EU court quashes Microsoft appeal

Sadly predictably, the EU's Court of First Instance ruled against Microsoft today in the company's appeal against an EUR 497 million fine imposed by the European Commission. The fine was imposed in 2004 ostensibly for two reasons:
  1. for Microsoft having increased the value of Windows by including Windows Media Player freely in the operating system, thus undercutting the malwarish, ad-ridden, privacy invading Real Player;
  2. for Microsoft refusing to "disclose to competitors interoperability information which would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers" - i.e., for refusing to work with competitors to implement their own domain controllers for Windows domains.
In April's The Commission for Unfair Trade, I already wrote about how including the Windows Media Player with the operating system is a non-issue that calls for anything other than government punishment. If the Windows Media Player is free and is good, and if the competition (Real Player) is ad-ridden and crappy, then it is a service to consumers if Microsoft bundles the Media Player with Windows. Furthermore, it is Microsoft's right to do so, just as it is a car manufacturer's right to sell a car with a stereo. And if the customer is dissatisfied with the Windows Media Player, they are free to get Real Player; except that Real Player is ad-ridden, privacy invading, intrusive and crappy, so they don't. Hence, the publishers of Real Player seek refuge in the courts.

With regard to the second issue - opening Windows up to allow Linux-based domain controllers, for example - think about it this way. You create products which work well together. You optimize them to do so. As a result, your solution is successful.

Then along comes someone who wants to sell a cheaper replacement for one of the components of your solution. Since you are not disclosing the internal functioning of your system, they file a lawsuit requiring you to do so.

This is much like Volkswagen suing BMW to disclose the specifications of their engines so that Volkswagen can build engines for BMWs. Then the EU competition commissioner would require BMW to sell a version of its cars without an engine so that customers can get an engine from Volkswagen.

This is serious injustice taking place here. The only reason the EU can get away with it is that Microsoft is selling the various components of its solution as separate products (Windows desktop vs. Windows server) instead of as a single product (a car).

As long as the EU is calling for Microsoft to publish the domain controller protocols, why doesn't it call for Microsoft to disclose the internal protocols that are part of Windows as well? Hey, imagine the benefit to consumers if any company could implement their own Windows Client/Server Runtime Subsystem!

Hey, while we're at it, why not just require Microsoft to publish all of their source code?

Why not require Microsoft to give free licenses to students and home users?!

Hey, why not require Microsoft to give away all of its software for free?!

That would be good for consumers! Wouldn't it? Really?

Comments

BigWhale said…
Comparing computer industry with other industries is not an easy task, because it basically can't be done. I'll try it anyway.

Imagine a world with one car company that has 98% of the market. Now imagine a tyre industry there. Now the car company decides that they will just bundle their own tyres with the car and there is no way to change them.

Use their tyres or use no car. You want tyres from other manufacturere? That is a negative.

Now extend this to all other car accessories. You want to use a trailer? Sure, buy one from TheCarCompany. Even better, get one bundled and attached all the time! It is a bonus feature!

Monopoly abuse? No, you say? Let's go on...

Imagine the same car company that is selling cars without seat covers. But there are other companies that are selling just seat covers.

Now TheCarCompany suddenly realizes that they could be providing seat covers too! So they put seat covers on the car seats and simply nail them on the seats. They are there all the time, cannot be removed. If you want new seat cover from some other company, you'll have to pull it over the existing ones.

With 98% of market coverage, the seat cover company will simply cease to exist.

If this is the 'free market' then I sure don't like the idea of it. I really don't.

Why some things should have open specifications?

Think of one simple thing. Screw. Imagine that the only store that is selling screws that you need is working only from 10:00-10:30 every second full moon after winters solstice.

I have no problem with 100% market monopoly if it is not abused. But in this case it is being abused quite often. Browser wars, media player wars, connectivity wars...

Just my couple of cents, euro, us, who cares... :)
denis bider said…
BigWhale: the gist of my thoughts is, a successful company's competitors are entitled to fair competition, not to hobbled competition. Just because a company has 90% market share, doesn't mean it needs to be hobbled so it can't make its products better.

Adding a free media player to an OS would be seen as a good thing for any OS vendor other than Microsoft. For example, most Linux distributions come bundled with just about every piece of software you can think of, including media players. If Microsoft can't legally do the same, then the Linux distributors' behavior is OK - how?

You illustrate the need for open specifications with the benefit of having standardized and readily available screws. By this you are addressing one of two relevant issues: (1) whether there is wider economic benefit from having open specs for Windows access to domain controllers, and (2) whether the wider economic benefit justifies coercing Microsoft into opening the specs, which they clearly own, when they don't want to.

I think the decision to coerce someone into something just because there's "wider economic benefit" is very suspect and reeks of communism. Furthermore, I think the very act of doing so cancels out in the long term any economic benefits derived from the coercion in the short term. It a step towards a statist economy.

The fact that Microsoft has a large market share today is a fluke. It is a fluke to which Microsoft skillfully contributed, but it isn't necessarily a fluke that will last on its own. There are other companies the customers could go to for their operating systems. To the extent that Microsoft is preventing that, commissioners should look into deals like exclusive bundling of Windows with new PCs, a practice which now thankfully has mostly stopped.

