Microsoft, Vista and Competition

One thing that seems to have almost slipped under the radar lately is a set of new statements from Microsoft regarding competition policy and how it will be adopted within the company. While many will have a cynical view that this is all just about keeping the lawyers at bay for a while, I feel it’s a refreshing change to see these sorts of principles spelled out in some detail. It means that those that deal with the company on a daily basis can help keep them on their toes in relation to their own stated policies. The new policy is designed to work from Vista onwards.

Brad Smith (who is also a Senior Vice President and corporate secretary at Microsoft) is the General Counsel for the company. In a speech at the National Press Club on July 19th, he spelled out how this should work. I was interested to see that he said he felt 2007 would be a watershed year for the company and that he thought it was important to be quite transparent on these plans and to make them very public.

He acknowledged the special position the company has in the worldwide IT community regarding operating systems and says the company needs to be principled and transparent, when dealing with system builders, developers and end users.

I was particularly interested in the commitments to developers:

The first was to publish details of all relevant APIs, particularly to middleware in the operating system, to enable others to build onto Windows as easily as Microsoft themselves do.

The second that Microsoft Live would continue to be separate from the operating system and not required.

The third is that Microsoft will help keep the Internet free and open and not use its position to block access to others by end-users.

The fourth is that they will not enter into contracts that are Microsoft-exclusive. Developers are to be free to develop, support and promote products that compete with any part of the Microsoft operating system.

I like the direction that this is taking. I’d like to see it taken further though. A couple of extra things I’d like to see are:

1. Developers should have confidence in the stability of the platform. (The recent announcement that the MSDE would not be supported on Vista is an example of where I think this has fallen down. The MSDE was a current product last year. ISV’s that have built their products around it shouldn’t be now worried that their products won’t run on Vista only a year later).

2. Microsoft Learning should also have the exclusive contract promises applied to them. Currently, CPLS’s (training partners) are required to use Microsoft products exclusively when one exists. This means that they are not free to offer better training materials that might exist in the market and it stifles the development of good courseware.

Overall though, I really like the direction these statements are taking.