Posted by: patenttranslator | September 24, 2017

My Advice to Bill and Melinda Gates

There was an article titled “Melinda Gates Decries ‘loss of U.S. leadership in global aid'” last week in Washington Post.

At the top of the article is a picture of Bill and Melinda Gates, probably still the richest couple on this planet. The picture is from a ceremony in France where they were given an award in recognition of their philanthropic work.

Poor Bill looks in the picture kind of like he doesn’t really want to be there at all, while his wife Melinda is looking at him with a sly, triumphant smile from the side, as if she’s really happy that she got her way as usual and managed to drag him kicking and screaming to a ceremony where the super-rich are given awards for their tax-deductible philanthropy.

According to the article, Melinda Gates is complaining that “the Trump administration has recommended that the United States — which contributes $12 billion out of the $34 billion spent on foreign assistance for health each year — reduce its support in almost all areas, including infectious diseases and family planning.”

I’m with her when it comes to rich countries needing to contribute more money on foreign assistance. Fighting infectious disease and family planning are definitely worthwhile causes in my book too.

But given that “America First” Trump is not very likely to listen to her, I would like to let her and Bill know that there is a highly worthwhile philanthropic activity that she and her husband can engage in, right now, right here as well as in many other countries, a philanthropic activity that although it is not tax-deductible, does not depend on Trump at all, only on the good will of Bill and Melinda Gates.

I am talking about the fact that Microsoft, the company that made her husband and herself so incredibly rich, is in the habit of selling people in many countries the same thing over and over every year in order to remove as much money as possible from the pockets of as many millions of people as possible, including those who are suffering from infectious diseases and those who could use some help with family planning.

Some three decades ago, Microsoft still behaved more or less like any other corporation that, reluctantly, had to compete for customers by trying to deliver better product at a better price.

But then Bill Gates realized early on that since thanks to what can only be called IBM’s stupidity (when IBM contracted Microsoft to create an operating system for its computers), once the Microsoft’s operating software was installed on most personal computers, this provided an excellent opportunity for the company to use its monopolistic position in the area of operating systems for PCs to eliminate competition not only in the market for computer operating software, but also for other software products, such as a browser, a word processor, a spreadsheet, etc.

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” says Shakespeare in the words of Dick the Butcher in Henry VI, Part II, act IV.

The first thing Microsoft did to further leverage its monopoly position was killing in the early nineties a hugely popular, sleek and for its time revolutionary competing internet browser called Netscape Navigator by including its own browser, called Internet Explorer (IE) for free with the Microsoft operating system. Since everybody had to pay for the operating system, Internet Explorer was not really free, but it seemed to be free to happy consumers.

Because Netscape had to charge a modest amount to its users rather than giving it away since unlike Microsoft, it was not in a position of monopoly, Microsoft did manage to kill Netscape within a few years.

By the year 2000, Internet Explorer had 95% of the market. That meant that if you wanted to create a new software package, you had to write it in such a way that it would work seamlessly with Internet Explorer.

But then Microsoft made the mistake that most monopolists usually make – by relying on the brutal force of its monopolistic position, it neglected the further development of Internet Explorer, which was and to some extent still is quite clumsy and inflexible.

The result was that when companies realized that having access to millions of eyeballs to keep hitting them with advertising was the new way of making money, several new and better browsers were developed, such as Opera, Safari, Firefox and Chrome and because these browsers were not only better, but also  just as free as IE, compared to the heady days when Microsoft ruled the internet, relatively few people are now using the latest version of IE called “Edge”, although it is still included for free with every version of the Microsoft Windows.

According to Netmarketshare.com, an older version of Microsoft Explorer is now installed on 12.7% of computers, and its new version called “Edge” is installed on only 4.61%.

After killing Netscape Navigator, Microsoft set its sights on exterminating a word processing software package that was very popular in the eighties and nineties called WordPerfect. Back in the eighties and nineties, writers and translators, myself included, and lawyers in particular, loved their WordPerfect software. I remember endless discussions on what passed for social media in the nineties in which one Microsoft Word user succinctly expressed the unwillingness of WordPerfect users to abandon their software by stating:”WordPerfect is not a word processor – it’s a religion!”

Nevertheless, within a few years, Microsoft for the most part eliminated WordPerfect as well, by simply starting to include a DOS version of Microsoft Word again for free with the versions of its operating system.

To put this in perspective with the prices of other word processing software packages at the time, and there were quite a few of them 30 years ago, I remember that I paid 200 dollars in 1987 for WordPerfect, while my first PC, an IBM clone that was called Leading Edge Computer and was manufactured in Korea, set me back that year 1,000 dollars.

Since everybody had to pay, and pay, and pay for the Microsoft operating system, the cost of Microsoft Word was again included with the operating system, although to happy consumers it again appeared to be free.

Despite the legendary support by team WordPerfect that I still remember fondly – when you had a problem, all you had to do was call and within a few seconds you were talking to a friendly, knowledgeable human being who spoke native English, because WordPerfect did not make you go through endless automatic menus, only to put you on endless hold back then – the fate of WordPerfect appeared to be sealed with the switch from DOS to Windows in the early nineties.

Unfortunately, WordPerfect was designed for DOS, the original operating system developed by Microsoft, and it took a long time before WordPerfect was able to redesign the word processor to take advantage of the new Microsoft operating system called Windows in early nineties.

Although fewer and fewer people were using WordPerfect by the end of the nineties, since there was still some value left in what later became a WordPerfect Office Suite, which included also other programs just like Microsoft Office Suite, the software suite was over the years sold to several companies and it is now owned by Corel, which must still be competing successfully at least to some extent with Microsoft Office because I can still find it at Office Depot or Best Buy.