But to the extent that Microsoft cannot satisfy what people are seeking for in a computer, people will buy other solutions. I bet that everyone would already run Apple if they didn't make them so unnecessarily expensive! I also bet that if Linux was as well-crafted as the Mac, or even Windows, a lot more people would run Linux, too.

But the issue is, you see, for most consumers and particulary in business environments, Microsoft is doing a pretty good job providing solutions that businesses actually need. For the computing needs that businesses actually have, no OS vendor is substantially better. That's because Microsoft is still doing what it does well.

But the thing is, you see, this can only last as long as Microsoft can keep up in the race. If Microsoft ever starts slacking off, competition will catch up, their market share will increase further, and if Microsoft completely fails to satisfy its customers, people will migrate to other products. There may be migration costs, but if the competitors get substantially better, people will migrate.

What is happening here is that people are misinterpreting what it means to abuse a monopoly. Abusing a monopoly does not mean to reach a 90% market share by satisfying your customers' needs as well or better than everyone else. Abusing a monopoly means having a crappy product or service and foisting it on the customer while denying them access to already-existing better goods.

Now, here comes the magic trick. What the EU's openness requirements are going to actually do is the reverse of what they are intended to do.

The intention is to encourage competition. In the absence of EU's intervention, competition is what would naturally occur: at some point in the future, all the Microsoft's competent bosses would retire, and the company would suddenly start slacking off. Meanwhile, competition would creep up on it and if Microsoft still did not move, they would develop competitive products that within a decade would displace Windows fully.

Now, what's actually going to happen as a result of the EU intervention is this: Microsoft will be forced to open its protocols, and by doing so it will set them in stone. If the protocols will now be open, it will be harder for Microsoft to change how Windows works. When they do change how Windows works, they're going to have to talk to all sorts of open source people and commercial companies building alternative domain controllers to Windows.

So on the one hand, Microsoft will be losing flexibility, and they will be losing some of their ability to improve their products and adapt them to the customers' needs like they want.

But on the other hand, as soon as there are significant implementations alternative to Microsoft, the Microsoft solution will be standardized, which means the Microsoft monopoly will be reinforced, because it will not just be a Microsoft solution any more; it will be a community solution, and as such it will be set in stone.

Just like we have to live with SMTP, HTTP and HTML today - all of which are protocols which have severely outlived their initial design requirements, and we are now stuck having them, for worse or... for worse - just like that, the Microsoft domain controller thingy may now become a standard and may be set in stone.

So the customers are being dealt here a double whammy: on the one hand, the leading software company is being hobbled and will have to forfeit some of its ability to innovate; and on the other hand, the current solution provided by that company will now be frozen and will become a standard, for better or worse, and we might not see a better competitive solution that might have otherwise been developed if it wasn't for this.

In other words, the EU is taking what so far has been a merit-based monopoly, and it is now making it an officially recognized monopoly instead. Instead of the future of software being decided by smart people running software companies, it will now be ever more decided by European Union bureaucrats.

Yay! That's the future we all wanted! More bureaucracy! How great is that!
W^L+ said…
Denis: You are arguing against more than a century of acting to protect consumers against the actions of large companies. In the case of the media player, the clearly-superior WMP was bundled as a way to push out RealPlayer, not as a consumer benefit. (I agree with you that consumers are better off with WMP than they are with RP, but what about Quicktime and other media players? Surely there is one player out there that is better for consumers than WMP. Are you wishing to snuff out that better player too?)

On the server side, MSFT released their protocol (based on a competitor's protocol) as an open standard, then once they were #1, made undocumented and incompatible changes. This is no different than Rambus sneaking their patents into the standard for DRAM technology. In either case, viable competitors are suddenly and unfairly disadvantaged.

This is not about innovation, but about competition. It is a time-honored tradition that monopolists have restrictions on what they can do. AT&T was limited in how they could market Unix. Standard Oil was broken into several smaller oil companies. GM was prevented from merging with duPont. Microsoft has not yet been divided up, but continued abuse of their monopoly will eventually bring that to pass. No amount of campaign contributions will prevent it forever.

(Personally, I think that many of their products are hobbled, but not by court orders. They are hobbled by the fact that losing market share is not an acceptable option, so they do not experiment and invent as they should. A split Microsoft would be freed from many of the legal restrictions of a monopoly, as well as the temptation to cheat in order to lock competitors out. It would be a win for everyone, including consumers, competitors, the resulting pieces of Microsoft, and corporate purchasers.)
denis bider said…
You are arguing against more than a century of acting to protect consumers against the actions of large companies.

If you get to read more of my blog, you will likely notice that I tend to argue against all sorts of stupid and harmful stuff committed in the name of higher good, many of them not only over the past 100 years, but over the course of human history.

In the case of the media player, the clearly-superior WMP was bundled as a way to push out RealPlayer, not as a consumer benefit. (I agree with you that consumers are better off with WMP than they are with RP, but what about Quicktime and other media players? Surely there is one player out there that is better for consumers than WMP. Are you wishing to snuff out that better player too?)

