Wont Get Fooled Again

Microsoft's 'new' principles; Vista schedule causes ripple effect

Dont be fooled: there are no real concessions in Microsofts ballyhooed golden rules of engagement. For Microsoft historians whove kept tabs on Microsofts dealings with its PC and software partners during the past decade, the words "Microsoft" and "principle" make strange bedfellows.

It was 10 years ago this coming October that the U.S. Department of Justice filed its antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, based on what the DOJ considered a breach of terms outlined by a 1994 consent decree with Microsoft. After years of damning testimony, through which Microsofts unscrupulous business practices involving its OEM partners came to light, Microsoft was found guilty of abusing its desktop Windows monopoly. Since then, Microsoft has been slapped with a number of additional antitrust suits, here and abroad.

Thats all ancient history, company officials insist. Microsoft has learned its lesson. To prove it, the Redmond software maker on July 19 issued 12 "new" tenets, or guiding principles, that Microsoft officials are claiming will ensure the company will play nicer with its partners and customers.

Company officials issued these principles—a week after it was fined $357 million by the European Commission for failing to play nice, by the way—to "promote competitive opportunities and otherwise enhance the appeal of Windows to developers and users."

I have to agree with Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox: There is next to nothing new in these "new" tenets.

Some Microsoft watchers got excited about the principle that will "allow" OEMs to set their search default to something other than MSN Search. When Google attempted to cry foul over Microsoft setting the Internet Explorer 7 search setting to MSN, the DOJ wouldnt bite. No one would have difficulty changing the default search setting in IE/Vista, DOJ officials said. So why the need for a principle acknowledging what Microsofts been saying all along?

And on the API front, how many times have we heard the Redmondians insist there are no hidden Windows APIs? If Microsoft hasnt been hiding anything from non-Microsoft developers, why the need for a brand-new promise to document all Windows and Windows Live APIs?

Vista: To delay or not to delay?

When Microsoft revealed on June 29, right before the end of its fiscal year 2006, that it was delaying Office 2007 by some unspecified number of days/weeks/months, Microsoft watchers understandably began wondering whether Windows Vista would suffer the same fate.

There are plenty of good reasons Microsoft should refrain from delaying. Another delay could:

• Shake user confidence in the quality of Vista.

• Throw off schedules for software vendors, hardware makers and channel partners developing Vista marketing campaigns/plans.

• Push back the ship dates of pending versions of Windows, Windows service packs and possibly even Windows Server releases.

• Further tank Microsofts already soft stock price.

No matter how much Microsoft touts services as the companys future, the reality is Windows and Office still generate the lions share of Microsofts revenues. The later Vista ships, the longer it will take Microsoft to garner revenues from the product.

At the same time, there are just as many reasons why Microsoft should consider pushing back Vistas release date. After all, given that Microsoft already missed its holiday 2006 target, its partners already have factored the Vista-delay impact into their plans. For instance, by postponing Vista a few more months, Microsoft could provide users more assurance that Vista wont be so buggy that running it without a Service Pack 1 set of fixes would be suicidal.

After talking to testers, Id say Microsoft is going to have trouble making its fall release-to-manufacturing target. A number of testers I spoke with said an additional Vista delay wouldnt really matter. Several said theyd be in favor of another one- to three-month push-back to allow Microsoft to iron out the final kinks.

Microsoft Watch Editor Mary Jo Foley can be reached at mfoley@ziffdavis.com.