their products not to remove the Internet Explorer and also would not encourage the customers to use the competing product of Netscape. And to provide incentives for these manufacturers to do so, Microsoft also offered special discount on the Windows system products to those who simply refused to give the customers any versions of Netscape’s browser; (c) Microsoft’s development of its own browser, the Internet Explorer, had enjoyed advantages by copying many characteristics and functions from the competitor Netscape Navigator (Hall & Rosenberg 2010, p510).

These behaviors could be treated as proofs to demonstrate Microsoft had utilized unethical unfair competition to remain the control over the software industry. The reasons are listed here: (a) Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or the Windows system had been unjustly enriched as a result of using the fruits of other companies’ labor or creativity such as Apple computer and Netscape Communications Corporation, this creates an unfair competition situation according to David Pressman (2011, p28) as stated previously; (b) Microsoft’s bundling of its other software affected the other competitors’ claim for free participation. And it is apparent that it was difficult for other participating individuals and players to share a sense of fair competition while competing with a company like Microsoft that had such a market monopoly position and little tolerance to the threats from normal competition.

 

3.2    Market traits that created monopoly in operating system

Software industry, especially the operating system market has its own features that could likely help create a monopoly product and a firm that dominate the market leaving little space for the competitors to survive and developed. There are three key features of the operating system in the 1980s and 1990s that helped Microsoft to achieve the monopoly status that it had kept for quite a long time.

3.2.1            Operating system as a unique platform for the development of application programs

According to Stuart (2009, p1) all computer software regardless what kind of software it is, must interface with the hardware on which it runs in the form of using the central processing unit (CPU) and memory in a safe and efficient manner and it must get connected to the control input/out (I/O) devices to bring the data in and put results out. But most applications would not directly control all these hardware directly, they are developed to operate with additional underlying software that is responsible to mange the hardware. Such underlying software is known as operating system. The key functions of an operating system include (2009, p2):

  • Management of the sharing of resources among applications
  • Bridge  the hardware and the applications through transactions done by the operating system
  • Provision of common services to make the applications easier to develop

 

Because the functioning of a software program has to be based on particular operating system, an operating system actually acts as an unique platform for the development of software programs in term of providing its own application programming interface (API) which is made up of codes that applications use to order the computer of perform the functions. Though over time some of the APIs have become widely supported, meaning to say that they have been ported to other operating system, even till today software developers have to developed different version of their software based on different operating systems such as Windows, Linux and Mac (Peterson & Davie 2011, p38). When the operating systems were introduced in the 1980s, the sharing of the application programming interface (API) between different systems were rare, software developers will have to choose one operating system to develop the software and this unique platform feature led to the concentration of the software developers to preferably select a most popular operating system which enjoyed  a bigger market base, this effect is also known as network effect. We will probe into the network effect as another feature of the operating system market that helped created the monopoly of Microsoft in the market.

3.2.2            Network based effects and establishment of industry standards

 Figure 33

Figure 3 How the adoption of a technology leads to increased returns

Source: McGuigan, Moyer & Harris 2011, p385

A network effect could be described as that the determination of the value of a product to the users is based on the number of the existing users who have already purchased the product. The most significant impact that a strong network could have is the attraction of the new customers. As indicated in the figure with the increase of the market share of operating system, the new customers will be easier to be attracted to use the system. This also means that it would cost less and less cost for the service and product provider to attract a new customer because the new customers are already much attracted by the value of the product and services which is linked with the number of the existing users. In the IT industry specially, according to Adam B. Jaffe, Josh Lerner and Scott Stern (2002, p137), network effect could be of two kinds: first, it includes direct network effects (users would be influenced by other users’ choose); second, and perhaps slights unfamiliarly it capture indirect network effects which arise when suppliers of the services and products respond to the number of users.

Microsoft’s success came hand in hand with the expansion of IBM’s PC business, and also the company’s success was consolidated by Apple’s failure to license its operating system leaving the architectural opportunity to be snapped up by Microsoft (Ferguson & Morris 1993, p163), when the market share of Microsoft exceeded 30%, Microsoft’s Windows system became somewhat industry standard and its growth was ensured by the low cost to attract the new customers because of the network based effect. There is also indirect network effects in the fast growing of Microsoft’s operating system in term of market share as distributors, suppliers and manufacturers saw the bright future of the system in term of increasing number of users and they were also encouraged to promote the products with the company’s ambitious marketing efforts.

