B Word Is Back in Redmond

Company aims to bundle antispyware, other wares into Vista.

The "b" word (bundling) is on the Microspeak blacklist. But theres no sidestepping the reality: Windows Vista is likely to get more bundled components.

After months of rumors, Microsoft made it official last month: The company will bundle the core of the Windows AntiSpyware product into Windows Vista.

We know, we know: Bundling is a banned word in Redmond. When a previously stand-alone Microsoft product or technology is subsumed by another, the result is supposed to be labeled "innovative integration," according to the Microspeak police.

Its not hard to understand Microsofts loathing of the "B" word. The company has gotten its hand slapped more than once for bundling. You dont have to look further than the U.S. Department of Justice and EU v. Microsoft cases for examples.

But those lessons seem to have been forgotten. Based on recent signs, it looks like Microsoft is gearing up to bundle not just Windows AntiSpyware but possibly some other new wares into Vista, the version of Windows due in 2006.

For the record, I am not 100 percent anti-bundling. Ive talked to lots of users about Microsofts bundling behavior, and as long as bundling makes their lives easier, the users with whom Ive spoken are all for it. Competitors, such as RealNetworks, Sun and IBM, argue that bundling reduces customer choice and hurts users in the long run. Microsofts competitors say if users had a chance to dabble with third-party products—which always outshine Microsofts offerings—theyd be willing to shell out for them in a heartbeat. While this argument sounds solid, I have not been able to find many users who share this sentiment.

But back to Microsofts bundle-mania. Microsoft has not discussed publicly its plans to add new Windows components to Vista beyond acknowledging that it will enhance currently bundled technologies, such as Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer.

Our sources are saying they are expecting Microsoft to dump Windows Messenger and replace it with MSN Messenger by the time Vista ships. Why Microsoft hasnt done this before is anyones guess. After all, do there really need to be two consumer-focused instant messaging offerings coming out of the same company? Its confusing enough that there are separate business (Office Communicator) and consumer IM products from Microsoft, in our humble Opinion.

At the same time, were wagering that Microsoft Mail, the successor to Hotmail that is code-named Kahuna, is going to replace Outlook Express (which is already bundled into Windows) and find its way into Vista, too. Given that the Softies themselves are referring to Kahuna as "Windows Mail," our educated guesswork here doesnt seem all that far-fetched.

(The development lead for Windows Mail, Bryan Starbuck, refers to himself as being in charge of "Windows Mail in Windows Vista." That sure sounds like a bundle-in-the-making to us.)

Now that Microsoft has merged the MSN and Windows platform divisions into one of its three newly reorganized business units, were betting we could see even more bundling between Windows and the MSN properties going forward. It will be interesting to watch how Microsoft determines what will end up as a for-pay "service" versus an integrated piece of the Windows puzzle as things evolve.

Whats your take? What other Microsoft products and technologies do you expect Microsoft to try to fold into Windows going forward? While Redmonds bundling tendencies are bad news for some competitors and partners, are they equally egregious for customers? And is the legal system the best way for those harmed by Microsoft to seek redress?

Write to me at mswatch@ziffdavis.com, and let me know what you think.

Mary Jo Foley keeps a constant eye on Microsoft at her Microsoft-watch.com site.