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MS is balkanising Windows, says Be's Gassee

File formats a go-go are sucking users into Redmond's clutches

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MS Remedies Speaking at Ralph Nader's Microsoft remedies conference, Jean Louis Gassee, CEO of Be (a developer of an alternative operating system to Windows), started by praising Microsoft for its achievements, but went on to add that "power corrupts, and monopoly power corrupts absolutely". Although Microsoft claims it wants to innovate, in reality it wants to prevent innovation, to protect its monopoly position, he said. Microsoft is bringing about the Balkanisation of Windows. Gassee criticised Microsoft's licensing practices for Windows, where optimal prices could only be obtained by OEMs (through rebates) if the OEM did not displease Microsoft in any way, such as by installing competitive software. Gassee said he had seen grown men quake when threatened by Microsoft. Microsoft was a monopoly, Gassee said, but for PC OEMs, if Microsoft said a thumb pointing down was pointing up, so be it. Microsoft's strategy, Gassee noted, was one of "no crack in the wall", lest the water get in and begins to weaken it. Turning to his own operating system, Gassee said that it took less time to launch BeOS (18 seconds) than to launch Outlook Express (30 seconds), so switching operating systems in a dual boot arrangement was realistic. As for browser integration, Gassee thought that the argument was "passee, as you say in English". What Microsoft had done recently was to add a new wing to the Roach Motel: file formats. "Windows begat Internet Explorer; Explorer begat a dialect of HTML, which is proprietary to Microsoft, so if your server does not speak that dialect of HTML, there's a problem". With Office 2000, the file format is also a variety of HTML -- another way for Microsoft to control standards. Gassee noted in an aside that French academics complain that Americans exert control through three tokens: the language (at least, the American variety of it); Walt Disney; and the almighty dollar. So far as remedies were concerned, Gassee suggested that Microsoft's OEM contract prices should not be secret. He added that if Microsoft was forced to form Baby Bills, he would buy Microsoft stock. There will be a need for regulation, Gassee concluded. In the opinion of Ed Black, President of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, Microsoft did not accidentally stray over antitrust boundaries: it was wilfully planned by senior executives, permeated the highest levels, and Microsoft's conduct was flagrantly illegal. He thought it to be important that any remedy ensured that Microsoft did not have to be taken to court again and again by the DoJ. Black thought it to be important that detailed conduct remedies must address the problems systematically, and that Microsoft was unlikely to alter its present behaviour patterns. The endgame should be not just to hurt Microsoft, but to create a dynamic industry with open standards, and not distorted by monopoly. Ted Johnson, co-founder and vp of Visio, was another Microsoft-proposed speaker. Bravely, he had even developed software for Windows 1.0. He thought that it was inappropriate to be discussing remedies before a guilty verdict, and presented a mock court order that would isolate the operation of Microsoft products from all other products: "a Microsoft OS can only run Microsoft applications" or "Microsoft servers can only serve web sites approved by Microsoft", for example. The irony, missed by Johnson, was that this was Microsoft policy: to develop a Microsoft-only world. There is an increasing number of Microsoft products where interoperation is deliberately made impossible. He also observed that the hot standards were Internet ones, and that these were being developed with support from Microsoft through W3C [but he seemed to rely on not being challenged about what Microsoft was doing to subvert the process, all in the name of "driving the standard"]. In the miscellaneous facts department, Johnson noted that the documentation for Windows 2000 would consist of a stack of paper 125 feet high. Johnson managed to negate an argument from Lebowitz, since he said that the cost of supporting Windows 3.x, where Microsoft was competing with itself rather than operating in a court-imposed regime, was higher than Lebowitz had suggested. ®

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