Technical Leverage Points and Competition in OSland

Jeff Bone jbone@jump.net
Fri, 11 Jan 2002 23:02:48 -0600


One of the recurring themes in my own consideration of
competition and opportunity in the technology market over the
last few years is the notion of a "technical leverage point" ---
a kind of strategically important "hilltop" that gives its
controller a significant, sustainable competitive advantage.
Most of the technology / standards battles that have been fought
over the last few years seem to be for control of these;
identification of which ones are actually strategically
important seems to remain an open issue.

Slashdot is running an interesting discussion thread re:
Microsoft CLR.  It's not a particularly new discussion;  the
issues raised have been raised many times over the last couple
of years in numerous forums.  It does however offer an
interesting and succinct synthesis of many of these arguments
with a well-formed and chilling conclusion lurking in it,
including this single-paragraph bombshell:

"If we surrender... control [of a cross-platform virtual machine
API and runtime -jb] though, we'll find ourselves with a
monopoly operating system that makes it impossible freely to
write code for. (And it's not hard to cut off Linux and every
other rogue free OS at the knees. The day that every
motherboard's BIOS uses strong crypto to demand the master boot
record be signed with a secret key known only to Microsoft is
the day that Linux becomes a thing of the past.)"

This possibility --- while it's occurred to many and been
discussed elsewhere --- seems to take a backseat in the more
mainstream discussions of the threat of .NET, which seem to
hinge on privacy issues, authentication, the implications of
single-vendor control of essential services and the data they
generate etc.  But IMO the possibility of collusion with
hardware vendors to create lock-out is a much greater and more
essential threat than having monopoly control of the various
essential services.  (Aside:  in the content player space, there
are some regulatory controls which prevent this.  Not so
presumably in the general-purpose computer space.  I wonder what
the legal reaction to an MS licensing model that gave
preferential treatment to hardware vendors who agree to use /
build motherboards with an approved lock-out BIOS
implementation.)  The thread can be found at:

    http://slashdot.org/askslashdot/02/01/11/0230213.shtml

jb