3.3    Utilitarianism, rights, and justice in a monopoly market

Monopoly refers to a situation under which “a seller with substantial market power restricts his output in order to raise his price and maximize his profit (Chin 1996, p82). Monopoly is considered as a common market failure and according to Gellhorn (1986, p63) monopoly not only will incur a wealth transfer from consumers to producers, it also limit the output and will relieve the producer of pressures to innovate or otherwise be efficient. Monopoly market violates the business ethics in the three methods: justice, utilitarianism and rights.

3.3.1            Violation of capitalist justice

 

The concept of justice is one of the key features of a society. Justice, according to Rawls, is the idea of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, fairness and equity. According to Rawls (1999, p3) justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. Issues related to justice and fairness could be divided into three types which are distributive justice, retributive justice and compensatory justice. In this research we focus on the concept of capitalist justice in the distributive justice theory. Distributive justice refers to the perceptions of outcome fairness (Adams 1963). And the concept of capital justice actually takes into consideration of the contribution by all the parties involved in a deal or a transaction, and capitalist justice request for equal trade of values in the deals.

 Figure 333

Figure 4 The monopoly price versus the competitive price

Source: Wikimedia Commons 2011

 

Similar to Microsoft’s monopoly position in the operating system market, many monopoly markets will violate the capitalist justice by setting a higher market price than the competitive price. A company with monopoly power in term of prices determination will typically set price at the profit maximizing level. The most profitable price that they can set (what will become the monopoly price) is where the optimum output level (where marginal cost (MC) equals marginal revenue (MR) as seen on the diagram below) meets the demand curve. Under normal market conditions for a monopolist, this price will be higher than the marginal cost of producing the product, thus suggesting that the price paid by the consumer, which is equal to the marginal benefit for the consumer, is above the company’s marginal cost. By setting a monopoly price that is much higher than that set in a highly competitive market condition and also the cost of the products, monopoly companies make monopoly profits and violate the capital justice by making deals in which equal trade of values are involved.

 

3.3.2            Violation of utilitarianism

 

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall “good” of the greatest number of individuals. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its resulting outcome. The most influential contributors to this theory are considered to be Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (Ford 2002, p5).

 

Firstly of all, the monopoly market permits the inefficient usage of the resource in term of producing shortages of those things buyers want and cause them to be sold at higher price than necessary. As well known to us along the supply chain, price increases when the supply drops. A high price is actually suggesting a product shortage in the market. While in a free competition market, high price will attract new producers to share the high profit and bring in competition which eventually leads to increases of output and decreases of prices, in a monopoly market such as the operating system market that Microsoft enjoyed, competitors were strongly restricted to enter into the market due to the already established industry standard and network based effect. Secondly, monopoly controlled market, like the operating system market that Microsoft enjoyed, according to the economic model will lead to a higher equilibrium price than what would have been socially optimal. This graph shows the social welfare loss, or deadweight loss (DWL), in a monopoly-controlled market, where market power is illustrated with the downward-sloping demand function. MR is marginal revenue, or the revenue to be gained from the next unit of good or service sold, and MC is marginal cost, or the cost incurred from producing the next unit of good or service. By chasing the monopoly’s equilibrium quantity of production which is less than the social optimal level, there is a triangular DWl indicating that the social welfare is reduced. Thirdly, by having substantial market power that allows the company to maximize its profit by increasing the price, the monopoly company does not have enough of reason and incentive to keep reducing the cost in term of operation efficiency and human labor control.

 Figure 14

Figure 5 Social welfare loss, or dead weight loss (DWL) in a monopoly-controlled market

Source: Johnshopkins.edu 2004

3.3.3            Violation of negative rights

Many moral controversies today are couched in the language of rights. Rights could be negative rights or positive rights. A positive one: good or right is what is conducive to universal well-being. And a negative one: good or right is what others have an obligation not to hinder (Gobetti 1992, p121). As claimed by Velasquez (2011, p214), that monopoly markets place restrictions on the negative rights that perfectly free markets respect by forcing other companies to stay out of the market by letting monopolist force buyers to purchase goods they do not want and by giving the monopolist rights to set price and quantity decision which customers are forced to take. Firstly, by definition, monopoly refers to a situation under which “a seller with substantial market power restricts his output in order to raise his price and maximize his profit (Chin 1996, p82), which means that by definition monopoly market limits the entry of other producer who would concentrate on the production of the competitive products. Second, as demonstrated in the figures above in a monopoly market, the sole producer could set the quantity of the products to be manufactured and how much these products should be priced, while there are not competing products, consumers are forced to buy the products provided that they still need and are affordable to buy the products.

