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Re: Microsoft Beat Lotus: An Answer

  Hi everybody,
  	just to add my 2 cents worth to this discussion.
  I am 33 years old, that means that I was 18 in 82 and
  as a computer hobbyist first, a computer scientist later,
  I had the leisure to follow the evolution of all this
  PC market in the critical days when MicroSoft turned from
  a minor player in the market to the gigantic monopolyst it
  is now.
  Unfortunately, I had not foreseen such a mean future, and
  such a ridiculously enslaved press (I used to buy regularly
  Byte in 1984... I stopped quite a while ago when this pile
  of sheets turned into a gigantic PC/MS advertising tool), so
  I did not always take note of the relevant unfair practices
  of MicroSoft. Nevertheless, I can remember something about
  these issues, including Excel.
  To make a long story short, Excel was NOT a nice product,
  actually it was an early product on Windows 3.0, which
  was an early product itself (I know, we installed a network
  of PCs at the time and many basic tasks like printing on a
  networked printer were impossible to perform due to severe
  bugs in the system).
  Excel 1.0 contained a lot of design errors that I see in
  the projects of first year students all the time: for example,
  if you put something in an entry far down right in the sheet,
  all the (empty) rectangle gets allocated (and recalculated).
  International versions of the product used a macro language which
  was not tokenized, so a spreadheet created with Franch Excel 
  contained french-language macros which turned into error on an
  Italian or US version.
  And so on.
  This is a HARD FACT. I still have buried somewhere the pile of disks
  of that program (but I wonder who still has a PC able to run it :-().
  On the gossip side, though, I vaguely remember something that I'd be glad
  to see confirmed or disproved here... The various competing spreadsheets
  were regularly submitted to benchmarks by BYTE, PC Magazine etc.
  which included access to disk speed, recalculation etc. etc.
  Now, I recall that Excel turned out extremely superior in one of
  these tasks (this is a FACT) because it used to its advantage an
  undocumented system call that was unavailable to competitors and
  gave rise to a lawsuit somewhere, where MS dismissed the charge
  as a minor documentation problem (they "forgot" to document this function)
  (this is the UNSURE part I would like to see confirmed or disproved).
  Anyway, after seeing another "accident" preventing the Netscape Commerce server
  from answering more than 10 request at the time on NT (there is a lawsuit around)
  I do not have difficulty believing the version which is not favorable
  to MS.
  I am not an expert in US legal issues, but in Europe (yes, you got an overseas
  opinion above :-)) we largely use the "cui prodest" rule (from old Latin:
  "who benefits from this?") which means, for example, that if a software
  company holding a monopoly steadily makes "errors" in documentation/programs/compatibility
  issues (Lotus/JDK etc.) or "forgets" to recognize copyrights when "borrowing" other
  company's products (Stacker vs. Dos 6.22), all facts that have as a neat effect
  to damage competitors, then you consider that they are doing it *on purpose*
  and they can and must be pursued.
  Also, let me add as a side remark that I am pretty tired to have to explain
  over and over again to every non-expert person why being "the owner"
  of a market does not automatically mean producing "the best" products,
  and actually very often coincides with selling worst-quality goods
  especially in the information technology extremely volatile market.
  Such a simple remark has generally been considered blasphemy in United
  States and this is one of the reasons my esteem for your country is so
  low now: once you start considering wealth as a proof of intelligence,
  (with its contrapositive assumption that beign poor is the fault of the poor),
  market share as a proof of quality, and antitrust suits as marginal
  annoyances spawned by battered competitors, you are also building a
  very unfair world I do not whish to live in.
  So please, go ahead with your discussion, it is one of the few
  occasions I found to rejoyce reading non-scientific material
  coming from the US :-)
  --Roberto Di Cosmo
  Assistant Professor
  LIENS-DMI                   E-mail: dicosmo@dmi.ens.fr
  Ecole Normale Superieure    WWW   : http://www.ens.fr/~dicosmo
  45, Rue d'Ulm               Tel   : ++33-(0)1-44 32 20 40      
  75230 Paris CEDEX 05        Fax   : ++33-(0)1-44 32 20 80       
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