In Assault of the X-Box

by Brett Smith

We live in troubled times, my friend. A large corporation is currently under fire from the government in the form of an historic antitrust case. The legal battle could easily set various precedents. Lawyers will question the limits of what can be done to hold an abusive power in the market without unfairly hindering it. Unfortunately, while this goes on, the general public seems not to care one jot, as they continue to act and speak as if this corporation were just another group making their honest living.

Of course, Microsoft is the corporation is question here. The United States government's antitrust suit against them has brought to light many of the facts about the company's ridiculously unfair, competition-stifling business practices. However, nobody seems to be able to carry these facts through to the present. Let me break the news to you: the X-Box is really nothing more than another marketing scheme to damage a competitor. It baffles me that so many people have the opportunity to learn about these facts, but fail to do so, or, perhaps even worse, fail to apply them to present day.

I took four hours out of one of my evenings to read every word of Judge Penfield Jackson's Findings of Fact, and the results are shocking. Not only does Microsoft hurt its competitors, it hurts companies which help it. It makes horrible demands from its OEMs, creating ridiculously restrictive contracts, when, in fact, it is the support of the OEMs that has made Microsoft the power that it is today. It would seem illogical to bite the hand that feeds you, but this company does just that -- and, more frighteningly, gets away with it.

Microsoft does not see the video game market as a wonderful opportunity for more money. Sure, it would be nice pocket change for them, but they'd be better off financially if they stuck to doing what they have done for so long already: make computer software. So why go through the trouble? Simply put, the X-Box is an opportunity for Microsoft to get rid of another competitor. It's not by chance that the new console, with almost no indicators beforehand, was announced shortly after the Playstation 2.

Sony is a large threat to Microsoft. They have substantial ground in the industry, usually on the hardware half of it. Moreover, Sony has the business muscle to make Microsoft anxious. Plus there's the fact that Sony is a Microsoft OEM: hence, Sony receives plenty of information about what Microsoft is doing; unfortunately for Microsoft, they do not have the benefit of knowing what Sony is up to. In the corporate world, Sony is a considerable, if not the single-largest, threat to Microsoft.

Microsoft has not shown much indication that the X-Box is a serious project. The only tangible thing they have right now was their recent demonstration. What follows that is the embarrassing detail that there was no physical X-Box at that show: it was an emulator run on what was theoretically similar hardware. You would be hard-pressed to convince me that the X-Box is anything more than a few rough specs and a really keen marketing tool.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I am extremely biased. I do believe that Microsoft is a serious threat to the liberty of every citizen in the United States. I am an avid user of GNU/Linux, and would love to see the virtues of free software prevail over the secret, dastardly tactics of the proprietary world. However, industry analysts, with much less bias than I, have said much the same thing. Robert X. Cringely has an article on his page about it (see As it stands, there is no reason to even consider the X-Box as a gaming platform until it actually becomes one.

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