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November 1st: Torsten Jacobi, CEO of Creative Weblogging, joins host Anita Campbell. Sponsored by Six Disciplines. Show details.
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Microsoft, Bundling and Small Business
Just about everyone has weighed in on the recent antitrust ruling by the European Union Commission against Microsoft for its practice of bundling products.

That includes the Small Business Survival Council, a U.S.-based small business advocacy group. They have criticized the ruling on the basis that free markets will provide enough protection, stating "entrepreneurs are hard at work looking to challenge the current dominant market players."

I agree that the EC's decision is not good for small businesses -- but for a different reason.

Microsoft's products simply have had a profound positive impact on small businesses.

I'll go even further: access to affordable desktop technology has been a major driver in the proliferation of small business.

For millions of small businesses, Microsoft's products and perhaps a few others such as Intuit's QuickBooks have created untold productivity gains. They keep small business operating costs low.

They level the playing field. Now even a home-based business has access to the same spreadsheet, word processing and presentation tools as a Fortune 500.

Microsoft has created a uniform technology platform across which businesses can do business quickly, conveniently and efficiently. Microsoft's technology has become as necessary as utilities such as water or electricity -- something you rely upon without thinking about.

Millions of small businesses value Microsoft products because they don't have to expend extra time and money on custom programming. They don't have to cobble together lots of software applications and make them interoperate. They don't have to spend money training employees on how to use new or unusual software programs.

What's more, the very thing the trust-busters complain of is something small business owners value highly: bundling.

Take this example. A friend of mine, a consultant in the medical device field, recently told me a hilarious story about wasting the better part of a day trying to get a document into a client's hands. The document was created by a third party using a software program neither my friend nor her client had. After spending nearly the entire day trying to convert the document into another format and then trying to find someone who had the program, eventually she had the document faxed to her. She then created a PDF for the client.

And what was the program? Ironically, it was Microsoft's Project. As my friend said, she didn't know why Microsoft didn't just bundle Project up with Office. "It would be a lot easier on everyone."

All of which brings me to an interesting question posed by the SeattlePI.com's Microsoft Blog. Todd Bishop muses aloud in response to a reader's question in a recent Walter Mossberg column asking why a certain program was not bundled with Windows. Bishop wonders: is the consumer asking the question asked because he is conditioned to expect bundling or is it because he wants bundling?

When it comes to small business, I think I know the answer. Most small businesses would rather have Microsoft bundle programs, than not. The convenience of having software installed on all computers so that it becomes the business standard is of real value to small businesses.

Undoubtedly I will get a half dozen emails from friends and colleagues in IT businesses. You'll tell me how vastly superior Linux or OS is. But keep in mind you are atypical. The average small business has nowhere near your level of expertise to select, install, integrate and maintain software. And yes, I realize that Microsoft products are the most often attacked with viruses and malware. But smart businesses manage OK with standard antivirus packages. Also, I strongly suspect that if Linux were used more widely, it too would be prone to many more attacks.
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