Product Management Isnt in Courts Jurisdiction

If consumers want choice, is it too much to ask them to choose it?

Last week we talked about how Sun got its temporary injunction forcing Microsoft to ship an up-to-date Java virtual machine with Windows, and how, in my opinion, having our courts make product distribution decisions for the software industry was a bad idea.

Many of you were kind enough to respond to my call for comments, and did so in bulk. Not surprisingly, Im not the only one with something to say about Microsoft and Suns most recent round of Java-jousting.

Among those of you who disagreed with me (I did find some agreement, even a from a few of you without an MCSx in your sigs), there was the sentiment that Im being too easy on the Dark One from Redmond and his evil hordes.

Heres a taste: "I am absolutely amazed at how facetiously and casually you come to the support of Microsofts bad business behavior and criminal practices."

Look, if MS has harmed Sun, then the courts should grant Sun a financial award. They should not, however, play at product management. Theres flawed thinking behind this injunction, and behind many of the antitrust remedies proposed to deal with Microsofts behavior.

We can all probably agree that an open computing platform would be great for competition, which would be great for consumers. We can also agree that Microsoft Windows, the de facto standard desktop computing platform, is not open.

The flawed part is the argument that any handful of sanctions can succeed at making Windows into the open platform that it cannot be—as long as Microsoft wants to keep it closed.

We could have tried it by splitting Microsoft into OS and application companies, ensuring that no single application maker would enjoy the unfair advantage of having their product ship, all installed and ready to go, with nearly every desktop computer sold.

The trouble then is where we draw the line. What would the perfect, open, competitive Windows release look like? Certainly, each copy of Windows would ship at least with IE, Opera and Mozilla, although provisions would probably have to be made to include other, lesser-known browsers. Our perfect, open Windows would include Suns JVM, along with .Net. Maybe we should toss in IBMs Windows JVM for good measure. Itd include MusicMatch, Realplayer, Windows Media Player, WinAmp, Quicktime and probably some others. Itd include the latest version of the AOL Client, an offering from Earthlink and MSN, too.

Hey, hard drives are down to around a dollar a gig now, and we could ship the release on DVD, so storage space neednt be a problem.

Alternatively, maybe Windows shouldnt include any "extra" applications at all.

Take the example of Microsofts tying of Internet Explorer to Windows. I argue that the Internet is too vital a part of our computing experience, the browser too key an application, to leave it out, and as a product reviewer, Id criticize any OS that didnt ship with a Web browser. This is why Im applauding Apples release of its own Web browser, Safari (see review).

As a consumer, Id like to see more functionality and integration, not less. One of the reasons why my desktop environment of choice is KDE is the excellent integration of Konqueror, KDEs file manager and Web browser, with the rest of the system.

But what about choice and competition?

We can have the sort of open platform that allows for it, if we only choose it. On my primary work and home systems, for instance, I run Linux.

Microsoft may have gotten off easy from its DOJ antitrust suit, but what MS did agree to do was allow OEMs to ship systems with, for example, MusicMatch as the default media player. The same could go for Sun and its JVM.

Despite all its chicanery through the years, each of the products I mentioned above for our "perfectly open" Windows distro does manage to run on Windows, and run well. In some cases, as that of Mozilla, even better than the default MS applications—in the opinion of this reviewer, at least.

It seems that some find the ordeal of installing a new browser or media player too great to bear, but I simply disagree. When Im running Windows, I use Mozilla. I dont do this to make a political statement, I do it because Mozilla works better for me—it lets me block pop-up ads and browse with tabs.

Honestly, if consumers want choice, is it too much to ask them to choose it? The truth is that open platforms for every day business and home users exist right now, and the progress theyve made, even over the last year, has been extremely impressive.

Rather than try to force MS to seem more open in certain very limited situations, wouldnt it make more sense to opt instead for open platforms, to choose those things that we say we want, rather than wait for them to be given to us?

No matter how aggressive the courts become regarding MS, Windows will never be a truly open, competitive platform until MS chooses to make it so. That may well never happen.

So I repeat, if were to have open computing platforms, its up to us to choose them for ourselves and our enterprises.

Next week: How is Apples future looking? Give me your take at