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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Microsoft Legal Morass - Apple, Once Again is Right

There are still a lot of issues that remain to be resolved with Microsoft's legal manuevers with some states and with many countries. Their past behaviors and actions and how they affected consumers, competitors and others are still be discussed and decided in courts but I think one reason Microsoft is unwilling to settle because most of the remedies involve a broad stroke attempt at prohibiting future actions. I think there is a common sense approach to resolving this - one we have everyday on the Mac platform. It's pointless of governments and government regulators to try and block what MS should or should not add to their OS. Consumers should decide but in the case of MS, we do have to make sure consumers really get to decide - not MS deciding on what they say consumers should want. Because even MS is surprised at what consumers gravitate towards - whether it's Amazon, Google or iTunes. So, how are we or government bureaucrats to guess what consumers want or what MS should add to their OS. So this should be the ruling: For the new forseeable future (until their probation period is over), Microsoft can add anything they want to their OS (either directly or through bundling) as long as consumers can readily load, launch 3 of their direct competitors and/or discontinue using Microsoft's particular software readily without apparent penalty in performance or usability. How should this test be passed? For every major release or upgrade, grand juries in select areas (major metro area, metro area, suburban, and rural) are selected from random states and/or geographically represented. Their task is simple. In the case of browsers, the jurists would load Firefox or Mozilla and use it for a week - never touching Explorer and see how their computer experience goes. Or in search engines, using Google, Yahoo and others versus MSN's. Same down the line for any software where MS might be deemed to be preventing competitors from entering the field. For MS, they can add anything they want to the OS whether it's a search engine or movie editing software or something we don't use right now. They don't have to strip any code out. We just have to look to Apple. They load and offer Quicktime as a media player. While many programs use part of the QT code for its operations, if you NEVER launch QT, it works quietly in the background. If you only view RA or Windows Media files and use their players and you never want to open a QT file - never running the QT movie player is completely "normal" and it does not affect the use of your machine. And just Apple, there should not be pop up windows reminding you to use Windows Media Player. There are some details to be worked out such as having a third-party loads the Windows OS software on these laptops - MS pays, of course. But once the majority of jurists sign off - I'm sure there might be one or two PC's that do not work correct (can you imagine such a thing with PC's?) but at the end of the test period, they submit a report to the judge who decides if anything is hinckey. So, like the last signoff before it goes to Gold master, this step is added. And just to make sure that MS doesn't have minor upgrades break this, each competitor in this program assigns a person under NDA who signs off their software still works with this new minor upgrade - yes, more work for MS but then again, this seems to be a small penalty versus having a government agency like the EU decide what MS should include or not include with each release. Of course, they cannot prohibit or punish PC manufacturers from bundling their competitors in addition to or in replace of their OS addition. This benefits EVERYONE for a change and most importantly - consumers. Just because a piece of software is included for "free," does not mean everyone uses it anyone. This gives Microsoft incentive to produce better add-ons. Just as Apple gives us a free MAIL app (called MAIL), I use MS's Entourage. I had no trouble loading Entourage (and the rest of MS office) - yes, it is more difficult to compete when OS include more and more but nimble competitors make everyone nimble - as long as the OS playing field is level. It's not the price of the competition but whether they are allowed to compete ... just as MS includes a virus program with Windows XP but most people still buy a third-party virus utility. There are still a lot of details to iron out logistically but the main point is that this is a fair way to level the playing from here on out - any past issues are to be resolved separately. Basically, MS must operate under the belief that consumers get the final decision - that in the areas where there are competitors, a test of compatibility, replacability and functionality of the OS and the user experience has to pass a common sense test administered legally before MS can release the OS publically.