Microsoft, self-appointed guardian of the crown jewels

by Matt Asay

I wrote on this topic earlier this week, but my post is lost in the ether(net) somewhere. I can't help but notice that Microsoft is working hard of late to shroud itself in protectionist robes of the holiest color.

First it was a battle for the sanctity of its patents. Now it's a self-righteous tirade against Google for not being protective enough of others' intellectual property. "Let me lead you into the Promised Land of IP Safety!" seems to be Microsoft's latest rallying cry.

Isn't this the same company that needed masses of US federal judges to stop it from trampling on others' rights? The same company that flaunted antitrust laws to build and maintain monopoly power so that it could tax billions of dollars into its coffers? I'm as willing to forgive and forget as the next person, but it's a bit galling to have Microsoft preaching morality and ethics to the world.

It would probably sound slightly more credible if its sanctimonious bile weren't directed at its chief competitors, open source and the Internet (Google being the 'Net's chief representative in this case). Even more so if the rocks being thrown weren't being thrown in apparent desperation.

Some of us, perhaps best put forth by Tim O'Reilly, feel that the more Microsoft seeks to "protect" the more Neanderthal it looks. It's not that respecting others' property is not important - it is. It's just that the more Microsoft and others cling to the old ways of protecting that property, the more they lock themselves out of future prosperity. I understand that it must be hard to see this when the company continues to generate money like Niagara Falls gushes water, but this is precisely the time when the company needs to be most prudent on how to manage the future.

Microsoft's way forward is to move forward, and not to greedily horde its past. It must do that to a certain extent to preserve shareholder value, but if it doesn't change, that's all it will own: shareholder interests of the past, which will drag it down to prevent it from embracing the future.


2007-03-08 14:42:01
OK, so now your post claiming Microsoft censorship has disappeared (though still in my aggregator, of course).

So, who removed that one? You? This is just strange.

A couple of points. People use the monopoly thing as a strange generalization, and I notice it here. First, it is not illegal to be a monopoly or to become one. What the antitrust laws deal with is abuse of monopoly power and other infractions (price fixing, agreements to restrain trade, dividing markets, excluding third parties, etc.)

The particular abuse of monopoly power that Microsoft has been convicted of has to do with OEM licensing arrangements and maneuvers to prevent the introduction of competitive products onto the Microsoft platform by OEMs (and also discouraging competitive platforms on OEM machines because of how licenses were sold).

There are other elements, but that is the key to it. This doesn't have much to do with IP, honoring patents and IP of others, etc., and it doesn't have much to do with Microsoft IP either. There are lots of speculations about Microsoft being agressive about their IP (especially patents), but day-to-day observation shows that Microsoft is the target, not the aggressor in this area.

Treating Microsoft prices as taxes that would not have to be paid under a different arrangement is completely speculative and not demonstrated in practice. It seems to be more hyperbole than substance. In many of these situations (e.g., when IBM was forced to unbundle software from its mainframes) where there is some sort of forced restructuring, total cost of ownership actually goes up. There may have been more competition in the IBM example, but somehow the cost to most mainframe customers went up around 5%.