In the context of business ethics, Microsoft may do many improper behaviors such as the anti-competition practices in the operation system market. This paper outlines these ethical dilemmas of Microsoft faced with and its reactions towards them. A method of depending on the monopoly position to attack business rivals was often adopted by Microsoft. Most of its practices may violate the economy utility, negative right for economy freedom and the capitalist justice in the market. The consequences of Microsoft these actions made it facing the punishments from the law. It suggests some proper interventions and policies making to regulate the business order of such kind of industry like the operating system market which Microsoft was once in.
Key words: Ethics, monopoly market, evaluation,
- Content Page
1.0 Introduction 3
1.1 Background of the topic 3
1.2 Objective of report 4
1.2.1 To discuss the ethical issues of Microsoft company 4
1.2.2 To analyze the characteristics of operating system and its influences 4
1.2.3 To evaluation the decisions from different parties 4
1.2.4 To propose recommendations for operation system industries and these alike 4
2.0 Findings 4
3.0 Analysis 7
3.1 Ethical issues 7
3.1.1 Taking advantage of friends 7
3.1.2 Unequal treatment on competitors 8
3.1.3 Copying Apple’s operating system 9
3.1.4 Product packaging 10
3.2 Characteristics of operating systems and Microsoft’s monopoly 11
3.2.1 The advantage for taking the lead 11
3.2.2 The encouragement policies in U.S.A operating system market 12
3.2.3 Market evaluation 14
4.0 Conclusion 17
4.1 Evaluations on the government 17
4.2 Evaluations on Judge Jackson’s decision 18
4.3 Evaluations on Judge Kollar Kotelly’s decision 20
4.4 Evaluations on the European Commission’s decision 20
5.0 Recommendation 21
5.1 Victims of Microsoft 21
5.2 Suggestions 24
5.2.1 Restrictions on product marketing 24
5.2.2 Setting up guidelines and codes of ethics 25
5.2.3 Ethics Training 26
6.0 Reference 27
1.1 Background of the topic
Microsoft as the world biggest operating system maker was founded in 1970s. The launching of a series of operation systems – the windows systems has been contributed to the reputation of this company all over the world. And in 1980s, Microsoft and its founder Bill Gates enjoyed the greatest honor and treasure in the history of Microsoft. But many unethical business actions, some of which even violated the laws such as the anti-trust law, put Microsoft in the court.
From 1999, Microsoft began to be bothered by a series of lawsuits and judgment. And these verdicts including Judge Thomas Jackson’s decision to order Microsoft to break into two separate firms, Judge e Kollar Kotelly’s decision, European Commission’ s decision and so on all brought a great loss of Microsoft such as the decline of its stock and the shrink of its business development pace.
Roughly speaking, the merits and faults made by Microsoft are difficult for us to count, but its great contribution to the global IT technology industry is worth praising.
1.2 Objective of report
1.2.1 To discuss the ethical issues of Microsoft company
1.2.2 To analyze the characteristics of operating system and its influences
1.2. 3 To evaluation the decisions from different parties
1.2.4 To propose recommendations for operation system industries and these alike
In 1974, Bill Gates was enrolled in Harvard University and then he quit from the university and started his own business with a friend called Paul Allen. And at that time the first personal computers were produced with no keyboard, screen and even only 256 bytes memory capacity. Due to the incomplete of this kind of computer, Bill Gates and his friend revised a program and named it Basic to facilitate computer users use the computer more freely and flexibly. This business helped Bill Gates gain $ 3,000.
And then in 1977, Bill Gates and Allen started their career with writing software program for Apple and renamed their company Microsoft with the revenues nearly $ 1.4 million till 1979. With the support from continuous software program writing for the personal computer markets, Microsoft Company had make profit to $ 8 million till the 1980s.
And then due to the great demand on the more developed operating systems in the market especially the demand from one of the largest computer makers IBM, Microsoft began to focus on the operating system market for personal computer. By selling an operating system via buying from Bill Gates’ friend, Microsoft made a bigger profit from the operating system named MS-DOS.
