26 July 2006

Microsoft discovers principles

Microsoft has announced its new tenets to “promote competition”, so I thought I’d take a look at them. I wasn’t impressed.

1. Installation of any software. Computer manufacturers and customers are free to add any software to PCs that run Windows.

Translation: “Your computer belongs to you, not us.”

Yes, you’re actually allowed to install any software you like on the computer you build or purchase. It’s hard to believe that Microsoft even have to write this down. That they feel it’s some kind of new principle to apply “going forward” is a shocking admission.

2. Easy access. Computer manufacturers are free to add icons, shortcuts and the like to the Windows Start menu and other places used to access software programs so that customers can easily find them.

3. Defaults. Microsoft will design Windows so as to enable computer manufacturers and users to set non-Microsoft programs to operate by default in key categories, such as Web browsing and media playback, in lieu of corresponding end-user functionality in Windows.

These two are clearly a direct response to the anti-trust investigation, which included complaints that Microsoft prohibited manufacturers from even installing Netscape as an option on the desktop. So the translation here is little more than “We’ll agree to obey the law so as not to get dragged into another antitrust suit.”

4. Exclusive promotion of non-Microsoft programs. In order to provide competitors with the opportunity to attain essentially exclusive end-user promotion on new PCs, computer manufacturers will have the right to remove the means by which end users access key Windows features, such as Internet Explorer and Windows Media® Player.

This is really restating principle 1. It’s your computer, so you’re allowed to remove things as well as install new things. Well, gosh.

5. Business terms. Microsoft will not retaliate against any computer manufacturer that supports non-Microsoft software.

Translation: “We’ll stop acting like the Mafia.”

6. APIs. […] Going forward, Microsoft will ensure that all the interfaces within Windows called by any other Microsoft product, such as the Microsoft Office system or Windows Live™, will be disclosed for use by the developer community generally.

Translation: “We’ll obey the implications of the Caldera legal settlement and the anti-trust case: We’ll stop deliberately crippling other people’s ability to write software by forcing them to use undocumented interfaces or denying access to APIs we use.”

7. Internet services. Microsoft is contributing to innovation in the area of Internet services with services that we call Windows Live. Microsoft will design Windows Live as a product that is separate from Windows. Customers will be free to choose Windows with or without Windows Live.

Translation: “We’d have really loved to force you to subscribe to our next-generation MSN offering in order to use your computer, but we just don’t think we can get away with it.”

8. Open Internet access. Microsoft will design and license Windows so that it does not block access to any lawful Web site or impose any fee for reaching any non-Microsoft Web site or using any non-Microsoft Web service.

Translation: “We were thinking of making Internet Explorer 7 refuse to load google.com, but our lawyers say it wouldn’t be a good idea.”

9. No exclusivity. The U.S. antitrust ruling generally provides that Microsoft may not enter into contracts that require any third party to promote Windows or any “middleware” in Windows on an exclusive basis. We will maintain this practice going forward, and in fact broaden it to apply to Windows or any part of Windows, whether or not it would qualify as “middleware” under the U.S. antitrust ruling.

Translation: “We thought we might be able to weasel out of the antitrust ruling because of the vagueness of the word ‘middleware’, but we’ve decided the benefit isn’t worth the risk of another antitrust case.”

10. Communications protocols. Microsoft will make available, on commercially reasonable terms, all of the communications protocols that it has built into Windows and that are used to facilitate communication with server versions of Windows.

Translation: “We’ll demand hefty up-front fees and patent royalties from anyone wanting to use our protocols for interoperability, to hopefully prevent those pesky open source projects from interoperating with Windows.”

11. Availability of Microsoft patents. Microsoft will generally license patents on its operating system inventions (other than those that differentiate the appearance of Microsoft’s products) on fair and reasonable terms so long as licensees respect Microsoft’s intellectual property rights.

Translation: “We’ll use the patent system as it was intended to be used, so long as we can still demand payment for obvious software techniques we’ve patented and inhibit their use in free software. Isn’t that generous of us?”

12. Standards. Microsoft is committed to supporting a wide range of industry standards in Windows that developers can use to build interoperable products. Microsoft is committed to contributing to industry standard bodies as well as working to establish standards via ad hoc relationships with others in the industry.

Translation: “We’ll work with other big corporations to come up with de facto standards, based on whatever we designed ourselves, and licensed for a fee. We’ll continue to ignore Internet RFCs and other non-industry-led, royalty-free, open standards.”

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