In gauging the ethics of a software monopoly, one must examine the parties involved; who has a vested interest in the software? The interests of the software consumer are of considerable concern. Even though the effect of an inferior product on one person may be small, the cumulative effect on millions of software users -- lost time, decreased efficiency, increased frustrations -- are huge.
A software monopoly, however, does not necessarily translate into an inferior product. Software standardization is of great value to computer users. Even though an operating system may exist that is superior to Windows 95, the benefits of being able to buy products for and become accustomed to a single working environment may more than offset the software's slight inferiority.
On the other hand, allowing a single company control over an indispensable product is clearly problematic. As Windows becomes more and more standardized, computer users' reliance on it will grow. The elasticity of price will decrease and the user will have no choice but to pay whatever price the company sets.
Other interests exist beyond the millions of software users. These interest must also be considered carefully. People who make and sell software are deeply effected by software monopolies. In a world of towers, no one is noticed on the first floor. The opportunity of a smart kid with a great software idea is limited when the software giants obstruct, passively or overtly, entrance into the market. As evidenced by Bill Gates' astronomical wealth, the software world is a potential gold mine. Anyone with talent and a winning idea should have his/her fair shot at the gold.
But is Microsoft acting unethically? Many experts assert that Microsoft's dominance in the software market is due, not to monopolistic practices, but rather to superior products and good business. How is a 90% share of the word processing market unethical? In such cases, the ethics question involves, not the act of acquiring the monopoly, but the tendencies which having such a monopoly encourages. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. When a dominant market share eclipses both the effect of price and the influence of progress, price will rise and progress will stagnate. A large software company may appear to act ethically. The power of monopoly, however, will eventually paralyze all ethical concerns.
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