In 1984, Apple had introduced a new operating program for its computer. With the awareness of the great potential of this operating system, Microsoft had copied this system and later in 1987 Microsoft launched its Windows System to the market. Although this system brought a great profit to Microsoft, the action nearly violating the copyright of Apply even put Microsoft into the court.
In the 1990s, the success of windows system including the versions such as 95, 2000, XP and so on made Microsoft gain even 90% market share in personal computer operating system market, which was regarded as a monopoly market by Microsoft. And its boss Bill Gates then became the richest man in the world.
But success may not always be so easy. In the early 1990s, the dominant position of Microsoft in the market was violated by competitors again and again. For example, the browser-navigator invented by Netscape, Java language from Sun Microsystems and so on became the biggest threats for Microsoft, which even caused a decline of its business.
To better keep its monopoly in the market, Microsoft began to take actions. At first, Microsoft planned to remove the challenge and threat via relatively mild means. It invited Netscape to attend the meeting on discussion how to share the market with each other in a peaceful way as it expected. But its offer was turned down by Netscape. And then the actions taken by Microsoft became more and more furious. Firstly, it bundled its browser named Internet explorer with the windows system and then sold them together with a relatively acceptable prices to customers. And it also forces many computer makers to stop the cooperation with his rival companies. Due to the dominant position power of Microsoft in the market, all of its actions towards pushing other competitors aside became relatively successful. The monopolist position was maintained by this company.
Just because of these actions were considered as anti-competition practices and anti-trust law. Microsoft had to face a variety of lawsuits. These lawsuits even hindered the healthy development of Microsoft both in the current time but in future. We may assume that the monopoly period of Microsoft may be in the end.
3.1 Ethical issues
3.1.1 Taking advantage of friends
In 1981, Bill Gates bought an operating system from his friend about $60,000. And without any advanced notice, Bill Gates sold this system to IBM, which was then named as MS-DOS. Although from the aspect of a business, it was necessary to maximize the profit. But from the aspect of a friend, it may be not ethical.
In fact, the profit gaining in selling the operating system to IBM was larger than the spending on paying $ 60,000 for the system from his friend. And the improper point of such activity conducted by Bill Gates presenting the Microsoft Company was that he didn’t inform the friend the reality and truth about the purpose of this purchase. If the friend was informed, all the things may become different. Maybe the richest man in the world was his friend instead of Bill Gates. Such kind of action may be defined as the action to sacrifice other’s interest to gain personal achievements, which is unethical (Trevino & Nelson 2007).
3.1.2 Unequal treatment on competitors
In 1995, as the threat from the products of competitors such as the web browser named navigator from Netscape and a useful computer language named Java from Sun Microsystems. Microsoft provided an offer to Netscape that Microsoft wanted to offer these Windows loaded computers with its browsers and Netscape can offer its browsers to the rest. But such offer may be a bit unequal for Netscape, so Netscape refused this offer. And to resent Netscape, Microsoft then refused to share the codes of Windows 95 with this company then.
And as our investigation on this case, we may get that it was reasonable for Microsoft to share its codes of Windows 95 with Netscape. So the requirement of Netscape on the sharing issue of the codes wasn’t wrong. But the refusal of Microsoft on the sharing issue may be seemed as a resentful measure and was unethical.
Once again, according to the deontological theories, it is important for an organization to realize what is right on broad, understand the importance of these universal and the values such as honesty, keeping promise, equality, loyalty, justice, the rights including safety, privacy and so on, compassion and the respect for both persons and property (Peach 1994; Waller 2005). Based on this theory, we can say it was ethical for Microsoft to share its codes of Windows 95 with Netscape, because it is benefit the entire operating system market. But what Microsoft had done in the case may go against the deontological theories, which was considered as unethical by deontologists (Waller 2005).
3.1.3 Copying Apple’s operating system
In 1984, Apple Company introduced a new operating system with the facilitation from progressive graphics to support users to just click the mouse instead of putting command order to their computers, which was superior to MS-DOS. As the obvious superiority of this operation system compared to MS-DOS, Microsoft had copied the designing theory of the system and launch its operating system – windows to the market. Although Microsoft was lucky enough to avoid the punishment from the law, this action was also considered as unethical.
