For Microsoft historians who've kept tabs on Microsoft's dealings with its PC and software partners during the past decade, the words "Microsoft" and "principle" make strange bedfellows.
It was ten years ago this coming October that the U.S. Department of Justice filed its antitrust lawsuit of Microsoft, based on what the DOJ considered a breach of terms outlined by a 1994 consent decree with Microsoft. After years of damning testimony, via which Microsoft's unscrupulous business practices involving its OEM partners came to light, Microsoft was found guilty of abusing its desktop Windows monopoly. Since then, Microsoft has been slapped with a number of additional antitrust suits, here and abroad.
That's all ancient history, company officials insist. Microsoft has learned its lesson. To prove it, the Redmond software maker issued this week 12 "new" tenets, or guiding principles, that Microsoft officials are claiming will insure the company will play nicer with its partners and customers.
Company officials issued these principles – a week after it was fined $357 million by the European Commission for failing to play nice, by the way – in order to "promote competitive opportunities and otherwise enhance the appeal of Windows to developers and users."
I have to agree with Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox: There is next-to-nothing new in these "new" tenets. The majority are restatements of promises and commitments that Microsoft has been required to make under terms of previous antitrust settlements. OEMs already have the right to preload other vendors' software on PCs. They already can include icons and shortcuts to non-Microsoft programs on new PCs. They already (theoretically, at least) won't be penalized – in pricing, licensing or other ways -- for promoting non-Microsoft programs. And they've been free to license Microsoft's growing arsenal of patents all along.
Some Microsoft watchers got excited about the principle that will "allow" OEMs to set their search default to something other than MSN Search. When Google attempted to cry foul over Microsoft setting the Internet Explorer 7.0 search setting to MSN, the DOJ wouldn't bite. No one would have difficulty changing the default search setting in IE/Vista, DOJ officials said. So why the need for a principle acknowledging what Microsoft's been saying all along?
And on the application programming interface (API) front, how many times over the years have we heard the Redmondians insist that there are no hidden Windows APIs? (Forget the fact that there have been entire books written documenting the undocumented APIs.) If Microsoft hasn't been hiding anything from non-Microsoft developers, why the need for a brand-new promise to document all Windows and Windows Live APIs?
The one tenet I did find interesting was Microsoft's commitment to allow users to "choose Windows with or without Windows Live." As far as I know, Microsoft has not said anything publicly about bundling Windows Live services with current or future versions of Windows. Some of us (including yours truly) have speculated that Microsoft was on a path to use Windows Live as a way to continue to bundle new features and functionality into Windows without alerting the antitrust watchdogs. The inclusion of this tenet on Microsoft's short list leads us to believe this is, indeed, Microsoft's strategy.
What do you say, readers? Does Microsoft's latest list of promises impress any of you hardware makers, software vendors or customers? Are there other commitments you wish the Redmondians would have etched in stone so you could sleep better at night? Talk back below or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and
let me know what you think.