Spoutin' Off: A new step for Microsoft
By Michael E. Rau
July 24 2006
OK. It's time to fulfill a promise I made a few months ago.
I've always said that if Microsoft did anything praiseworthy, I'd give them kudos. That time has come.
As the much-anticipated release of Windows Vista approaches - now scheduled for spring of 2007 - attending a dinner sponsored by the New America Foundation, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith was quoted as saying: "In the broadest sense, I am here to pledge Microsoft's continued commitment to vigorous competition and vital innovation in the software marketplace - and to explain how this commitment is guiding our development of the next-generation Windows operating system, Windows Vista."
He went on to lay out a set of principles which he says will guide development of the Windows platform now and in the future.
Now granted, these basically fall within the guidelines laid out by the U.S. Justice Department and the European Union in their anti-trust settlements with the technology behemoth, but just the fact that Microsoft has publicly stated that they will tread a new path is rather monumental.
In the past, all they've done is moan and whine about how having to follow rules would stifle innovation - when in fact the opposite was always true. Microsoft's unwillingness to follow any type of ethical guidelines enabled them to swallow any competition they could, and crush any they couldn't.
My general praise for Apple systems and disdain for those from Microsoft has always been for the same reason. Apple always strove to win by building the best mousetrap (not always succeeding, but always trying) while Microsoft always attempted to do so by trying to ensure that theirs was the only mousetrap available.
As I've stated before, there's a whole lot of brain power there in the MS campus in Redmond, Wa. Why not just build a better product? Why not build Vista to be better than Mac OS? Surely they have enough talent to pull that off if they choose to do so.
Anyway, the big thing Microsoft will do differently with Vista is to make it easily customizable by individuals and hardware manufacturers. Instead of contractually forcing computer builders to install all the extras like Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player and making them the default applications for specific functions, manufacturers will now be allowed to pick and choose the applications and defaults they prefer.
For example, let's say Dell decides that it prefers to provide its customers with Firefox as its primary browser. They will be able to install Firefox on their Windows machines and designate it as the default browser without Microsoft getting a bee in their bonnet.
This may not sound like that big of a deal, but in the world of Windows, abandonment of its policies of bundling applications is a huge concession. This was a key element in both the U.S. and E.U. settlements which Microsoft vociferously fought for years. And while the $357 million fine recently imposed on it by the European Union may have served as both incentive and wake-up call, we should at least acknowledge movement by MS.
Two other recent announcements by Microsoft also bode well for the future of competition.
One was its plans to create avenues of interoperability with Linux. Yes - this is an acknowledgment that, in spite of their past attempts to denigrate and undermine the rock-solid Unix-based open-source operating system, Linux is here to stay and if Windows won't work with it, Microsoft might just find itself on the outside looking in.
The same can be said for its acceptance of and nominal support for the OpenDocument format (ODF). You may remember that last year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts mandated that all state agencies adopt ODF as their standard for interoperability. At the same time, many government agencies and even some corporations began transitioning to the terrific OpenOffice application suite as their standard office software over MS Office (OpenOffice uses ODF).
Old Microsoft cried foul, threatened lawsuits against the state, and in general had a hissy-fit.
New Microsoft said "OK - Our new office suite will accept ODF and will run better to boot."
That's what I've always said I want to hear. I just want them to compete fairly (even if MS Office is $300 and OpenOffice is free).
The one thing I'd still like to see them do is abandon the proprietary formats which cause so many problems in terms of security and interoperability - particularly ActiveX and DirectX - both of which I hate.
So Bill Gates is going to ride off into the sunset with his billions to do good deeds for the world - more power to him - Steve Ballmer's probably not far behind (one can only hope) - and Microsoft is coming into a new age with recently hired Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner at the helm.
I'm not convinced this is a "new" Microsoft, but I surely want to say I like their newly announced direction.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, visit http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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