On the ethical terms, it is wrong of Microsoft to steal and copy others’ concept in product designing, which was protected by copyright.
As the deontological theories’ emphasis, business should be operated under the clear guidelines on what is right and what is wrong based on the moral principles and values (Waller 2005). What Microsoft did not only offend the copyright of Apple but also can be defined as a stealing, which was unethical at all.
3.1.4 Product packaging
We can also find that Microsoft had bundled its other software products including Internet explorer and Windows Digital Media Player into Windows operating system since an early year. Due to this compulsory sales practice, the sales in browsers made by other company had an obvious decline. Such kind of action was unethical which not only offended other’s interest via improper competition means but also offended the free competition rules and the anti-trust laws. (Evans 2002)
According to the business ethics and anti-trust law, every participant in the market should obey the free competition principles and each practice or activity violated this principle is considered as unethical and illegal. Microsoft, for instance, bundled its products with windows system at a low price which led consumers to use its browser and media players rather than to spend more money on these soft wares made by the competitors. Although, Microsoft always claimed it was from a goodwill to offer consumer better products with less money, its action was a compulsory consumption on customers, which broke the free competition principles and may even give other competitors a death block. Its aimed was seemed to push other competitors aside and maintain its monopolist position instead of the goodwill which was claimed by it. (Miller 2009, p.123-155; Evans 2002)
In short, all of these activities conducted by Microsoft in the above give us the impression that it made use of the absolute advantage in the operating system industry to keep its giant position even with some unethical means, which aren’t supported and recommended for firms which want to achieve a big success.
3.2 Characteristics of operating systems and Microsoft’s monopoly
3.2.1 The advantage for taking the lead
The operating system is the software program which can help users to control and allocate the computer resources (Stallings 2005). The MS-DOS, Windows mentioned in the case are all the operating system. One of the unique characteristics of the operating system market possessing is that the fast development speed.
As the importance of the advanced technology for the operating system market, we may easily realize the importance for firms in this market to possess the advanced technology at the first time, which may help these firms to have a large profitability. The reason why the first obtainer may get the great profit is mostly due to the widely usage of the internet citizens and computer users. The case also held the point of view that more people connected with the network, the more profit and value will be obtained by the firms offering the operating system. (Stallings 2005; Elliott et al. 2010)
In short, if a firm in the operating system market possesses both the high technology and the priority of such kind of technology, it can enjoy a larger market share compared with other competitors, which was the case of Microsoft that in the new millennium began it control over 90% market share of the personal computer’s operating system market. This point told us this characteristic of operating market contributed to the monopoly of Microsoft to a large part.
3.2.2 The encouragement policies in U.S.A operating system market
According to Cseres and Judit (2005) and Evans (2002), although the anti-trust law in the USA has a long history, it may be not as strict as we thought that it is just a tool of the American government to protect the interest of the country. For example, Boeing Company which occupied nearly 70% civil airports can be regard as the monopolist in the civil airport manufacture market. But it still implemented its merger proposal with McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company successful without interference from the American government, whose business practices may go beyond the scope of the anti-trust law and free competition principle. The reason for the case of Boeing may indicate the fact that the American Government’s tolerance toward this business which may bring a great profit to the country.
And then considering the case of the operating system market of the USA, we can see that this market was in the beginning of its development in the 1990s and the great success of Microsoft had contribute a lot to its country. For example, the founder of Microsoft has been one of the kindest persons in charity practices, his company Microsoft also contributed heavily to the political election campaign in America and Microsoft has also contributed a lot to the development of global IT technology industry and so on. All of these contributions made the America government hesitated on whether to adopt many restrictions and actions to restrict the fast development of Microsoft. From the case, we can get that American government has started its investigation on Microsoft from a long time ago but it didn’t take some immediate actions, which proved our assumption. (Daft 2010; Cseres & Judit 2005; Evans 2002)
In short, the importance of the PC operation system market and Microsoft for America economy may make the government to take a deaf ear on the behaviors of Microsoft in the beginning just like the case of Boeing. Because of this, Microsoft may be able to bundle its internet browser and media player to its operating system and then using this strategy to hit its competitors and finally gain a larger market share. (Daft 2010; Cseres & Judit 2005; Evans 2002)
By and large, the fact of Microsoft’s monopoly in the operating system market may be also due to the marketing environment for the operating system and the attitude of its government.
