The problem with monopolies

The subject matter of this post has been bouncing around in my head for a while now. I have categorised this post as Miscellaneous although it is really anything but. I rant about various monopolies from time to time (Telkom, Microsoft and others) and tend to root for the little guy through my choice of software and services that I use. As a result I have preferred Firefox over Internet Explorer and over Microsoft Office (to name two examples) in the past (I say “in the past” because I recently purchased Microsoft Office 2003 for Small Business pretty much because I got it for a really good price and I haven’t been too impressed with the latest version of

Anyway, buying Microsoft Office got me thinking about my arguments against using Microsoft products. I have actively promoted using alternatives like Firefox and Thunderbird over Internet Explorer and Outlook Express for months now on the basis that Microsoft products are, as I maintained, inherently insecure compared to their Mozilla cousins. I even went so far to begin insisting that my business’s sites be hosted on Linux sites. Then one day I was chatting to my web developer and he started telling me how he actually enjoys using Microsoft software even though he may prefer using open source alternatives in practice (actually I am guessing what his preferences are). This got me thinking about my aversion to Microsoft products.

What I realised is that my aversion is not to Microsoft per se but rather the attitudes which seem to come out of Microsoft on the development side. The same thing applies to other monopolies. One good and local example of this is Telkom. Telkom is the sole provider of fixed line telecommunications in South Africa.

The problem with these monopolies is that they abuse their positions to further their own interests at the expense of everyone else. Monopolies tend to do what they can to make sure they remain at the top. In my humble opinion, what they should be doing is using their overwhelming influence to further the interests of everyone. In Microsoft’s case, why didn’t Microsoft introduce a secure browser with features that have been in demand for years (for example, tabbed browsing) instead of waiting for the Mozilla Foundation to introduce Firefox before accelerating plans to bring out a new version of Internet Explorer? As for Telkom, why hasn’t Telkom dropped its prices to make basic and broadband telecommunications affordable for everyone and not just the wealthy few?

Companies that are monopolies or are the dominant players in their industry or sectors have a responsibility to their users or customers to provide the best and most affordable service possible. I take issue with companies that don’t share this ethic.

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