How has WMP snuffed out QuickTime? It's installed on my machine, and the only reason I have it is because it comes bundled with iTunes! Otherwise I have no need for it. (But I regularly use iTunes, not WMP, see?)

Second, how does QuickTime have a natural god-given right to even run on Windows? How is it so obviously assumed that the platform should be open and free for everyone? Apple surely doesn't give the same opportunity to everyone! Ever tried running unauthorized third-party apps on your iPhone? Hey, how about your iPod? Or your PlayStation? Or your XBox?

Come on! The product being sold here, and the product that you buy, is Windows. Windows comes with the applications that it comes with. The very fact that Windows is an open platform, not a closed one, like the iPhone, is a choice that Microsoft made, and it's a choice that benefitted Microsoft, but it's their choice whether Windows is even an open platform to begin with. If you deny that, you are denying Apple the right to sell you an iPhone as a closed platform. Hell, you're even denying your phone company the right to sell you a mobile phone on which it's difficult to install and run arbitrary software!

On the server side, MSFT released their protocol (based on a competitor's protocol) as an open standard, then once they were #1, made undocumented and incompatible changes.

Care to document that?

Even if that is so, where's the contractual violation in this?

Where did Microsoft sign a contract not to change the internal workings of their products?

So in principle if any company makes undocumented changes to their products that make them incompatible with a standard they were previously compliant with, they are liable for violating the Though Shalt Not Forfeit Standards Act?

Just how exactly do you propose phrasing this as a principle, so that it can be enforced objectively and fairly, not subjectively and arbitrarily?

It is a time-honored tradition that monopolists have restrictions on what they can do.

I'm sorry, man, but this argument is so intellectually incompetent that it deserves to be called out as such.

Man, that's idiotic! Just because something has been practiced for a long time doesn't mean it's good! I mean... do I even have to come up with examples? Do I actually have to come up with arguments to show you how meaningless and vacuous an argument based on "time-honored tradition" is? Do I need to enumerate historical examples where humanity went wrong for centuries and didn't know it?

I mean, come on! You must be better than this!

AT&T was limited in how they could market Unix. Standard Oil was broken into several smaller oil companies. GM was prevented from merging with duPont. Microsoft has not yet been divided up, but continued abuse of their monopoly will eventually bring that to pass. No amount of campaign contributions will prevent it forever.

All I see in your examples is a biased interpretation of economic history favoring government intervention and raping of economic liberty over facts and proof.

Who says customers did benefit from AT&T being limited in how they marketed Unix? Who says customers benefitted when Standard Oil was broken up? Who says the economy benefitted when GM was prevented from merging with duPont? (Putting aside that big mergers are usually a bad idea anyway, it is nevertheless shareholders' right to pursue their delusions.) Who says customers would have benefitted if Microsoft was broken up?

Do you have any facts to show for any of this?

When these government interventions take place, they take place for largely political and populistic reasons, without a good grounding in science, without proof that, in the long run, intervention will have a benefit to the economy. On the other hand, what does take place when such government interventions occur is that people's economic liberties are being violated, in this case the shareholders of the companies whose rights are being abridged.

There is ample evidence that the principles of economic liberty actually work. Therefore, when these principles are being violated and people's economic rights are being abridged, it is my opinion that such interventions need to be supported with a very strong case that the intervention is necessary indeed. The support needs to be not only political and populistic, but it needs to be scientific, and it needs to honor economic principles.

Just because a company is so effective that it is able to defeat a number of competitors, doesn't mean that the existence of those competitors was economically required or beneficial, and it doesn't mean that the company's actions are evil.

To the extent that a company's economic existence relies on the Windows platform, the company is betting its economic future on Microsoft's actions. This is a wilful decision of the company that Microsoft is not responsible for. If the company is hurt when Microsoft takes a particular course of action with its platform, the company should not be complaining to the courts. It should be questioning its own managers which made the company vulnerable to this particular event.

Just because Microsoft sells Windows, doesn't mean company X is naturally entitled to make money selling add-ons for it. And just because company X has made a living selling add-ons, doesn't mean Microsoft should be prohibited from expanding Windows functionality to harm those add-on sales.

Similarly, Microsoft is free to implement in its products any protocols it wants. Just because Microsoft makes products that work well with each other, doesn't mean company X is entitled to have Microsoft cooperate and help them make rip-offs so that they can sell alternatives to Microsoft's products. It just doesn't work that way.

If you want to sell your product, sell your whole product, independently. If you can't sell your product independently, then you're mooching off of someone else's product. If you're mooching off of someone else's product, then you are depending on their goodwill for your survival, and you made a conscious decision to do it.

(Personally, I think that many of their products are hobbled, but not by court orders. They are hobbled by the fact that losing market share is not an acceptable option, so they do not experiment and invent as they should. A split Microsoft would be freed from many of the legal restrictions of a monopoly, as well as the temptation to cheat in order to lock competitors out. It would be a win for everyone, including consumers, competitors, the resulting pieces of Microsoft, and corporate purchasers.)