3.2.3 Market evaluation
Velasquez (2011) reminded that there are three major weakness of a monopoly market, including the aspects of utilitarianism, rights and justice. And since we have already concluded that the operating system market Microsoft in was a monopoly market, we have also got that this market also owned the three above weakness.
According to Velasquez (2011), in a monopoly market the equilibrium point often lies in the place in which the capitalist justice is served. And under such kind of condition, the price of the operating market may be maintained above equilibrium. And from this point we may conclude that in the operating system market enjoyed by Microsoft, sellers may charge more than the products are really worth and buyers may be forced to pay for the products unjustly.
Let take the story in the case for an example. In 1995, after the failure in selling its own developed browsers named Internet Explorer (IE) compared with Netscape, Microsoft had determined to bundle IE together with its Windows system and try to undercut the sales of Netscape’s navigator via its monopoly position in the operating system market. And then, Microsoft also required these computer makers who preferred to adopt Windows system in their computers to sign the agreement that they would help Microsoft to undercut the sales of Netscape’s navigator.
The two stories of Microsoft indicate that in monopoly market of the operating system Microsoft in offending the capitalist justice in two aspects. The former one was that it forced the customers to buy and use these products such as IE and media player of Microsoft via the monopoly position of Windows system in the market, which was unjust. The later one was that it may charge buyers to pay more than the products really worth. Although Microsoft had claimed that these bundled products were free, many people still believe it had already charged the price of these products via the price charged from the windows system, which was also considered to violate the capitalist justice in the market. (The Economist 2005)
The monopoly market of operating system Microsoft in may also violate the utilitarianism of the market. Roughly speaking, there are three aspects we should take into consideration. Firstly, the operating system market may foster the inefficiency in distribution that the real demand of customers may not be proper served. The case of Netscape’s navigator disclosed that Microsoft’s disturbance such as bundling practice may set a barrier for other firms to enter this market freely so as to fulfill the proper demand and shortage required by the operating system market, which may result in the improper distribution of the market resources. Secondly, the operating system market may hinder consumers’ discretionary preference. For example, Microsoft bundled its IE and media player with Windows system to force consumers to buy and used these products rather than choose these products alike from their own preference. This kind of phenomenon in the operating system market violated the economy utility namely the utilitarianism of the market. (Mill 1871; Evans 2002)
Negative Rights of Economic Freedom
At last, the operating system market Microsoft in also disturbed the negative rights of this market. Firstly, other sellers including the Netscape, Sun Microsystems and so on had no free right to enter the market. For example, after signing the contract with Sun Microsystems to obtain the right to license and distribute Java with the windows system, Microsoft made many changes to Java which enabled Microsoft to kill the cross platform Java to hinder the future development of Sun Microsystems. Secondly, to bundle other products with its windows system also made consumers under duress that these goods such as IE or media players may not what consumers want to have. (Whetstone 2001, pp. 101-114; Velasquez 2011)
To summarize, these actions above all disclosed the fact that the monopoly market of operating system had violated the utility of participants in the market, the moral rights of these participants and the distribution of benefits and burdens among them. (Whetstone 2001, pp. 101-114; Velasquez 2011)
4.1 Evaluations on the government
From the case, we got that the reason why the government have sued Microsoft was its violation of the antitrust laws. We may argue that the contribution of Microsoft to the economy of America may not be ignored as well. According to the anti-trust law, if the monopoly market is formed naturally, it is pardonable. But if the monopolistic used its dominant power to attack and push aside other competitors as Microsoft did including forcing some of the computer makers and suppliers to sign contract to assist its pushing aside activities of Netscape in the market, which gave this company a big strike may be regard as illegal. (Evans 2002)
Because of this, the government may be responsible to give some warnings and punishments on Microsoft to arouse the public or other firms’ attention on the importance of healthy business activities. For one thing, the macro-control policies of government for the market should both encourage the free competition, survival of the fittest and merging to establish a strong and competitive economy of scale. For another, the government should also stop and punish those who abuse the monopoly market to hinder the free competition. Because only marinating a proper and healthy competition environment, the key essence of the market can be retained. If a market is lack of competition, it may become more and more weak and lifeless.
