Adversarial interoperability: reviving an elegant weapon from a more civilized age to slay today's monopolies

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Apple did not rely on Microsoft’s goodwill and generosity: instead, it relied on reverse-engineering.

No, it relied on published specs from Microsoft.

The .doc format in particular is difficult to deal with because it is really a compound format (document of documents).



Cory, the link to Usenet’s *.alt hierarchy is the same one as for the Hayes modem.


This history of Clarisworks suggests that at one point it may have been outselling Microsoft Office – but perhaps that was marketing hype. (It’s a shame that its descendant, GoBe Productive, seems to have passed beyond hope of revival.)

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Do you know what Cory meant by the Usenet example?

I suspect what he meant is that Usenet groups required some sort of official approval. But alt groups did not. So you could just create a new alt group any time you felt like it. Alt groups were the Wild West of Usenet. It’s where the cool kids hung out.


Precious few of the readers here will be familiar with the previous generation of Big Tech walled gardens: IBM’s System 360 and its peripherals. Up until the S/360 each generation of IBM “big iron” was like starting over, but with S/360 they achieved a mainframe ecosystem that looked the same (but bigger, faster, etc.) as the previous, which let customers write large programs with a reasonable assurance that they would not have to start over.

The same went for peripherals like printers, terminals, and everything else that a business might need and that IBM could make their preferred profits on. They weren’t stupid enough to chase the businesses that were necessarily low-margin; they let others do that.

In the '70s that changed, when Amdahl introduced a line of IBM-compatible systems and peripherals that were either more powerful at the same price or as powerful at a lower price and could run the same software as IBM. To begin with IBM was stuck because the features and prices of their products were carefully arranged to increase harmoniously together and messing with the curve would cost the Company enormous amounts.

It’s a fascinating story, and in the early '80s I worked for a company playing a similar game to Amdahl’s although on a much smaller scale. Similar stories have been playing out since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (or longer – I’m not sure.)


IBM also pioneered locked-out but already-installed hardware in their mainframes. You get the capacity you pay for, but the machine might have extra capacity built-in, so if you need more later, you fork over some money, they send a service tech who makes a few incantations, and presto you have a faster machine all of a sudden.


Ok, I never thought of that. The alt hierarchy did have some of everything, but where does the adversarial competition come into play? If you wanted to talk about Linux, you would still go to comp.os.Linux and not some alt.Linux group.


Um, adversarial administration? I was just guessing, really.

I thought this might be about making my phone work with the mobile tower across the street (which is currently operated by a company that wants to charge me ten times as much)

The strongest signal vibrating through my house is probably harming my reception from its competitor

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I think interoperability in the case of Apple v Microsoft is more nuanced than that. Microsoft needed Apple to be a viable company because Microsoft was genuinely worried about being perceived as a monopolist. Which is why they invested $150 million in Apple during the early days of Apple’s turnaround (an investment that worked out pretty well).

Today, Facebook and others may not give a damn about whether they are perceived as monopolists because the likelihood of meaningful action is so low.


It’s unclear to me how this is an example of adversarial interoperability. I’m fairly certain that virtual machines don’t take business away from CPU manufacturers, because they still require CPUs. AWS doesn’t take business from Intel, it gives business to Intel. Maybe someone can explain what Cory meant?

Yeah normal operations these days are a mess of jails, containers and virtual machines, regardless of whether you own the hardware or not.

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I think, some days you get the bear, thesis-wise, and some days the bear gets you.

Businesses do sometimes eat each other’s lunch, but I’m not persuaded there’s a clear moral to be extracted about that. If anything, it’s often the incumbent who has the advantage, even when they can’t rig the system to keep competitors out of their walled garden. Cyrix, AMD, AutoCAD competitors, Amdahl, WordPerfect (etc) all achieved interoperability, but never seriously threatened their bigger competitors. But Intel is threatened by ARM; IBM’s mainframe biz was erased by the completely different approach of (e.g.) Sun; if MS Word goes away it will be because platforms like Google Docs make file formats irrelevant.

You could argue that cracking open someone else’s walled garden just lets more people into a market they still own; whereas when you go in a whole new direction, if you succeed, those competitors’ bloated ecosystems become albatrosses.

In any case, as I have runt before, I strongly oppose the idea that the answer to Facebook is “more Facebooks”. One is too many. And contrary to the apparent consensus among columnists, Facebook didn’t invent human communication and is not the only means for achieving it.


See also: Samba, at least until '07.


Facebook invented -ruining your life by also sitting down the whole time communicating with persons.- Letter-writing had all that postal interaction, jaunts to the stationer, its own martial weapon, for Flartibartfast’s sake. ICMP/IRC had implied proximity to valuable wires and a sensibility to fixing them to charge it up. Facebook made it a autoaggressive methane tanking arena.

Sorry, I just really want to laugh at someone arguing counter for that one o’ yours, that was awesome, Bobtato!

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