You seriously believe that? You seriously think that Microsoft is not innovating? You believe that they are not experimenting? You believe that they are not introducing new features.

Wow.

Have you been following, at all, what MS has been doing in recent years?

Do you even use Windows? Are you even exposed as a developer to it?
W^L+ said…
You seriously believe that? You seriously think that Microsoft is not innovating? You believe that they are not experimenting? You believe that they are not introducing new features.

If you define innovating as copying the features of others and making small, incompatible modifications, then they are definitely innovating. About the only really new thing is the deep embedding of "Genuine Advantage" anti-theft software.

Do you even use Windows? Are you even exposed as a developer to it?

Yes, I use do Windows. I support Windows (and Office and IE) users and I administer a local Win2003R2 server within a nationwide Windows network.

Maybe you should reread The Wealth of Nations. I found that many of the ideas I had about economics and policy were not so firmly rooted in classical economics as I had thought. Together with other observations, it really opened my eyes to the reasons why antitrust regulation is both necessary and desirable.

Who says customers did benefit from AT&T being limited in how they marketed Unix? Who says customers benefitted when Standard Oil was broken up? Who says the economy benefitted when GM was prevented from merging with duPont? (Putting aside that big mergers are usually a bad idea anyway, it is nevertheless shareholders' right to pursue their delusions.) Who says customers would have benefitted if Microsoft was broken up?

It seems to me that there were some economists that testified in the US trial in the 1990s. I believe that they would have been the ones who came up with the breakup idea anyway. Unfortunately, I do not have time to find the trial transcripts and search through them to be sure. I know the option was on the table.

I am sure you saw how Microsoft let their browser stagnate after Netscape was no longer a viable competitor. It naturally follows. Innovation happens mostly in an effort to compete, which implies the existence of viable competitors in the market. Absent competitors, a monopolist's "innovations" are mostly just cosmetic, like reshuffling the menus and buttons in an office suite.
denis bider said…
If you define innovating as copying the features of others and making small, incompatible modifications, then they are definitely innovating. About the only really new thing is the deep embedding of "Genuine Advantage" anti-theft software.

You are confusing innovation with invention. I would not necessarily say that Microsoft is big at inventing new things, but taking existing ideas and implementing them in a professional manner is a useful innovation, and this is what Microsoft's business is built on.

You seem to think that all the credit should go to people who originally thought of an idea, not to people who actually did the work of packaging it in a way that makes it useful for the wider economy. I think the latter deserve at least as much credit as the former. Microsoft has historically been very good at this, which partly is why it's successful.

Yes, I use do Windows. I support Windows (and Office and IE) users and I administer a local Win2003R2 server within a nationwide Windows network.

Yet on your own site you clearly state that your interest lies in open source projects, you enumerate a variety of GNU/Linux systems you're familiar with, and you state that you haven't met a GNU/Linux you didn't like.

It seems to me that your experience in administering Windows is similar to my experience in administering Linux. In both cases, we have way more experience with one that other, so we're less comfortable with the system that's less familiar to us.

I would say that Windows is the system you are less familiar with, and you are looking at it from a very Linux-based perspective, which seems to make you liable to seeing bad things that don't exist and failing to see good things that do exist.

Would you say I'm incorrect?

Maybe you should reread The Wealth of Nations. I found that many of the ideas I had about economics and policy were not so firmly rooted in classical economics as I had thought. Together with other observations, it really opened my eyes to the reasons why antitrust regulation is both necessary and desirable.

Okay, thank you for the suggestion.

It seems to me that there were some economists that testified in the US trial in the 1990s.

Just because someone has a diploma in economics doesn't mean that they're correct. Here's a 1989 quote from "distinguished economist" Lester C. Thurow, former dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management: "Can economic command significantly... accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests that it can... Today the Soviet Union is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States."

History shows that distinguished economists are not immune to economic idiocy.

I am sure you saw how Microsoft let their browser stagnate after Netscape was no longer a viable competitor. It naturally follows. Innovation happens mostly in an effort to compete, which implies the existence of viable competitors in the market.

Certainly, but that doesn't mean that (1) Microsoft's defeat of Netscape wasn't fair and square: Netscape actually had the inferior browser!, and (2) that if a company has been able to defeat competitors, it should be artificially penalized so that the inept competitors are able to catch up.

The company won over the competition fair and square, and should enjoy the result. But if it starts to lazy around too much, and if it fails to address newly opening economic windows, then an opportunity will arise for another competitor, perhaps in the same way, or perhaps in another area or in a different way altogether. That's the cycle.

What a company should be prohibited from doing is blackmailing its customers into agreements which give it an unfair edge, such as forced bundling of Windows with PCs, or a forced tax payable to Microsoft even if a PC doesn't ship with Windows. That's unfair, and such practices should be addressed.

But merely defeating your competition by improving the value of your product, that is competition fair and square.

Absent competitors, a monopolist's "innovations" are mostly just cosmetic, like reshuffling the menus and buttons in an office suite.

