Hijacking the World: The Dark Side of Microsoft

by Roberto Di Cosmo and Dominique Nora

Translated from the French by Kirk McElhearn

Copyright notice

This english translation of the original work “Le Hold Up Planétaire“, published in France by Calmann-Lévy in October 1998, was originally distributed commercially by http://00h00.com in 1999.

Chapter 1
Big brother?

Dominique Nora: Microsoft has a quasi-monopoly in some information technology sectors, such as operating systems and application software, but its sales only represent 2% of total hardware and software sales in the world. If this is the case, why should we be worried about its domination, as you are suggesting all throughout this book?

Roberto Di Cosmo: This figure of 2% is not the correct number to examine. It gives a false impression that Microsoft, as a software publishing company, is just a minor player in the computer business, because it is mixed in with companies whose activities have nothing to do with what it does, in sectors that go from manufacturing computers to making ATM machines (hardware, software, services and semi-conductors).

Examining other statistics can give a better view of Microsoft’s power: if you look at the profits of the ten leading software companies in the world, Microsoft alone accounts for 41% of these profits. Also, Microsoft operating systems are used on more than 85% of personal computers sold around the world. In any case, these figures are not the best indicator to understand the phenomenon that I am denouncing: to control an industry with a scope as wide as the computer industry, a company does not necessarily need to control 90% of its sales. Take an example from revolutions: to overthrow a government, do rebel forces try to secure control of the entire territory of a country? No, they only need to conquer the 0.1% of the country’s activities that are considered as strategic: radio stations, television stations, the telephone network and a few key institutions, such as the army or the central bank. For economic activities, it’s the same thing: some strategic elements that are more important than others.

The term currently used, “information society”, gives a good indication of what is at stake: it is difficult to find a more important product in today’s economy than information, or services more strategic than those dealing with its creation, transmission and manipulation. If one company alone (such as Microsoft) manages to obtain a quasi-monopoly over the worldwide information and communication chain, as they are attempting to do, this could be a danger for democracy. Information systems are more strategic now than oil and its pipelines were in the recent past. They have fully penetrated our daily life, not only for businesses, but for the general public as well. Computers are already beginning to shape the way we learn, the way we work, the way we entertain ourselves, the way we heal ourselves, the way we consume, and also the way we formulate our opinions.