Jul 07, 2004

More Lawyers than Programmers...

When I received my July issue of the Communications of the ACM and saw, "More Layers than Programmers," by Michael Cusumano, I have to admit that I was not thinking Microsoft.

Think about it for a moment. We have companies, for lack of a more accurate term, like SCO that have law suits, claiming that organizations like IBM and SGI have misused their UNIXtm license (currently controlled by SCO) and have contributed some of the code to Linux. It is completely coincidence that SCO's numbers were not so impressive before this and that Microsoft seems to have something to do with this. In addition to this mega suit against IBM, SCO is also attacking various companies for Linux licenses. As a recent article states about DVD Encoding, the issue at hand is about the law and is not technological.

Then we have the patents nightmare, like the Slashdot icon for patents, the entire ridiculousness of patents, such as the GIF code being patented twice, the swing patent dating for November, 2000, and the PanIP suits over sales using textual and graphical information to match customers. I mean, two patents covering the same thing? A swing that did not exist prior to the year 2000? And how many of you have purchased something off the 'net without seeing pictures or text?

As such, I expecting an article so titled to discuss how many companies are building up their lawyer departments to combat such silliness and create their own, and how perhaps someday such organizations would have more lawyers than developers.

The article is really an interesting read. It argues that Microsoft is spending more and more time fighting legal battles, which eventually Microsoft will have more lawyers working for them than programmers, or at the very least, spend more money on lawyers. This directly correlates to less attention to the product, and as Microsoft is no longer a growth machine, they should really consider rethinking their goals.

The article highlights the requirements of the European Union decision, which requests that a version of Windows be distributed without applications such as Media Player, and to release more information about its products, which could allow other applications to run on Microsoft's platform as well as Microsoft's own applications. These two requirements seem to be quite easy to comply with, but Microsoft has vowed not to comply. It should not really be surprise, considering that Microsoft has already been involved in similar investigations and trials in the United States for similar things, such as Netscape anticompetitive conduct suit.

Shipping Windows without Media Player is just allowing other players, such as Real Networks and Apple's QuickTime, a chance to play too. Microsoft's inclusion of Internet Explorer with Windows has given Internet Explorer over 90% of global usage (although US-CERT now recommends you use another browser, and Mozilla downloads have serged). To an extent, I do not think it would make much sense to install a new seat of Windows and not have any way to access the 'net, but on the other hand, Microsoft's products are not always superior.

None the less, the point here is that there are a lot of features that Microsoft is including in their products that are ruining other organizations. For example, in Windows 95, they included HyperTerminal, which greatly improved the Windows 3.1 communications program, however, this decreased sales of others that were competing in this market. They have also done this for system tools and data compression tools; they now include a firewall and plans to provide anti-virus software.

The problem with this is that Microsoft generally includes these applications for free, which severely harms their competitors and competition. The article asks, but does not even attempt to answer, how many organizations have been affected by this type of behaviour. Microsoft insists that this is good and cheap for its customers, which it is, but what do customers really want? It would be really nice never to see an application crash again, do away with viruses, or even a free seat of Office.

An interesting point that is made in the article is that Microsoft has really made litigation very attractive. The European Union got $613 million in fines; Sun got $1.9 billion over Java, Intertrust got $440 million over DRM software, AOL got $750 million over Netscape, and the list surely goes on.

But Micheal Cusumano's point in all of this is that the market should decide the future of Microsoft, not the courts. In the light of so many competitive solutions like Linux and OpenOffice, we have alternatives to Microsoft's buggy software, and by the looks of their Get The Facts Tour, it seems that Microsoft is already concerned of these.

Although significantly different than I was expecting, this article is a good read. Enjoy.

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