Microsoft Settlement


Old Rhapsody User
This is the body of a letter which I plan to send to my state attorney general (one of the 18 involved in the Microsoft case) to express my views before they are allowed to add their input on Tuesday (November 6th, 2001) about the settlement reached by the Bush administration's Department of Justice and Microsoft. The views expressed are my opinion on the only possible solutions that could truly return the computer software industry to a competitive state.

Microsoft has worked very hard to become the apparent "only game in town" in the computer industry. When talking with others in my field (I currently work as an independent computer support technician), most are completely unaware that there are other operating systems (other than Microsoft and maybe Apple's Mac OS) that can be used for many tasks. When talking with average users (who's concerns are usually cost and productivity), most have never heard of anything else but Microsoft.

The three areas of concern:

(1) Operating system monopoly linked to Office suite monopoly
Because so many people use Microsoft Office, many people are currently force to own a copy to read documents sent to them. Microsoft does provide readers, but only for the Windows platform. A solution to this problem would be to remove control of the Office document formats from Microsoft and make them a standard that any software maker can use in creating applications. By creating a group that would watch over the formats, they can continue to be advanced as technology changes, but Microsoft's future Office products would be force to meet strict compliance with the standards. This provides other operating systems the possibility of having software that uses these standards, there by making them a reasonable alternative to running Microsoft Office on the only two operating systems Microsoft currently supports (Windows and Macintosh).

Because Microsoft is not the only software company to use document format as leverage, any and all software companies should be forced to create free cross platform readers for any software that uses a proprietary document format. The best model of this is Adobe Acrobat. The program to create and modify Acrobat (Portable Document Format, or pdf) documents is a product that can be purchased, but a reader (available for many platforms) is provided as a free download for those only wishing to view these documents.

(2) Microsoft's effort to make platform independent services Microsoft-only services (the internet and multimedia formats)
As originally envisioned and constructed, the internet was completely platform independent. If you had a computer that could connect (using TCP/IP), a browser that met the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Standards, and was able to execute Java applets, you had the ability to go anywhere and view anything without being forced to use any given platform. Microsoft has been working very hard to make it so that many services on the internet are Windows-only or Internet Explorer-only. This platform and browser dependence is designed to force people to use Microsoft or Microsoft-partner technologies. Microsoft's own Web server applications can be set up to turn away browsers that identify themselves or the platform they are running on as non-Microsoft. The internet has become more and more important to the average users experience while using computers. This effort by Microsoft to make users of non-Microsoft operating systems and non-Microsoft browsers second class citizens on the web is more damaging than any and all other tactics that Microsoft has used to date.

The only way to rectify this growing problem is to strongly enforce W3C Standards. By strongly, I mean removal of all sites on the internet that show browser or platform bias in accessing them. All multimedia should also fall under standards that are not controlled by any single software company. This can be enforced in the same way that I suggested that standard application document formats be handled. Software makers can create and sell any application to create multimedia, but must provide free cross platform viewers and/or browser plug-ins. Any multimedia format that tries to limit information on the internet should be removed until such bias is rectified.

(3) Operating system monopoly linked to pre-installation on computers
Currently the average user who wishes to buy an Intel-compatible computer is force to buy Windows with it. They have no choice, and getting a refund for the unused Windows operating system is very difficult. This is due to licensing agreements that Microsoft made with computer makers. To undo this damaging practice, I would suggest that the only computers that come with operating systems pre-installed are those made by the maker of the operating system. Examples would be Apple and the Mac OS, IBM and AIX or OS/2 Warp, Sun Microsystems and Solaris, and Silicon Graphics and Irix. If Microsoft wished to make computer hardware, they could then pre-install their own operating system. If a computer maker wished to create their own operating systems (even a version of Linux), they could then pre-install it on their systems. All others would be sold without an operating system installed. Computer resellers would have to have copies of non-Microsoft operating systems for sale next to Microsoft's operating systems with the prices clearly visible. The same should be done with office productivity suites. If a costumer buys a computer, they then can compare cost between Microsoft products (which are currently up to 5 times as expensive) to those of other companies. The choice is left to the consumer. The computer reseller should offer installation for any operating systems and office productivity software at the same cost no matter which is chosen.

It should be noted that none of the solutions recommended here remove Microsoft products from the choices the consumers would have. They are designed to increase consumers choices, and to reintroduce competitive pricing which as been absent from Microsoft's product line for many years. Also Microsoft would need to show that they have better products than other software makers instead of the current strategy (making consumers believe Microsoft is the only choice they have).

Please feel free to add your ideas, and send them to your representatives. Just because the Bush administration has signed off on this doesn't mean that the states have to.
I take it that there have been no terms yet.

I like your letter. Perhaps we could all send a similar letter to our Attorney Generals (if our states are part of the 18 state "league" )

I think one needs to address thje issue of
* instant messanging bundling in XP
* Mandatory usage of passport in XP (or nearly mandatory)

Also the fact that there are a lot of other x86 operating systems out there (that are not mentioned in this, the above letter) and that users dont know about them, or have been misinformed about them due to M$.

The openDoc standards I like.

I also agree with your letter, but I think the following should be re-worded just slightly:

"By strongly, I mean removal of all sites on the internet that show browser or platform bias in accessing them."

I think you mean all Microsoft sites that do this - the DOJ doesn't have any control globally - just within the U.S.. While there are sites all over the globe that favour 1 browser or the Windows OS, all they can do is prohibit MS from doing this in the U.S.. I also agree this is a very bad practice, especially as a professsional web designer.

I think what I was going for was influencing the organizations that currently distribute domain names to take action more then something unilateral by the US government. I remember reading on a unix news site that some European government site (I don't remember which) would only let Windows users access it. At this point, these organizations are the only thing standing between the platform independent web of the past and the .Net that Microsoft would have us all live under. Governments seem very indifferent to the subject.

I'll work on re-wording it tonight, I was going to send it tomorrow.

I hope it happens. My online bank currently shuns Mac OS X. I can only access it properly if I'm using windows or an early version of Netscape for mac. I've complained about the lack of equal access for mac users for years.. they always write back that they're "working on the problem with Apple and Microsoft" I know this isn't exactly the scenario you are talking about - but this is a site that prefers people access it through a PC/Explorer combination. Ridiculous for a web site and no reason at all it should be that way. My other online bank I can access with ease using any browser I want (128 bit of course) on any platform I want. Avoid :( accommodates mac users :)
I just can't understand the logic behind that type of stuff. I can understand security updates, but flat-out browser or platform bias doesn't make sense to me. I know that was half the reason that Microsoft developed Visual J++. It ONLY worked on Windows, but looked and acted like Java.

I hate to say it, but it seems that the internet needs some kind of group with authority to get people to follow standards. Like the whole Opera thing, it turned out that MSN com was not completely compliant with W3C standards. But at this time, no one can "force" any one into compliance. And Microsoft is big enough to work against the idea of cooperation that was at the heart of the early internet.