There’s been a lot of empassioned discussion over Microsoft’s withdrawal of support for a gay rights bill in the state of Washingtion. Many speculate that pressure from a nearby evangelical church is responsible for the reversal, but I wonder what Microsoft is really afraid of.
Seriously, it is widely acknowledged that Microsoft has a monopoly on desktop operating systems. Windows is the operating system on well over 90% of all PCs and while unix clone Linux has made tremendous inroads on the desktop, Windows isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Furthermore, Microsoft Office is the defacto standard for office suites. Indeed, the fact that Office only runs under Windows is the reason that once Windows is on a PC, it tends to stay there. So why should Microsoft fear any threat of boycott? To put it bluntly, the sort of people likely to follow an anti-gay boycott of Microsoft products are not the most technically saavy people. They would have a really hard time replacing the Microsoft products that most of them probably got when they bought their PCs. Most average users just use what came with the PC, which means Microsoft products in most cases. So a boycott would probably just bring bad publicity (which MS is used too!), but little effect to the bottom line, unless MS has been lying about their earnings and things are much worse than they appear. But I think this is highly unlikely for such a high profile company.
So if fear of boycott is not the reason, then what is left? While MS said that their decision was based on a desire to address issues directly related to their core business, the NYT article implies than there may have been pressure from Christian employees at Microsoft. This makes me wonder what kind of internal strife may be occuring at MS over this and other issues where conservative religious types are at odds with those who are more liberal. If this is a big problem at Microsoft, then it can only be a portent of major changes to come at the company. While Microsoft is clearly a dominant (if not the dominant) player in the PC market today, the era of the PC may be passing as other often simpler to use devices take on more PC-like functionality, like cell phones, iPods, and video game consoles. This puts pressure on MS to not only produce better products, but to reduce costs. One common way to reduce costs is to outsource work overseas to countries where workers can be paid much less than their U.S. counterparts. Thousands of tech jobs have already been lost to India and China over the last few years and that isn’t likely to end anytime soon. While Microsoft itself has not outsourced work on a large scale, they have invested heavily in facilities in India and China. If internal strife is rising at Microsoft, then that can only be one more incentive to shift a major portion of their operations overseas.
So what is Microsoft really afraid of? Maybe they were afraid of hundreds or even thousands of their Christian employees walking out and picketing the Redmond campus. If that’s true, and that kind of threat was made, then I think those people have just shortened their tenure at Microsoft all in the name of oppressing people who have done them no harm.