Anti-discrimination bill and MSFT

I realize most of the world has passed this issue by, but it's been getting a lot of discussion around Microsoft the last several days, so I thought I'd put in my 2 cents along with everyone else.

In case anyone has been living under a rock the past few weeks, Microsoft has gotten a lot of press around its decision to switch from active support to a "neutral" stance of a pending bill in the Washington State legislature that would expand the state's anti-discrimination law to include people of homosexual or bisexual preference. The law forbids discrimination in housing, legal services, etc. Microsoft has in previous years actively supported the bill by sending a letter of support, but this year took no action.

A seemingly minor issue, until local weekly rag The Stanger reported that Microsoft changed its position after a meeting with a conservative Christian pastor on the Eastside (aka the suburbs, also where MSFT is located in Redmond). Supposedly the pastor threatened Microsoft with a national boycott of Microsoft products unless Microsoft took a variety of actions, including a.) withdrawing its support b.) firing employees who testified in Olympia in support of the bill (as individuals) and c.) God only knows what else.

The issue got national attention, with an article in the New York Times and, more importantly, a satirical mention on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (which had me laughing on the floor - click on "Gaywatch").

MSFT CEO Steve Ballmer (SteveB to us) sent a company wide e-mail last week explaining Microsoft's versions of events (very different) and saying that while he personally supports the bill, as a company MSFT made a decision to focus our lobbying efforts on other issues, but if you look at our company policies against discrimination on this very issue, we've led the industry for years.

The Stranger has followed up its stellar reporting this week with the pastor saying that Steve's version is bull, and taking credit for scaring the big, bad Microsoft into changing its position.


OK, so why am I repeating all this? Because however you feel about the bill/issue, (and I personally support it 100%), the whole idea that some local podunk pastor could scare Microsoft with a boycott is the most ridiculous, inane argument ever. The fact that people take it seriously is even worse.

Hello, people - we're a friggin monopoly. Put aside all of the negative aspects of that business model, one positive is that you don't really get scared at the idea of a Christian "boycott". How can people take this seriously? The pastor said he forced a change? Or course he did! This is his 14:59 of fame, you think he's going to say "Oh right, I actually have no influence. I don't want any free publicity and getting my name in national papers, getting more donations."

And exactly what impact would a US "boycott" have? A very large portion of MSFT sales comes from OEMs (such as Dell, HP) with software pre-loaded. And the US is only one part of MSFT's worldwide sales. (Detailed breakdowns in MSFT's quarterly filing.) You think people are going to suddenly stop buying PCs from Dell? Switch to Macs? It's the most ridiculous waste of ink I've ever heard.

We can have a valid argument about whether Microsoft should have removed thier support (and I've been in several over the past several weeks), but I can't stand this guy getting way, way way more credit than he deserves. Given this, you'd have to believe either:

a.) Microsoft is a heartless monopoly bent on destroying our competition through whatever means, and utilizing our market position to ignore the needs or concerns of competitors


b.) Microsoft is a cowering scared animal, running away with our tail between our legs whenever some local nobody stands up and "demands" we change our value structure under thread of some hypothetical "boycott".

I'm not saying either is right, but the concept of MSFT running scared is just ridiculous.