You'd think? In my opinion, the security features in Windows Vista are superior to any other current major operating system. Because Windows is the most popular platform, they have to be.

There are other major improvements in Vista, such as support for OS-wide transactions integrated in the kernel, a better GUI model, and a slowish (because it's difficult) but deliberate move from native code to managed. These are all major improvements of the platform.

At the same time, this is being done by retaining most backwards compatibility, which you might say is not worthy of being called an innovation, but is in fact an essential commitment that distinguishes Microsoft from its competitors.

It might be that different icons is all you see, but that's not all that's happening under the hood.

But you wouldn't know that coming from the Linux world now, would you?
denis bider said…
Hey, as long as we're disgracing distinguished economists, here's another one: "John Kenneth Galbraith, the distinguished Harvard economist, wrote in 1984: 'That the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene.... One sees it in the appearance of well-being of the people on the streets.... and the general aspect of restaurants, theaters, and shops.... Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.'"

This is from The Wise Man and the Dummy, an article about Ronald Reagan by Dinesh D'Souza. In the title, Reagan is the "dummy".
BigWhale said…
> The fact that Microsoft has a
> large market share today is a
> fluke. It is a fluke to which
> Microsoft skillfully contributed,
> but it isn't necessarily a fluke
> that will last on its own.

A fluke? No. Most certainly not. It is the result of a strategy that was well planned and skillfully closed up. There were probably some lucky coincidences involved, but aggressive marketing, some industrial pushing. Include some government pressure (and there was such pressure, even here in Slovenia) and the result can be pretty obvious. Microsoft started its dominance in the late eighties.

Microsoft used its market leverage at least twice. First with the browser, second with media player. And lets be honest both of them are really not the next best thing after sliced bread.

> But the issue is, you see, for
> most consumers and particulary in
> business environments, Microsoft
> is doing a pretty good job
> providing solutions that
> businesses actually need.

Microsoft does a pretty good job at preventing current users to switch to other products. Thats why we need interoperability, open protocols and open standards. Even here in such a third world country as Slovenia is, users can nowadays pick their own ISP. Cell phone provider, lately even natural gas and electricity provider (not sure if this is finalized already but it will be soon).

Microsoft pretty much tied their users to their products. Which by itself is not such a bad thing, but in effect it translates to: Microsoft owns your data. You don't want to use Microsoft? Fine. Since you have it in our own proprietary format, you can't read it with other products.

If you decide and stop using their products at some point, you are pretty much without all the support in case you get into trouble with some of your old data.

> There may be migration costs, but
> if the competitors get
> substantially better, people will
> migrate.

No, they will not. Users are by a definition very resilient and tolerating. If this wouldn't be their major property ALL software companies would simply cease to exist. Software companies did pretty well with 'training' their users. Computers and computer programs simply make mistakes. This is how they are made. Take them or leave them. :) If you ever worked in development and I am sure you did, then you know that. Users will adopt to the nastiest bugs under the sun.

Migrations are rare things among the users.

> Abusing a monopoly means having a
> crappy product or service and
> foisting it on the customer while
> denying them access to
> already-existing better goods.

This was pretty much the case with Internet Explorer 2 & 3.

I'm sure that you still remember Internet Explorer 1 around the year 1995 when Microsoft realized that there might be a future in TCP/IP. :)

Those were NOT better than competition.

> Just like we have to live with
> SMTP, HTTP and HTML today - all
> of which are protocols which have
> severely outlived their initial
> design requirements

And both SMTP and HTTP protocols got updated and upgraded. The very same happened with HTML language.

Remember Kerberos? It was a 'standard' too. Then Microsoft thought it would be a good thing if they would use it. And they did and they upgraded it a little bit. Given its BSD license they even closed it in their own product. Locking out everyone that tried talking to their 'kerberos server'.

> Instead of the future of software
> being decided by smart people
> running software companies, it
> will now be ever more decided by
> European Union bureaucrats.

Oh joy! Did you ever look at the US patent office? They make EU 'paper munchers' look like puppets. ;)

I'm sure you're against software patents too, aren't you? :)
BigWhale said…
Slightly off topic, but anyway:

> I would say that Windows is the
> system you are less familiar
> with, and you are looking at it
> from a very Linux-based
> perspective, which seems to make
> you liable to seeing bad things
> that don't exist and failing to
> see good things that do exist.

My case is a little bit different. I did some of my professional development on various Unices and Windows. And I have experiences with lots of different platforms, from the user perspective, developer perspective and administrator perspective. I've seen 'the best of the both worlds'. Honestly I was looking forward on Vista. But it pretty much disappointed me, since most of the things that were thrown out I was looking forward to. Shame. I'm crossing my fingers for next few service packs. :)


> Would you say I'm incorrect?

In my case, you are pretty wrong, yes. :) But I am not ditching windows at every corner. I do that where they suck. ;)

But this is not the topic here.
denis bider said…
A fluke? No. Most certainly not. It is the result of a strategy that was well planned and skillfully closed up. There were probably some lucky coincidences involved, but aggressive marketing, some industrial pushing. Include some government pressure (and there was such pressure, even here in Slovenia) and the result can be pretty obvious. Microsoft started its dominance in the late eighties.

