Toward a Modular Windows

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-03-25

Its all about choice. Thats what we like about the proposal of nine states and the District of Columbia to require Microsoft to offer modular versions of its Windows products. Such a componentization would help reduce the cost of enterprise desktop computing and revive moribund software competition. It would also reverse an expansionist drive that Microsoft launched at least 10 years ago.

Microsoft might say that breaking apart Windows is what its whining and inept competitors are calling for, but were hearing it from some of the top IT managers—who happen to be Microsoft customers. Theyre telling us they want core platform quality, more control of system configuration, and more ability to strike their own balance between capability and complexity. Beginning with Microsofts introduction of Active Directory for Windows 2000, theres been a corporate backlash building against technology jumps that come too often and are too steep: "The Microsoft strategy is that you have to jump into the deep end of the pool," observed eWeek Corporate Partner Nelson Ramos of Memorial Hospitals Association.

With budgets tight and the supply of skilled staff even tighter, enterprise IT architects want to wade into new technology at their own pace—and want full disclosure of the interfaces that divide one function from another, the better to evaluate and adopt alternatives. But in security technology, Microsofts Kerberos extensions have only been lately disclosed; in multimedia, Microsoft has sought to tilt the playing field against prevailing standards such as MP3.

In 1981, Bill Gates predicted a "natural monopoly" in software based on increasing returns to scale; in 2002, the company has succeeded too well, crossing the line of legality in doing so.

With Internet standards ascendant, the market benefit of omnibus Windows is not compelling. Microsoft should develop an a la carte menu of imaging, multimedia, messaging, security and other modules not integral to operating system functions and should offer it to customers with all possible speed.

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