4.        Conclusion

Based on the findings and analysis, we can evaluate some policies and legal decisions involving Microsoft. The US government should have sued Microsoft for the violation of the antitrust laws because unfair competition is the unethical strategy that Microsoft had used to keep the competitors out of the business and maintain its market monopoly, facts that have been mentioned include: In the Windows 98 Microsoft operating system the company attended to unfair competition by the incorporation of a copy of the Internet Explorer and also Microsoft asked the personal computer manufacturers who would like to install the Windows operating systems on their products not to remove the Internet Explorer and also would not encourage the customers to use the competing product of Netscape. And Judge Jackson’s legal decision that Microsoft be broken into two separate companies is fair to Microsoft as it did break the antitrust law as just concluded. And the decision made by the new Judge Kollar-Kotelly on November1, 2003 to finally ratify the settlement between Department of Justice (DOJ ) and  Microsoft was not fair due to it gave up the most important settlement treaty to create two separate companies though it did request the company to make compensation but it was just not enough compared to the damage that it had done. And the April 2004 decision made by the European Commission was fair to Microsoft for the similar

 

5.        Recommendation

 

A stakeholder to a firm is any party, individual or group, that has a stake in the company in term of affecting or being impacted by the business behaviours and decision makings. The stakeholders impacted by the Microsoft’s monopoly in the operating system market are majorly the operating system users, industrial competitors, business partners and the government. To the operating system users, both residential users and business users are impacted by the Microsoft’s monopoly market status. Because there are no other major competitors that could have provided operating systems that were comparable to the Windows system, and also due to the majority of the users are already using the Windows systems, even many new customers will be locked up to systems as it is costly to try a new operating system. Not only the fact that there is no alternative operating system to be used that affect the users’ interest, also the high price of the systems will transfer their fortune and value to the company. And to the industrial competitors, their interests are impacted because of Microsoft’s unfair competition. Business partners such as manufactures, software developers and distributors will also be affected because of Microsoft’s strict control over the other competitors and its overwhelming bargaining power in term of price setting. The government will also be harmed because the monopoly creates social injustice which impacts the government the function to create fair competition and social justice.

5.1    Encourage whistle blowing in the industry

 

 

Industries like the operating system industry are highly unfamiliar to the public and to the governments with fast changes happening within the industries which make the regulation and management more difficult than in the traditional industries. Such complication and professionalism could be witnessed from the fact that the legal actions regarding the disputes in the industries could take years to resolve and reach a settlement, for example, Apple and Microsoft’s 1980s lawsuit took more than 4 years to settle, this shows that management of the disputes and problems after their happening could be very costly and difficult. One recommendation is to encourage the whistle blowing to the relative government agencies and public in the industry to identify the problems, misconduct and issues before they become too serious and difficult to handle.

5.2    Regulate the political lobbying

 

Judge Jackson’s legal decision that Microsoft be broken into two separate companies is fair to Microsoft, but it did not take effect eventually probably due to the Microsoft’s powerful political lobbying which influenced the administration’s antitrust policy to mitigate the penalty and better serve Microsoft’s interest. While the monopoly company has such powerful influence in the political area, efforts to deal with the monopoly in the market could become very ineffective. Based on this fact, another recommendation to better supervise industries similar to the operating system industry is to strictly regulate the political lobbying and cut off the link between the political powers and the business companies.

 

 

iv.  References  

 

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Botti, T. J. 2006, Envy of the world: a history of the U.S. economy & big business. New York: Algora Publishing. p565

 

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Gellhorn,  E. 1986, Antitrust law and economics in a nutshell. St. Paul, Minn: West Publishing Co., p63

 

Gobetti, D. 1992, Private and public: individuals, households, and body politic in Locke and hutcheson. London: Routledge. p121

 

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Jaffe, A. B., Lerner, J. & Stern, S. 2002, Innovation Policy and the Economy, Volume 2. London: MIT Press, p137

 

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Velasquez, M. G. 2002 “Playing Monopoly:Microsoft.” Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases. Fifth Edition. Santa Clara University.Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.. pg. 252

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Wikimedia Commons 2011, Browsers War. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Browser_Wars.png

 

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