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Courtroom shock: Internet Explorer bites!

The DoJ's toothmarked expert takes to parable to explain componentisation

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DoJ computer software expert witness can't uninstall Internet Explorer. And what's more, he says, it bites. David Farber of the University of Pennsylvania today described his efforts to deinstall IE and replace it with Netscape Navigator, and said that even with his expertise he found it difficult. "Internet Explorer would come up and bite me and say, 'I'm here!'" he said in cross-examination. Of course the import of this rather depends on what bits of IE kept biting him. As Microsoft says, the browser is now integrated in the OS, so you'd expect bits to bite if you tried to rip it out. But as Microsoft also says, users are perfectly free to run rival browsers if they want - a strange pair of viewpoints to hold in your head at the same time. Farber's knockabout illustration however was intended to get over a serious and valid point. He compared software components to items in a shopping bag which should naturally be selected by the consumer, not a single supplier. Microsoft produces various products that could go into the bag, but increasingly it's providing a whole, 'integrated' package. "It would be better if I could break open that grocery bag and throw away the things I don't want," he said. "Give me access to the modules and let me choose among them." Judge Jackson is showing signs of being something of a swot when it comes to technology, so this heroic attempt to explain component software models by parable may not be entirely lost on him. It seemed largely lost on Microsoft attorney Steve Holley, who snorted that in that case Microsoft would need to produce 10,000 versions of Windows. But that's to be expected. Farber is basically suggesting Microsoft tear Windows and Office (Oh yes…) apart and turn them into plug and play modules. That naturally goes alongside opening up APIs sufficiently to allow other people's modules to plug into them, and with going open source to at least some extent with Windows. Microsoft's model (innovate, integrate, incorporate, as the company used to say) presupposes Microsoft as being the definer of standards, and the integration process moving the line that defines Microsoft's turf progressively out from the centre. Farber is effectively suggesting that this line be rolled back by opening up competition within the current circle. How far back, one wonders? It's obviously a recommendation Microsoft would never take up voluntarily, so one can understand Holley's response that these are the musings of an academic, and not grounded in commercial reality. But componentisation by fiat might start to cross Judge Jackson's mind as a possible remedy. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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