Yes, I agree, the success was well-planned. But they would not have succeeded if they didn't address crucial customer issues that other OS vendors did not. Fluke was a bad choice of word, but I meant to convey by this is that the Microsoft monopoly can be undone just like it happened, and that it is going to happen if Microsoft starts failing to address customer expectations. Of course, we can also make the monopoly go away by intentionally crippling the company, which is what the EU is doing. But this is the wrong thing and it actually hurts customers because that is crippling competition. The EU is giving an unfair edge to all the inferior companies which cannot compete with MS on their own. Instead of forcing the competitors to make a product superior to Windows, the EU is hobbling MS so that others can compete even if they don't have a superior solution. That's unfair to MS shareholders and it's not what would have happened on the market on its own. That's a bad thing.

I don't believe that lead dogs in the race should be shot in the leg if they get too much advantage on everyone else. I believe the lead dogs in the race should win. When the dog gets old and tired, it will start losing again. But while it's the best and healthy, you should not be shooting him in the leg just to give others the chance to gain on him.


Microsoft used its market leverage at least twice. First with the browser, second with media player. And lets be honest both of them are really not the next best thing after sliced bread.

You are using bad examples. Microsoft did other things that were much worse, such as leveraging its market share to try to prevent hardware vendors from bundling operating systems other than Windows. That was really harmful. But the browser and the media player, sorry, these are made up issues that actually don't exist.

If IE and WMP are not the best things after sliced bread, who is forcing you to use them?


Microsoft pretty much tied their users to their products. Which by itself is not such a bad thing, but in effect it translates to: Microsoft owns your data. You don't want to use Microsoft? Fine. Since you have it in our own proprietary format, you can't read it with other products.

That is simply incorrect! A whole industry exists which specializes in reading and converting Microsoft's proprietary data formats. Converting data from DOC and XLS to something else is not an industry problem at all!

What the EU is actually forcing MS to do is to open up its protocols so that Windows can work with another domain controller. That's a different thing altogether. It's forcing a company to help its competitors so that they can mooch off of its market share. That's fundamentally unfair.


No, they will not. Users are by a definition very resilient and tolerating. If this wouldn't be their major property ALL software companies would simply cease to exist. Software companies did pretty well with 'training' their users. Computers and computer programs simply make mistakes. This is how they are made. Take them or leave them. :) If you ever worked in development and I am sure you did, then you know that. Users will adopt to the nastiest bugs under the sun.

Heh. :) You are very much confusing two different worlds of development. In custom development, bug rates are indeed high and customers just have to be resilient to them as you described. In shrinkwrap software, this is not at all the case. A shrinkwrap software product will not sell unless it's polished, well-tested and for the most part bug free. I have a little bit of experience in this regard, trust me.


I'm sure that you still remember Internet Explorer 1 around the year 1995 when Microsoft realized that there might be a future in TCP/IP. :) Those were NOT better than competition.

Which is exactly why no one used them! As far as I can remember, everyone at that time used Netscape. Only when the IE browser became as good or better, people started using IE. Which confirms what I was saying.


And both SMTP and HTTP protocols got updated and upgraded. The very same happened with HTML language.

Come on. You can't really believe that SMTP is "updated and upgraded". Spam, anyone? That's an architectural problem with SMTP that won't be resolved any time soon. All solutions we have for spam right now are stop-gap measures.

HTML is a crappy mixture of technologies - with all of its various extensions, it's one of the ugliest and least reliable presentation technologies to have existed under the same. HTML is definitely crappy.

HTTP is perhaps the least defective of the lot.


Remember Kerberos? It was a 'standard' too. Then Microsoft thought it would be a good thing if they would use it. And they did and they upgraded it a little bit. Given its BSD license they even closed it in their own product. Locking out everyone that tried talking to their 'kerberos server'.

I thought that's what you had in mind.


Oh joy! Did you ever look at the US patent office? They make EU 'paper munchers' look like puppets. ;) I'm sure you're against software patents too, aren't you? :)

ABSOLUTELY! Why would I not be? That's the worst mismanaged pile of government garbage that (1) has no use to small software companies, and (2) is only ever used in destructive ways, normally to suppress competition and to extort money from successful companies. The Blackberry settlement was just the clearest, wildest example of that.
W^L+ said…
It seems to me that your experience in administering Windows is similar to my experience in administering Linux. In both cases, we have way more experience with one that other, so we're less comfortable with the system that's less familiar to us.

I would say that Windows is the system you are less familiar with, and you are looking at it from a very Linux-based perspective, which seems to make you liable to seeing bad things that don't exist and failing to see good things that do exist.


You would be wrong to say that. I am more familiar with Windows, because in a normal sixteen hour day, at least eleven of those hours are spent with Windows and I might get two or three hours with Linux, BSD, or something else.

