Comment The European Union's competition regulator has warned Microsoft it will not be allowed to sell the new Vista operating system in Europe if it comes pre-loaded with certain features.
The anti-trust commissioner's office has stated that it is concerned with Microsoft's plans for Vista's integrated internet search, DRM and document management software. Separately Google, Symantec, IBM, Sun, and Oracle have stated that they are concerned Microsoft could use its Internet Explorer 7 web browser to unfairly direct computer users to Microsoft's own search service or use DRM to lock up documents in such a fashion that non-Microsoft office productivity applications would not be able to read the files. The genesis of the letter from the commissioner was that Microsoft had asked EU regulators to set out any Vista concerns it may have (some advice to Microsoft, be careful what you ask for, may just get it).
These days it seems whenever Microsoft twitches, the industry perceives the quaking steps of a giant, and EU regulators swing into action to protect their political base from the software malfeasance they see being perpetrated by the Redmond Goliath. Regulators' phones and email boxes quickly fill up with inbound messages from industry competitors almost always too happy to assist regulators in understanding the gravity of the situation.
Although much of the discussion will entail how regulators are just looking out for the best interest of consumers and the market as a whole, after nearly a decade of this lost battle of the marketplace being replayed in the courtroom, it at times becomes difficult to understand how this is really going to help the bulk of the non-geek, non-ABM, non-I-have-an-axe-to-grind-daily crowd. Note that this previous sentence segregated out the digital literati, vendors not named Microsoft, and those with serious cash flow envy.
With Windows 95, the first consumer-based internet oriented operating system along with Office 97, the first internet oriented office productivity suite, Microsoft made the conscious decision to make it easy to access the internet and share information, in part due to customers' demands that software be easier to use. Remember DOS 5 or Windows 2.1?
In some respects, this is where much of the trouble started. Microsoft obliged its customers, unfortunately, this ease of use came at the price of social reprobates exploiting this ease of sharing to develop a cornucopia of viruses, bug exploits, Trojan horses, and other just plain bad stuff.
Anti-bad guy companies such as Symantec, McAfee, and others came to the rescue with the malicious code police and Microsoft tightened up the ease of use to point where seemingly receiving an email required clicking OK multiple times if it had any images, code, links, or any of what makes it easy to share information stuff in the email. What a great solution this is for end users.
Consolidation of the once very disparate worlds of the LAN and the internet through integration of Explorer and Internet Explorer gave users a unified view of the information resources that they were trying to share. Of course Navigator and HotJava aficionados didn't like that, but Grandma, techno-phobes, and mere mortals largely did.
Yes, let's not forget to complain about all that unfair competition against Netscape. That competition started prior to Netscape's commercial existence when Microsoft indicated it would build a browser into its OS back in 1994; back when Mr Andreesen was busy creating his browser over at NCSA. That unfair competition that took the form of Microsoft helping Netscape along as an ISV until such time as Andreesen and company started bashing Windows publicly as an irrelevant collection of device drivers. Is it at all odd that the Redmond crew decided to be less than helpful to Netscape going forward? And just who is irrelevant today? But, I digress...
Now desktop users are crying out for stronger security in their OS to protect them. Pontificate as you will about Windows' security flaws, but also note that Microsoft has responded with firewalls, software updates, and a future with anti-spyware and DRM to enhance security. Of course, this torques off the competition who want all of this security to be third party. It seems that some will only be placated if courts dictate that Microsoft must deliver software that is sufficiently unprotected so that third parties can malign it and then sell fixes and protection for it. "Hey that's a nice operating system youse got dere, it would be shame if it was to be infected with viruses and malware and we brokes in and stole youse files."
Businesses have long complained that they are required to become an IT centre of excellence in order to use technology, thus diverting them from their business core competencies. Why should consumers be forced to do the same? Some will claim that this integration comes at the price of third party software having a harder time getting sold since Microsoft will bundle everything. In many cases this has been true, but it is also what many in the marketplace have been asking for, something easier and safer to use.
We have heard endless harping about how open source will change all of this and stop this travesty known as Windows, or Office from being perpetrated on the marketplace. Well, until Novell announced SLED 10, the thought of mere mortals dumping commercially integrated and supported software for a collection of do it yourself technologies was laughable. SLED 10, by the way, is offered by one of those evil commercial software vendors who are trying to make some money in the marketplace. From what we can tell, they have done a damn good job of creating the first potentially competitive Linux desktop for the non-geek. But this is another digression.
There is more than enough blame to go around on how we as an industry and user base have arrived to where we are at. But many, including the EU regulators, are missing the point. Huh? We are fixating on a platform with diminishing importance. No way you say! Well, consider this. The arguments about Vista are predicated on a platform (desktops and laptops) that will continue to diminish in proportion to the totality of information access devices (PDAs, phones, iPods, game consoles, to name just a few) deployed by consumers going forward. Further, the hardware requirements to run Vista will eliminate all but the most recently purchased systems or require substantial upgrades just to boot (Microsoft is creating a great opportunity for Novell here, Jack Messman should send Steve Ballmer a bouquet of flowers and a thank you card for this one).
We don't see equal outrage that most telephones cannot be taken from one mobile supplier to another in North America. Where is the demand for ease of third party software installation on the iPod, PDAs, phones, game consoles? Yes, France is complaining that iTunes should sell music in different formats to spur competition (this is coming from the only western country using SECAM TV standards).
Nevertheless, these other devices are the consumer platforms of the early 21th century. So while regulators seem hell bent on defining what Vista will be, the true growth area of the market seems to be overlooked in the process. To us they are saying: "Let's try to fix the past while ignoring the future." This way we can repeat the cycle and maintain perpetual employment for those with nothing better to do. Is this really the best we can do for and as an industry? Sigh.
So, I have vented my spleen. No, I don't own any Microsoft stock, it is not a big customer pumping gadzillions of dollars into my company, nor have we even received a free copy of Vista. Many of you will think we are representing the devil, others will think we are just nuts. If we have prompted you to think, that's good enough for me.
Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com
Clay Ryder is president of analyst and consulting firm The Sageza Group. Prior to founding The Sageza Group, Clay was vice president and chief analyst at Zona Research.