The remedies proposed Friday by the nine states still fighting the Microsoft case represent the first middle ground between a wrist slap and the breakup. They are the first realistic proposals to attack the Microsoft monopoly and potentially foster new competition.
When the case was being tried by Judge Thomas Penfield-Jackson, the toughest question was, Whats a fair and productive remedy short of a breakup? Sanctions and consent decrees werent going to accomplish anything. Microsoft finally said OK to an agreement that is virtually useless.
Many questions surrounding enforcement, definitions and parameters of the new proposals remain, but the "strong but fair" characterization by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller hits the mark. Insiders say the states could have been far tougher but decided to put something on the table Microsoft could ultimately accept.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly should give the proposals serious consideration. And they should resonate with consumers and businesses.
Lets look at the three key provisions:
- A stripped-down of Windows without goodies like instant messaging, a video player, digital photography, browsers and even longstanding PC utilities could go some distance in restoring the competition that Microsoft crushed over the years. Microsoft would remain unrestricted in what it added to Windows, retaining its beloved right to innovate. But it would have to offer a low-end model just like carmakers do (or used to). One question is whether enough customers would buy Windows with third-party additions that they are accustomed to getting from Microsoft. Also, how such an organization operates inside Microsoft would have to be closely monitored. But these are details.
- Providing key applications such as Office for the Linux operating system would almost certainly fatten Microsofts bottom line. Not doing this or discontinuing applications for the Macintosh sends a loud statement that Microsoft at its core wants to continue milking the Windows monopoly.
- Removal of the Java Virtual Machine integral from Windows XP just made Microsoft look that much less interested in a level playing field. Its no surprise the states are demanding that it be put back in.
The states have also called for tougher oversight with the assignment of a "special master" and earlier disclosure of vital technical data. They all help level the competitive playing field.
In a terse one-paragraph statement, Microsoft labeled the states proposals "extreme" but left the door open to further talks, saying it hoped to "resolve any outstanding issues as quickly as possible." I hope the company means it.
But give credit to the nine states for staying in this battle. They have come up with a settlement that could make all sides happy, with the possible exception of Microsoft.
And my bet is that even Microsoft could live with it.
What will the judge say on Wednesday, Microsofts deadline to respond? Write me at email@example.com.