Europe …

It was interesting to watch peoples reactions to the findings of the European Court of First instance yesterday.  Whilst I'm the first to admit that Microsoft is not the most popular institution in the world, it was clear that the European Union (here in Britain at least) is even less popular; one of my colleagues was reading out comments from the BBC web site - mixed in with the "Big bad Microsoft got what they deserved" and "Don't Apple lock people out of their technology" where a couple like

  • "Before the EU tells Microsoft to unbundle things from Windows, they should let me unbundle the commission from my taxes"
  • "So Microsoft didn't tell people everything that was in Windows for commercial reasons. Why do the EU keep the contents of the treaty/constitution secret"

Of course the senior people in Microsoft were being a lot less bellicose. Bob Muglia, in an internal mail pointed out some of the collaboration we have been undertaking  with people like Novell. The following is might seem self-evident and common-sense but it's worth quoting anyway

Ultimately, customers buy products that solve their business problems. It’s that simple. For example, both Network Appliance and EMC have licensed our file server protocols. Both companies are also building solutions that compete with Windows Server..... The customers who choose their solution do not do this because of the SMB protocol; they do this because they see advantages to the Netapp or EMC solution. Bottom line: If we want to win that business from these competitors, we need to understand the advantages that customers see in competitive solutions and build a better product.

I'm tempted to say "Well DOH !" but the thrust of the case seemed be the exact opposite.

Steve Ballmer also came over a lot less angry than one might expect.

While this is a disappointing outcome, we have already been living under the Commission’s decision for more than three years, and we have taken steps to try to fully comply. We created versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista without media player capabilities, we established a licensing program for our protocols, and we paid the fine in 2004.  In addition, we’ve already adopted voluntary standards for how we integrate new features into our products in order to preserve competitive opportunities, and we continue to actively pursue interoperability because it’s what our customers need.  

Customers need interoperability ? Remember we want our customers to have the best possible experience of our technology. Our competitors want their customers to have the best possible experience of their technology. And the customers are the same people. They want to have the best possible experience of both sets of technologies; not to be stuck on the sidelines thinking "A plague on both your houses"

It does pose the question:  Why fight the case ? didn't what we want, and what Brussels wanted line up anyway ? Well not quite. We want to keep putting things into Windows; customers that I meet generally want us to do that too, but it's perfectly proper for regulators to be nervous that our innovations could deter others. We don't want to have our hands forced by legal action. And we want to share information because fostering interoperability is good for our business.

Having a legal precedent which says that the biggest players aren't allowed to have trade secrets isn't a good thing. And as another poster on the BBC site pointed out - wasn't that what the whole McLaren / Ferrari thing was about ? Maybe we should ask the FIA to hear our case and McLaren should appeal to the EU.

Comments (1)
  1. Fangs McWolf says:

    Much how I am usually critical of the EU I think they were right in this case.

    The point that you seem to have really missed in this post and seems to be only dimly acknowledged by Microsoft itself is that an operating system is a specialist case in point. Its like a utility provider to interface between software and the hardware and therefore cannot have secrets, it needs to publish its inner workings as transparently as possible to those clients so that they can utilize those services efficiently. Microsoft’s reluctance in this sphere has done considerable harm to the software industry over the years and done a lot towards tarnishing its image with those who work in the industry. Doubly so when having done this they release competitive products by themselves, such as anti-virus.

    You can’t build roads and expect to keep the design of your surface materials a secret from the tire manufacturers – that’s just stupid.

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