This is exactly what they were afraid of, they say. Microsoft, they insist, needs to be sensitive to its dominant position in the PC business and not add features to its operating systems that threaten vendors selling those functions as add-ons.
There is some logic here. If Microsoft replaced the amiably feeble Windows Write with Word for Windows, I think we could all agree that Redmond had gone too far. Or if it added a gray-scale editor to Windows, we’d think things were getting out of hand.
But E-mail? Of all the things that belong in an operating system — but aren’t in DOS or Windows yet — E-mail is the most obvious missing link, the most needed extension of the Windows environment.
We need E-mail links in the OS, or “environment layer,” so applications can give us instant access to electronic mail. It’s goofy to have to exit your word processor and call-up an E-mail program, or have to Alt and Tab to an E-mail program already running in another window, for simple messaging.
Instead, we need direct access to E-mail from application menus. When I’m in Ami Pro, I want to be able to write a quick note and send it with a couple of keystrokes. I don’t want to have to save that file in an E-mail-compatible format, then go into an E-mail communications program to send the message.
Sure, Microsoft needs to be sensitive to its position in the PC business. And sure, I understand the anger of people who have built up tidy E-mail software businesses (and then often sold them to very large, very rich software firms).
But as much as I regret how clumsily the Redmond elephant dances — and Microsoft’s little gavotte is not often a pretty sight — we cannot tolerate a situation where Microsoft is constrained from adding features we need to its operating systems, just because other companies have until now sold those functions as add-ons. That would be intolerable.
Something else bothers me here: Whatever happened to competition? Many of the same vendors complaining about Microsoft folding a subset of Microsoft Mail (not exactly the most praised and robust product in its full-strength version, you will remember) into Windows also laugh at Microsoft products. And many of them compete very effectively now with Microsoft.
Why do they assume that if Microsoft includes a primitive E-mail link in a new version of Windows, they’ll no longer be able to compete with the firm? Do they really mean to suggest that Microsoft is getting so good that they won’t be able to beat the company as handily as they have in the past?
There are competitive programs for virtually every key feature in Windows now — and the best of those are doing very well. PackRat’s doing fine up against Windows’ Calendar; PrintCache easily whips Print Manager; Super PC-Kwik edges Smartdrv; Norton Desktop for Windows tromps Windows’ native Program Manager and File Manager. Why should E-mail be different?
We all know why Microsoft’s competitors — many not in the E-mail market –are kvetching about Microsoft adding low-level E-mail to Windows: They’re worried about the next step. E-mail today, desktop publishing tomorrow, goes this reasoning.
But that’s carrying things to an illogical extreme. There are many other things that ought to be in a operating environment that Microsoft has yet to add to Windows: system diagnostics, performance monitoring and communications far beyond Terminal’s lame efforts come immediately to mind. And networking, of course.
Are those coming? Of course. Will PC users appreciate them? You bet. Will publishers of other programs that already perform those functions scream? As Ray Charles says, “Uh-huh!”
So should Microsoft be stopped? No way.
One of the stories of the next decade in PCs is going to be the absorption of what we think of today as applications into the operating environment. I expect to see third-party vendors of those features continue to prosper as they long have: by one-upping Microsoft with far more capable versions of the “applications” — make that “features” — Microsoft adds to the OS.