About 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don't pay for the software.
Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it [sic], 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.Bill Gates, 1998 interview
Poor support for open standards
There exist open file formats and protocols, which are standards to store and carry many types of information, respectively. They are openly specified: they can be read by anyone on any computer, now and in the future. Proprietary programs, however, rarely support them.
For a long time Microsoft Office only had support for Microsoft formats. There are many ways to write work documents, but Microsoft Office users were bound to Microsoft Office files. People who opted without expensive Microsoft products cannot write and read
.doc files very reliably.
There are of course other ways of writing and exchanging office files, the most well-known being the OpenDocument Format. But Microsoft isn't keen on letting Office users exchange files anyone can read and edit. As of Microsoft Office 2007 SP2, Microsoft finally added support for the ODF format after being pushed by the European Commission.
Standards that change all the time
Sticking to Microsoft standards is not an easy job – unless you can afford to upgrade very often. Ever tried to work on the same
.doc file with both an Office 95 and an Office 97 computer? You'll know what we mean.
Microsoft owns the Office file formats: they change them with every new Office version and have no obligation to keep them backwards-compatible. Saved your presentation as a
.ppt file? If you give up using Microsoft Office next year, you'll have to rely on other communities to reverse-engineer the format, to be able to access and modify your own work.
Default programs you can't uninstall
Don't want Windows Media Player on your computer? Don't use Internet Explorer anymore? You can't uninstall these programs. They previously worked on a standalone basis, but have been intrinsically linked with Windows – so they come in with every PC and no one can get rid of them.
Microsoft has a tight control over OEMs (computer manufacturers) who ship their computers with Windows installed.
This means that no program competing with Microsoft products, be it multimedia player, web browser, office suite, instant messaging program or other, will come pre-installed on most computers you can buy.
It is a good thing to propose a wide range of software and services like Microsoft do; however, designing and combining them to shut users from non-Microsoft peers is unethical. It's not technically hard to adopt more open formats. But it means your customers are free to choose what they do with their work – Microsoft isn't there yet.