Microsofts 12-Step Monopolism Recovery Program

Opinion: The company's newly stated Windows development principles sound good, if Microsoft will follow them.

Microsofts July 19 announcement, enumerating 12 principles for guiding future Windows platform development, amounts to a public confession that "Yes, weve stopped beating the wife."

Remember all those impassioned statements that Windows was a creative work whose integrity needed to be preserved? Remember the insistence in testimony (here as a PDF) before Congress that Windows was "a single, integrated product"?

Knock me down with a photon: All of a sudden its not merely tolerable, but a matter of principle that PC builder OEMs must be free to "add icons, shortcuts and the like to the Windows Start menu and other places used to access software programs" (Principle 2), to "set non-Microsoft programs to operate by default in key categories, such as Web browsing and media playback, in lieu of corresponding end-user functionality in Windows" (Principle 3) and to "attain essentially exclusive end-user promotion on new PCs [by removing] the means by which end users access key Windows features, such as Internet Explorer and Windows Media® Player" (Principle 4).

This episode echoes Bill Gates comments at the launch of Windows XP. At the latter event, Gates detailed all the technical limitations that made Windows 9x a substantially inferior platform, proudly assuring customers that theyd no longer have to put up with these fundamental flaws.

/zimages/1/28571.gifDespite delays, Microsoft is still planning to launch Windows Vista and Office 2007 together. Click here to read more.

For anyone with an attention span longer than 10 minutes, the profound irony was that industry observers had been pointing out those flaws in the DOS-based, 16-bit-tainted Windows 9x for years—while Microsofts product positioners summarily dismissed those points.

Deja vu, baby: "Yeah, OK, maybe our critics were right all along."

Developing trust

At the risk of recalling ancient history, Ill also observe that the 12 principles also seek to mend the rift of developer distrust that Microsoft created with behavior that the Court of Appeals described five years ago in these terms: "Microsoft intended to deceive Java developers and predicted that the effect of its actions would be to generate Windows-dependent Java applications that their developers believed would be cross-platform."

We see a welcome commitment to do better in Principle 6, which states in part that "Microsoft will ensure that all the interfaces within Windows called by any other Microsoft product, such as the Microsoft Office system or Windows Live™, will be disclosed for use by the developer community generally" so that "anything that Microsofts products can do in terms of how they plug into Windows, competing products will be able to do as well"—and in Principle 12, "Microsoft is committed to supporting a wide range of industry standards in Windows that developers can use to build interoperable products."

The submerged nine-tenths

Some may critique Microsofts stated principles on the basis of whether they level the playing field in the market of PC operating systems, which is the defined area in which Microsoft has been found to have monopoly power.

/zimages/1/28571.gifMicrosoft has been seeing more credible competition when it comes to desktop operating systems. Click here to read eWEEK Labs take on Ubuntu 6.06, a business-ready Linux distribution.

It cant be said often enough, though, that theres no law against having monopoly power as long as its neither achieved nor maintained by unlawful means.

My major problem has always been the collateral damage caused by Microsofts exercise of its power in an effort to maintain it: the submerged nine-tenths of the iceberg, one might say.

I want to see PC builders freed to compete in creating a superior user experience, building on the market-expanding power of a standard platform and API set but not constrained to one view of how to use those facilities.

The 12 principles are a road map that leads to that destination, but it will be some time before we see how determined Microsoft is to follow that map—and we have ample evidence that in this realm, progress takes years.

Peter Coffee can be reached at

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