There are several reasons why Corel’s WordPerfect office is able to compete with the 800 pound gorilla called Microsoft Office, which is the indisputable king of the software jungle when it comes to word processors and office suites.

First of all, unlike Microsoft Office, for which its users must pay about a hundred dollars that are extorted from them every year by Microsoft under the pretext that it is a “subscription fee”, if you buy the WordPerfect Office, which I bought for less than 50 dollars several years ago as I wrote in a post on my blog called “WordPerfect Is Alive and Kicking and in Many Respects Beat Microsoft Word Hands Down”, you actually own the WordPerfect office for as long as you care to use it, the way things used to be before Microsoft decided to charge us money for the same thing over and over every year.

I usually start every translation in the WordPerfect format to avoid the hassle of the Microsoft Word formatting setup, which is rigid, complicated, and unintuitive to the point of being infuriating, and then continue writing my translations in an old version of Microsoft Word to make sure that I see the exact formatting that my customers will see.

For that alone, I am grateful that there is an affordable and well designed alternative to Microsoft Word.

Will WordPerfect and free office suites openoffice.org and libreoffice.org eventually be able to force Microsoft to stop extorting money from us every year for something that we may have bought many years ago?

I don’t know, but I have a feeling that if Microsoft adopted a more honest business model for its Office software, it would be worth much more than all of the tax-deductible philanthropic work of Bill and Melinda Gates.

Given how Microsoft has been managed for so many years when Bill Gates was the company’s chairman, namely as a giant, brutally ruthless and oppressive monopolistic entity, to mercilessly exterminate its competitors and enter and conquer new markets not on the strength of a superior product, but merely on the strength of its massive power, I think that Bill and Melinda Gates, as major shareholders of Microsoft, have no moral credibility to present themselves to the world as philanthropists.

Trying to gain a measure of moral credibility must be why so many rich people work so hard on creating an image that is not an image of a rich and privileged individual, but that of a philanthropist. It is probably good not only for major tax deductions, but it may also help them to sleep better at night.

As a recent article in The Guardian put it “As long as the wealthy can distance themselves from images of “bad” rich people, their entitlement is acceptable. In fact, it is almost as if they are not rich”.

So here is my advice to Bill and Belinda Gates: If you really care about us, the little people, stop making us pay you money in the form of a “yearly subscription” to Microsoft Office at about a hundred bucks, year after year, over and over again.

The word philanthropy consists of two Greek words that combined mean to love people or to be generous to people. What Microsoft Corporation is doing with its Office software is the opposite of philanthropy. To charge a yearly subscription fee for nothing because you can get away with is rapacious misanthropy, the opposite of philanthropy.

Bill Gates, a major Microsoft shareholder, whose net worth of $426 billion equals the wealth of 3.6 billion people, can probably afford to make Microsoft management stop charging us money every year for nothing while calling it a “subscription fee.”

Unless he does that, his tax-deductible “philanthropy” will be extremely morally awkward, as awkward as the expression on his face captured in the photograph in the article in Washington Post linked above.

For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a super-rich monopolistic “philanthropist”, who insists on making people pay him money for nothing every year, to be seen by the same people as a good, honest and moral person.

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Responses

  1. Did you ever think of buying a one-time license to Microsoft Office? – it’s easy enough.

    Like

  2. It was never offered to me, so no, I never did, like most people who pay for it every year.

    In any case, why should I be buying a license?

    When I bought WordPerfect, I purchased a software package that I now legally own, not a temporary license to use it. So that’s what I bought, especially since it is much better then MS Word and compatible.

    Call me hopelessly old-fashioned, but I want to own what I buy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When you bought WordPerfect, you bought two things: (1) a box with a CD-ROM or whatever in it – yes, you own that physical incarnation of the software; and (2) a license to put that software on one computer and use it. You don’t own WordPerfect, you have a license to use it. Read the paperwork if you don’t believe me.
      As for Word versus WordPerfect, your choice.
      But all you ever buy is a license.

      Like

  3. Of course it is just a license to use the software, regardless of which software package you buy.

    But there is a big difference between a license that you own (WordPerfect), and a license that owns you (Microsoft).

    Unlike the license for most versions of MS Office, the license for WordPerfect does not expire after a year. I don’t know on how many computers it can be installed, but I bought it three years ago and I was able to install WordPerfect on my 2 laptops and 3 desktops. A few months ago one of my laptops gave up its ghost, so I bought a new one and I was still able to install the version that I bought 3 years ago on my new laptop. I will probably replace it by a new version, WordPerfect 8, but only if I find the new features in it useful, such as seamless conversion to and from PDF format.

    When you buy Microsoft office, as things stand now, you have to pay and pay and pay for the same thing until you drop dead.

    Here is the pricing for Office 365:

    https://products.office.com/en-us/compare-all-microsoft-office-products?tab=1

    The exception is the one-time purchase of the version for “Home & Student”:

    https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/d/office-home-student-2016-for-pc/cfq7ttc0k5fc

    But to buy this one, I guess you have to lie that you are a student before Microsoft will generously sell it to you, but you can install it only on one computer, which means that it is not very useful for most people.

    Screw Microsoft, I’m not going to buy it. I will continue to use the old version, which I bought in 2007 and which runs on more than just 1 computer.

    It Microsoft does not change its policy and cheaper or free compatible alternatives are available, Microsoft Office will eventually go the way of Internet Explorer: fewer and fewer people will be using it.

    Like


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