So for the issue that the government sued Microsoft for its deeds in violating the anti-trust law was reasonable and fair.
4.2 Evaluations on Judge Jackson’s decision
The decision of Judge Jackson to order Microsoft to break up into two companies is considered as unfair by us. Although these deeds by Microsoft to hinder the free competition were worth punishing, the degree of the punishments should be relatively reasonable as well.
The first concern of us the decision of Judge Jackson towards Microsoft is on the possible side influence of the entire high technology industry. The order to force Microsoft to break into two separate companies may be too heavy. On the one side, date back from the history of Microsoft, its dominant position in the operating system market resulted from the free competition, market expansion, good opportunities and the possession of high technology, which was a kind of natural monopoly. Such kind of natural monopoly wasn’t illegal. And the contribution of Microsoft to the whole America and even the whole world was also great. (Phillip et al. 2004; Evans 2002)
On the other hand, the high technology industry is so fluctuant and changeable and potential and the market owns its own adjustment mechanism. If the government’s punishing measure is too harsh, it may only result in the killing of a potential company as Microsoft and deceasing the business confidence and enthusiasm of these high technology industries. (Phillip et al. 2004; Evans 2002)
In a word, the punishment on Microsoft is necessary, but too harsh means as Judge Jackson may be not fair enough.
4.3 Evaluations on Judge Kollar Kotelly’s decision
Compared with Judge Jackson, the decision of Judge Kollar Kotelly on Microsoft may be more reasonable and fair.
Firstly, Judge Kollar Kotelly had a good review on the settlement set by the U.S Department of Justice in the year 2001 and then she modified some aspects to punish Microsoft a little bit harsh. But most of these punishments followed the 2001’s decision. This decision in 2001 on Microsoft was aimed to regulate the market, solve the market disputes and encourage the free competition, which were relatively fair.
Secondly, the punishments made by Judge Kollar Kotelly including the requirements on Microsoft to share the API with other firms in the operating system marker and other related penalty instead of seeking the break up of Microsoft may be more proper and reasonable. It may not only give Microsoft the severe punishment on its misbehaviors, but also offer this company the opportunity to enjoy a good and healthy development in future instead of killing its vitality as Judge Jackson’s decision.
4.4 Evaluations on the European Commission’s decision
In terms of the decision made by the European Commission in 2004 to give a fine on Microsoft about 497 m Euros and two orders such as sharing the server software with competitors and providing a single version of Windows system without any bundling products were considered relatively fair.
For one thing, these business activities conducted by Microsoft in the European region had offended the profits of its rivals due to the bundling product marketing practice. For the other, these marketing practices also offended the interests of the consumers to choose the products under their own willingness. So this punishment to order Microsoft to share information with business rivals was to assist the healthy development of this market and stop some improper competition. And it was a protecting means for customers to regain their right on product choice as well. (Elliott et al. 2010)
5.1 Victims of Microsoft
Some activities made by Microsoft were considered as anti-trust law and anti-competition rules. Since Microsoft had made some misbehavior in the operating system market which was monopoly alike, there may be some victims due to Microsoft’s activities.
The first group victims are the customers of Microsoft. According to the due care theory, the products and services offered by one firm should be produced as well as delivered properly and reasonably including the aspects of design, materials, production, quality control, packaging and notification (Boatright 1993 cited in Trevino& Nelson 2007). The product bundling strategy used by Microsoft may run counter for this theory. The product packaging strategy in the selling of windows operating system of Microsoft for example may not obey the principle of clear and proper for users to use this product of this company. Primarily speaking, Microsoft limited the right of consumers to have their free choices on the products such as browsers and media players but only consume the products from Microsoft. Such kind of compulsory product marketing strategy harmed the interest of consumers, who then became the victims of Microsoft.
