Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Principled Profits (and a problem with Microsoft)

Check out this indepth article about tech and ethics in this country (wrapped in a story in a Seattle paper written by an ex-Microsoft employee). It starts out slow, but gets going toward the middle-end. What makes the story interesting, in my mind, has less to do with the actors in it and more to do with the notion of "Principled Profits" - an idea I happen to like.

A few choice comments:

"According to Mitch Kapor, [Microsoft has]... turned a generation of technologists against it. "They have an enormous deferred liability, which is not on their financial balance sheet but on their social balance sheet.... "Right now, people don't see alternatives, or they don't know exactly what to do, but if that ever changes, Microsoft will be shown no sympathy. None. Zero."

Being a "Linux" guy myself, and I can attest to the fact that the only reason I even touch Windows or Microsoft is out of requirement or mandate. In terms of pure preference or choice - I obviously am not crazy about Microsoft or it's Chairman, who articulated his business strategy for Asia...

"As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."

Then, some poor soul dared to accuse the company of using drug-dealer tactics in his country and was promptly sued by Microsoft for such a daring comment. This is just one of the many ways Microsoft builds love and support for its products in the developing world.

In our world, closer to home, Microsoft is a bit kinder...

"In May, Microsoft announced $80 million in cuts to employee benefits. When employees asked why the company couldn't dip into huge cash reserves instead, Ballmer, in a July memo, brushed them off: "The cash is shareholders' money, so we need to either invest in new opportunities or return it to them."

In another blow to employees and the Seattle economy, Microsoft is investing in a new technology center in Hyderabad, India...

Compare the Microsoft approach with the Google approach:

Google gets it. In the prospectus for its recent stock offering, Google's founders wrote, "Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains." Google is trying to codify socially responsible business behavior—to place that above fiduciary duty to shareholders.

Which ethical perspective do you prefer? Which company would you like to see come out on top in the search-engine wars?


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