Besides that, I get to be the go-to guy for setting up printers, WiFi networks, and scanners whenever I'm home. I have clients all over Southern California, including some that will wait three to six months for me while I'm on an assignment on the East coast. Thankfully, I did get out of doing spyware cleanups by turning down additional customers. (I have one left, a small company over 100 miles away with twelve highly-contaminated XP Pro SP2 machines on a T-1 connection. They pay enough to make the commute worthwhile.)

You are confusing innovation with invention. I would not necessarily say that Microsoft is big at inventing new things, but taking existing ideas and implementing them in a professional manner is a useful innovation, and this is what Microsoft's business is built on.

No, they take already implemented ideas and make incompatible changes, then include them in the OS, so that the competitive product is disadvantaged. Not only the competitor, but consumers that have invested in the products of that competitor are disadvantaged by this tactic. That's what the antitrust cases are about.

Certainly, but that doesn't mean that (1) Microsoft's defeat of Netscape wasn't fair and square: Netscape actually had the inferior browser!, and (2) that if a company has been able to defeat competitors, it should be artificially penalized so that the inept competitors are able to catch up.

You can't really think that was the reason for the changeover. The reason for the changeover was that IE4 and later was bundled in Win95 OSR2 and later, so end-users did not have to order a CD or download a 30MB file over dial-up. That meant that only those users that were seriously committed to NS4 would make the effort. Then Netscape decided to skip version 5 and do a complete rewrite, so that even those users who were committed couldn't get a modern version until NS6. By that time, they were part of AOL (which had 40% of the Internet's users in the US), but AOL decided not to change its browser to a NS-based product. AOL testified in court that it did this because MSFT had threatened to hurt their Internet service if it defaulted to a Netscape-based browser.

Again, from a user's perspective, both NS4 and IE4/5 stunk, but NS4 was more familiar for most already existing Internet users. It was mostly the bundling (and AOL situation) that made the difference.

Don't get me wrong. Having used the ribbon interface on Office 2007 a little bit, I can see where there are some improvements. It still hides functions that users want if they aren't frequently used, but it is more intuitive than Office 2003's menu and toolbar interface. I believe in heaping praise where it is deserved.

The Vista security improvements: do you mean the graphical version of sudo, except more annoying? It is a poor implementation of something that nearly everyone else has had for years. This is one instance where those Mac commercials got it right.

Look. I want Microsoft to be a strong competitor for my dollars and my employer's dollars. I just want them to compete fairly, so that I and they can choose based on perceived costs and benefits. Currently, many enterprises go with Microsoft because they feel they have no choice. Many home users buy Microsoft because that's what the stores sell. Let Microsoft obey the law, so that whomever has the best product at the best price will get the sale.

You claim to support free enterprise. If so, support fair competition instead of welfare for big business. If their products really are good, they will still prosper under fair competition. If their products stink, they will not prosper any longer.

I do appreciate that you've been willing to have this conversation. That is to your credit. I just hope that MSFT doesn't decide to compete with your company's products the same way they compete with everyone else.

Best wishes.
denis bider said…
I am more familiar with Windows, because in a normal sixteen hour day, at least eleven of those hours are spent with Windows and I might get two or three hours with Linux, BSD, or something else.

Okay. Then I was wrong to interpret your disillusionment with Windows as being due to lack of exposure.

Perhaps, however, it is because of too much exposure in all the wrong ways. I'm certain your exposure to Linux doesn't involve you having to remove malware from naive users machines all day. Not because Linux is more secure, but because less malware is targeted for desktops running Linux, and there are few naive users of Linux.

Perhaps I have a better view of Windows because, although I work with Windows every day, my job doesn't involve me being exposed to malware-infested machines.

I can imagine the frustration arising from having to deal with that kind of crap every day. But it's not strictly a Windows issue, it is an issue with all modern operating systems and their fundamental designs. If anything, I think Microsoft is a step forward in this regard with Windows Vista. It's not Microsoft's fault that it makes commercial sense for criminals to target Windows.


The Vista security improvements: do you mean the graphical version of sudo, except more annoying?

It's the only secure way to implement user prompting. I use it and would not recommend anyone to disable it.

As someone who understands what it is for, I don't at all find it annoying.

The alternative to UAC is a fundamental redesign of the whole operating system. Not possible with keeping backwards compatibility.


No, they take already implemented ideas and make incompatible changes, then include them in the OS, so that the competitive product is disadvantaged. Not only the competitor, but consumers that have invested in the products of that competitor are disadvantaged by this tactic. That's what the antitrust cases are about.

I don't see how Kerberos users are disadvantaged if Microsoft, who previously didn't have Kerberos, now implements Kerberos but in an incompatible way. So what? What if Microsoft chose to implement some other protocol entirely, instead of Kerberos?

I think you're failing to distinguish between "disadvantaged" and "not advantaged". Microsoft is free to implement whatever protocol they like. Customers are free to choose whatever products they feel serve them. Non-Microsoft Kerberos users are no worse off than they were before Microsoft implemented their own version of Kerberos in the first place.


You can't really think that was the reason for the changeover. The reason for the changeover was that IE4 and later was bundled in Win95 OSR2 and later, so end-users did not have to order a CD or download a 30MB file over dial-up. That meant that only those users that were seriously committed to NS4 would make the effort.