Secondly, these competitors of Microsoft such as Netscape Company, Apple, and Sun Microsoft and its business partner such as some computer makers and suppliers so on were the other group of victims in the monopoly market dominated by Microsoft. In the case, Microsoft had carried out several ugly methods to push its competitors aside and promote its business in the operating system market. For example, Microsoft copying the operating system of Apple and rename it as Windows to grab the market share, which was a kind of unethical activity and sacrificed the profit of Apple. And Microsoft also made use of its powerful position to force some of the computer makers and suppliers to sign contract to assist its pushing aside activities of Netscape in the market, which gave this company a big strike. All in all such kind of business Microsoft made was to make use of others’ interest to gain its profit which was unethical and wrong.
Thirdly, as many people discovered business can’t exist in a vacuum that there are several relations between an organization and the local community (Plender 2002). For Microsoft, the local community is also its stakeholder. For companies, the two obvious ways to affect the local community are by its contribution to the local economy and environment (Elliott 2010). And with reference to the case of Microsoft, what Microsoft did may have bad influence of the health of the local economy. As we all know, in the monopoly market maintained by Microsoft, the entry barrier to the business namely the operation system market as the case said are very high. And at the same time, Microsoft used many measure to mess up the healthy competition in this market. Both the two pints made the level of prosperity and attractiveness of the operating system industry at a low level, which may be not good for the healthy development of the economy in the local community in the long term. That’s why we consider the local community as another group of victims of Microsoft.
At last, the shareholders of Microsoft may also be treated as the victims. One of the obligations for Microsoft or other business organization should take is to maximize the profit and minimize the level of risks in the business for its shareholders (Velasquez 2011). In this aspect, Microsoft was seemed to have done a bad job. It copied the design of some competitors such as Apple to promote its business which even put this company in an ethical position. Worse still, the bad behaviors to the rivals such as using its powerful position to force some of the computer makers and suppliers to sign contract to assist it to push aside some competitors, even violated the law. These bad behaviors affect not only the reputation of Microsoft but also the good development of the future business. These penalties faced by Microsoft may decrease the profit of shareholders to a certain extent.
5.2.1 Restrictions on product marketing
As the case mentioned, Microsoft had used some inappropriate product marketing measures such as bundling other products with windows system to make customers have no other choice but to consume its products compulsorily, which not only gave other competitors a big hit but also run counter to the free choices right of consumers.
To better protect and standardize the business order of the operating system industry and other alike, Elliott et al (2010) suggested the promotion strategy that the marketing activities making potential customers, partners as well as society aware of and attracted by the offerings of the business should be in a legal and ethical scope. Based on this, the bundling product marketing strategy which induces customers to have a compulsory on other unnecessary products may go against the free competition principle (Elliott et al 2010). These restrictions to ban such kind of compulsory product marketing activities including the penalty on such kind of activities, setting up some governance and supervisory mechanism, industrial monitoring divisions are necessary to regulate this kind of industry and market.
5.2.2 Setting up guidelines and codes of ethics
Griffin and Pustay (2010) suggested there are so many large multinational corporations such as Toyota, Siemens, General Mills and so on all have their written guidelines and codes of ethics to state the ethical values and standards which guide the actions of the firms. Since those world famous companies have emphasized the importance of business ethics in their business activities, we suggest government or the operating system alike industries to carry out some requirements on firms to establish the codes and guidelines of ethics to assist the decision making process of these firms when encountering some ethical dilemma.
5.2.3 Ethics Training
As there are so many multination companies address the ethical issues significantly via offering its employees some training programs in how to cope with the dilemma in ethics, we also suggest the industry or government to set up some requirements or principles to require firms in this industry to introduce some ethics training programs for its people including both the leaders and the ordinary employees (Barry 1999).
For instance, under the requirement, firms in the operating system industries alike may be able to introduce and practices the ethical issues more positively and actively. The line managers in the firm can lead these sessions for training on the ethics for the employees. And then an ethics committee can be established to monitor both the actions of the upper management level staff and the ordinary ones when facing ethical dilemmas and to correct the misbehaviors timely. (Griffin and Pustay 2010)
In short, these recommendations on public policies for the operating system industries alike are set to help such kind of industry to standardize the behaviors of these firms and to adopt ethical activities instead of some unethical activities when encountering ethical dilemmas.
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