Most Important Message From Microsoft Ruling

Commentary: If we want an open platform, we'll have to seek it somewhere else.

The most recent chapter in Microsofts antitrust saga has ended, at least for now, and it shouldnt be much of a surprise that the software giant from Redmond came out on top. Microsoft has already implemented much of what the ruling requires of it in the latest service packs to Windows XP and 2000.

The verdict did leave Microsofts antitrust foes with a few slim points on which to declare some sliver of victory—the decision should, for example, prompt Microsoft to behave a bit better in its dealings with OEMs, opening the door to dual-boot systems that ship with Windows and a competing OS, such as Linux.

However, it seems to me that the loss suffered by the trust-busting states carries with it an important victory as well.

Heres what I mean. Microsoft Windows, computings overwhelmingly dominant platform, is a closed one. Open platforms are best for competition and consumers. The governments failed antitrust remedies were centered around the idea that it is possible and attractive to force Windows into becoming the open platform wed like it to be.

Even if Microsoft had been split into separate application and operating system companies, or forced into selling a more modular version of Windows, or opening more of its APIs to competitors, Windows would not have become the open platform that so many would like to see, nor will it ever happen until Microsoft specifically chooses to make it so.

The victory, then, is in forcing us all to accept that if we are to have an open platform for computing, well have to seek it somewhere beyond the campus at One Microsoft Way.

Now that this effort through the courts to hack our existing, largely proprietary computing landscape into something it cannot be has failed, we can set to work on building for ourselves a new, more open one.

Fortunately, we neednt look farther for that open platform than Linux and open source, a sphere in which solid alternatives now exist for each of Microsofts product offerings. Granted, some Linux and open source projects have some significant ground to cover before theyll stand on equal footing with those from Microsoft. However, considering the dramatic gains that open source software has achieved in just the last two years, it seems certain that open source software will continue to eat into Microsofts user base.

If we wish for openness in our computing platforms—and freedom from capricious and costly licensing schemes that accompanies that openness—we must demand it from our current software vendors, or opt for more open alternatives.

Microsoft will always be able to wrangle its way out of consent decrees and loophole-ridden court judgments. The judgments that do matter are the ones we make with our wallets.

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