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How Web 2.0 evangelists make the Microsoft monopoly stronger

Delusions of grandeur

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Microsoft, you'll recall, agreed to a gentle program of regulatory oversight in the US five years ago. Now that program is up for renewal, Microsoft says it doesn't need to any more oversight. Why not? Because of the software as a service revolution!

The war of words has been ongoing for some time. Marco Iansiti from Harvard Business School has been making the 2.0-case for Microsoft. Two experts, John Kwoka and Ronald Alepin, have been deployed to rebut it on behalf of the Ten States.

On November 6, both parties filed an update.

Microsoft filed a supplemental written by Iansiti: you can download it here PDF 660kb, 12pp]. It's a must-read.

"The Internet as an alternative platform is ubiquitous," he claims. Microsoft also adds that the pace of innovation since 2002 has risen - and Web 2.0 is proof.

(Yes, all those lame excuses for websites that are mercilessly lampooned by Uncov, are actually bleeding edge innovation. Fancy that! )

According to Iansiti, Google, Salesforce.com, Mozilla and Tim 2.0'Reilly's mighty army of JavaScript-typing, buzzword-spouting monkeys are all cited as proof that Microsoft doesn't need to be regulated at all.

But if Microsoft prevails, then even the small fissures opened up by the "Seattlement" may soon close the door on new opportunities, the States Fear.

"The 'Internet Platform' ... does not even exist, much less constitute for the foreseeable future a practical or viable alternative to the desktop platform," responds Alepin, in a filing made the same day.[PDF, 223kb, 32pp]

(Props to IDG's Greg Keizer -the only reporter to follow the arguments).

Such worries aren't shared by the Web 2.0 cultists however - they either don't have any worry cells in their heads, or their worry cells are fully preoccupied with persecution fantasies about the dying record industry, or telecoms companies.

These evangelists think that Microsoft is dead, dying - or at the very least, irrelevant. This utopian optimism has affected others, too. CNET blogger Matt Asay voiced similar thoughts in a recent Open Season podcast here. Listening to Matt, Microsoft belonged to a distant era, such was the magical power today of "open source". He didn't really care how it was regulated.

( This is an odd position to take. One of the small concessions Redmond was forced to make was to agree to document and license its protocols. It's a tiny crack in the monolith, and it has permitted a small number of MS-compatible open source companies to spring up. Zimbra, for example, was acquired by Yahoo! for an improbable $350m. Zimbra's is a rock-solid open source email service, but its inflated valuation is because it also offers a very limited Exchange-compatible client. )

Nor does the happy-go-lucky Digg crowd, many of whom weren't born when the first FTC investigation began in 1991.

Who are you kidding?

Not to labour the point, here are some inconvenient facts.

OS innovation has never been slower: Windows and Mac users have never had to wait longer between OS releases. They've never been unhappier, either: many users of the latest incarnations of these operating systems - Vista and Leopard - feel like abused guinea pigs. And Microsoft and Apple? Never wealthier, thank you very much.

So this is what the 2.0 revolution looks like: a concentration of power with the people who had it already. ®

Share your hallucinations with the author here, please.

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