I remember the times of Netscape 4 and IE 3 and IE 4 quite clearly. I recall how crappy and buggy Netscape 4 was, in various respects, and how IE 4 was simply more capable, more stable, and better.

Microsoft is not responsible for Netscape's decision to rewrite everything. Is it?

And finally, again, Microsoft didn't kill the browser market. Today you have IE7, you have Firefox, you have Opera, you even have Safari on Windows. All of these are available for free, and these browsers of today are much superior compared to what we had in 2000 when Microsoft supposedly ended the browser market by "killing" Netscape.

Now, can you explain how all this rich and free customer choice today is a fault of Microsoft, again? Cause all I've heard so far is how Microsoft supposedly killed the browser market and made things bad for the end users. And yet, evidence shows that this does not today appear to be the case. Care to explain?

Same thing with Windows Media Player. If Microsoft killed the media player market, would you care to explain for me, again, how come that I use iTunes for my MP3s, how come that I use BSPlayer for my DVDs, and how come that Nullsoft still exists. With this rich selection of media players available to most users for free, would you care to explain, again, how you, the end consumer, are being hurt by Microsoft's bundling of Media Player with Windows?

Unless the problem here is that it is actually you, not me, who is arguing in favor of welfare for companies. If Microsoft didn't decide to bundle Windows with IE and WMP, then who knows, today we might all still have to pay for our web browsers and media players. Perhaps Netscape would still exist as a company; perhaps they would even still charge a license fee.

Likewise for media players. If there wasn't for WMP, perhaps Real Player would be the major thing around, and they would still be charging a license fee. Perhaps much fewer people would today be looking at YouTube, browsing the net and the world's internet economy would be that much smaller.

Perhaps you would prefer such a world. But what you're really arguing against is not that Microsoft destroyed competitors, because it didn't. What you're arguing against is that Microsoft commoditized these markets and profits more difficult to come by for companies still in the browser and media player business. These companies still exist, but if it wasn't for Microsoft's entry, the commoditization would be slower to occur, and perhaps today we would all still be paying license fees for that software, and perhaps there would be less users, and perhaps the internet economy would be smaller.

But that doesn't matter to you, does it, because what you really care about is that Microsoft commoditized these markets "prematurely", taking away the profits enjoyed by the existing encumbents, and that's what you really care about, regardless of the value for the end users.

What you're really arguing for, my friend, is protectionism for companies that previously ruled these markets.

In other words, my friend, I'm the one who's in favor of competition here; whereas you, yourself, are supporting welfare for existing market incumbents.


I want Microsoft to be a strong competitor for my dollars and my employer's dollars. I just want them to compete fairly, so that I and they can choose based on perceived costs and benefits.

Then argue against marketing practices like wholesale contracts that force exclusion of competitors products. Don't argue against product development and improvement, which is what IE and WMP represent. Don't argue against secrecy of protocols, because that's part of Microsoft's copyright and they're entitled to do it like that.

You can opt for the products of another, more open competitor, if you so desire.

Competitor does not exist? Well, you can't will it into being by legislative action against Microsoft. Or maybe you can - but it's not fair, and it's not economically productive.


Currently, many enterprises go with Microsoft because they feel they have no choice.

But what other operating system actually exists that can address the needs of corporations? Is there a competitor that offers the equivalent of the Windows domain model? Do they offer an interface that is as polished as Windows? Are they as reliable as Windows? Do they support all the hardware Windows supports?

No? No such competitor?

Well, maybe then Windows actually is a very reasonable enterprise choice.


Many home users buy Microsoft because that's what the stores sell.

Or is it because Linux is more difficult to install, more clunky to use, and Apples are twice as expensive?

You think people wouldn't buy more Apples if they were half the price?

Well then, maybe Windows actually is a sensible choice for consumers then, given the options.


Let Microsoft obey the law, so that whomever has the best product at the best price will get the sale.

Exactly!


I just hope that MSFT doesn't decide to compete with your company's products the same way they compete with everyone else.

Why would you hope that? If they choose to bundle SSH with Windows, that will make everyone better off. Just a few of us who currently make a living from it will have to find jobs doing something else.

We're well-qualified. We can do that.
boris kolar said…
User Access Control is a nice idea, but terribly implemented. I turn it off and recommend everyone to do the same: use separate limited account for normal usage and use administrator account only when necessary.

What is most annoying about UAC is the fact that it requires users to grant administrative privileges even to processes that would successfully install under limited account. Also, it doesn't provide any details what kind of action user is actually approving. Users are basically given two choices: abort installation or allow the program to do anything. Not much of a choice, is it?
denis bider said…
I use UAC and would recommend everyone to do the same, unless they are willing to accept an even greater inconvenience of using a limited account as you suggested.

Of course UAC has the disadvantages that you describe, but in my opinion it strikes a reasonable compromise given the options available. Of course the best solution would have been to have a security-minded OS design 15 years ago to begin with, but that's how things are right now.

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