Saturday, November 08, 2003

Microsoft: Back to it's old tricks?

Microsoft: Back to its old ways?

By Martin LaMonica , CNET

A fair and balanced article if ever there was one, and put out by Cnet no less. The article discusses the recent Longhorn and Office System 2003 announcements from Microsoft, asking the question if this is just another round of Microsoft's quest to ruthlessly crush any and all chance of competition while ratcheting up user and developer dependence, strapping them for years to come to the highly profitable upgrade treadmill.

I had two posts in the talkback section of the article. The first post (see “Fair and Balanced” below) points out that we don't have to wait for Longhorn. The effort to lock in future generations of users has begun with Office System 2003. The second post focuses on comments made by a Microsoft shill known as “no_ax_to_grind”.

“no_ax_to_grind” is said to be a key Microsoft engineer working on the Longhorn development team. He's taken the company line of defending everything by saying, “let the consumers decide”. It's his answer to everything.

The problem is that in most cases the consumer doesn't have a clear, unencumbered choice. So i challenge Axe to first level the playing field. Let the competition have an equal shot at providing for the consumers needs. Then we'll see how much they truly do appreciate paying Microsoft for the privilege of long term serfdom.

Axe, you're grinding again:

<Axe> “Bottom line, let the market place sort out the winner instead of a committee in a smoke filled back room somewhere. Let me put that differently, the consumer WILL be the one to establish the acceptable and most favored "standard" and anyone that doesn't understand that is fooling themselves. <..../Axe>

Axe, your grinding again. Open Source Communities, OASIS, and the W3C hardly qualify as smoke filled back rooms where the future of mankind is secretly plotted. What they do plot is highly transparent, royalty free, patent free, openly accessible standards proposals designed for global levels of participation. I think you may have confused your smoked filled back rooms Axe with what goes on in Redmond.

I have a challenge for you Axe. You sound as though you're willing to put your faith in the choice of consumers. If the marketplace of operating systems and applications were truly open, offering a level playing field for all competitors, i would agree with you. But that's not the case. Microsoft stands convicted of having used illegal means to both attain their monopoly, and maintain their monopoly.

The anti trust trial revealed a corporate culture based on some of the most reprehensible business practices known. In 1989, as the hype for the Windows 3.0 release began to gather steam, no one knew what the eventual cost of buying into the Windows platform would be. We saw an open hardware reference platform that would solve some truly knarly developer problems. Hardware vendors saw a level playing field where the faster, better, cheaper products would prevail. With the promise of an open Windows API, developers saw a level GUI application playing field being built upon a commoditized but vibrantly competitive hardware platform. Users, developers and hardware vendors alike bought into the critical mass promise of Windows.

What we didn't buy into the outright lies, deceits, deceptions, and reprehensible business practices that resulted in a monopoly where both our information and our information processes are under the thumb of a singe vendor.

Be that as it may, there is still a rather simple way to level the playing the field without resorting to the courts. Open the Win32 API.

In the past few weeks Microsoft has held the world's attention in rapture as they demonstrated the wondrous virtues of Office System and Longhorn. Clearly they are telling developers that the Win 32 API has reached the end of the line, to be replaced by a new programming model, the .NET API. Of course, to maintain backward compatibility, XP will run Win32 applications. But all support, security patches, and licensing for both the Win9x platform and the store of legacy Win32 applications bound to that platform, will cease.

It's been estimated (USAToday) that there are over 400 million Win9x users. It's also been estimated that there is less than 50 million XP installs. It's also clear that Microsoft has discontinued all support for the Win9x platform except to assist in the acceleration of migrating the great Win9x herd to XP.

Upwards of 95% of all desktop users are at a critical moment of choice. Do they cross that XP line? Or, do they make the leap to an alternative platform such as Linux or OSX?

My contention is that if the legacy of business critical Win32 applications, (and the legacy investments in Win32 applications in general), could easily be ported to other platforms, then the great herd of Win9x users would have a clear, unimpeded choice. A choice based on the appreciation of competitive platform features. A choice based on appreciation for the organizations, methods and business practices of those who stand behind each platform. A choice based on the future vision of each platform provider.

In short Axe, a choice based on a level playing field.

Open up the Win32 API, including the secret system calls Microsoft so ruthlessly used to crush their competition, and i don't care what kind of lock in you do with the current XP integrated stack, and on into the Longhorn end game. I'm fully confident that if the WiNE project ever got their hands on a complete disclosure of the Win32 API, consumers would have an unencumbered choice. And we would see a free market competition for the future of computing. One where we could honestly say, let the consumers decide. Let the best platform win.

And i make this challenge knowing full well that the XP Stack is a massive lock in scheme where the os, applications, tools, developer framework, and server suites are bolted together by a cascading entanglement of interdependencies that will never ever be unwound. Open up the Win32 API and you can do whatever the hell you want with the XP Stack and Longhorn. Just give consumers a fair chance to get out from under the heavily vested legacy trap brought on by an illegal monopoly.

And i say this knowing full well that monopolies, in and of themselves, are not illegal. It's how Microsoft attained their monopoly, and how they maintained that monopoly, that was ruled “illegal”. Nevertheless, i'm willing to concede that Microsoft owns the XP platform, and all the opportunities related to that platform, from the bottom of the software stack on up through the servers, the developers framework, the connectivity and communications protocols, and beyond.

Just set the great herd of Win9x users free to chose whether they really want to go the XP integrated stack route, or opt out for an alternative. Open the Win32 API, and i'll believe your holier than thou squawk about letting consumers choose.


Fair & Balanced:

Excellent article Martin! I really appreciate the way you framed the core issues of Microsoft's latest end game strategy. However, i would argue that the effort to lock-in users and developers has already started. Longhorn is just the completion of an integrated stack model Microsoft launched with the XP generation of OS, Applications, Developer Tools, Server Suites, and the .NET framework.

In the week prior to the Longhorn PDC push, Microsoft's released the long anticipated XP Office 2003. They released the office suite as “Office System 2003”, directly targeting developers. The interesting thing about Office System is that it only runs on XP (or on W2K with service pack 3, which activates DRM and IRM), and all the new features require integrated actions with products outside the normal office productivity suite.

If users and developers want to activate all those wonderful collaborative computing features, they need to also have access to at least the core suite of XP Servers (Exchange, SharePoint, Server 2003).

There are over 400 million Win9x users. XP users number about 50 million. The push to migrate the entire herd of Win9x users has started. It will cost those Win9x users a fortune to join that next generation of collaborative computing Microsoft has reserved exclusively for the XP Stack. Where the os, applications, tools, framework, and server suites are bolted together with a cascading entanglement of interdependencies that neither developers, competitors, or the Department of Justice will never be able to unwind.

But what other choice does the great herd have?

They are trapped by critical legacy business applications and information system investments, that are in turn tied to hidden API's and proprietary file formats. Linux is ready as an OS replacement. and are leading the charge of alternative cross platform productivity applications and developer tools. But the WiNE Project is not quite ready to crack the single greatest issue keeping the great herd of 400 million Win9x users tied to the Redmond mothership.

If the DOJ was to do one thing to restore competition, it would be to open up the Win 32 API so that legacy of heavily vested and critically important Win32 API applications could be ported to WiNE.

So while it's great that you point out in such a fair and balanced article the pitfalls and benefits of Longhorn, let's not lose sight of the fact that Batan march has already begun.


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