No longer cowed by the feds, the colossus of Redmond returns to business as usual.
Any day now, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will rule on whether Microsoft should be broken up per Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s orders. No one is absolutely sure what will happen, but when one takes into account this court’s well-established antipathy to antitrust enforcement, and considers the tart, aggressive questioning the appellate judges tortured Department of Justice prosecutors with earlier this spring, the smart money is on Microsoft.
Certainly, Microsoft’s own recent behavior suggests that confidence is brimming over in Redmond. According to Fortune magazine, Bill Gates has a new spring in his step, and CEO Steve Ballmer is happily back on the warpath. Indeed, virtually everything these men are saying and doing right now demonstrates exactly why Microsoft got itself into trouble with the feds in the first place.
It seems, at the very least, that the DOJ should add an appendix to its brief against Microsoft. Wait, make that three appendixes — one for each new instance of Microsoftian arrogance on the rise. There could be no better examples of how sure Microsoft is that it will get off with little more than a slap on the wrist. There’s the company’s newly aggressive stance against open-source software; its battle with America Online over instant messaging and control of the Windows desktop; and the pricing plans and piracy-fighting protections built into the new Windows/Office XP. Microsoft, it seems, has learned nothing from its travails except that it can get away with anything.
Exhibit A: The war on cancer
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on June 1, Ballmer called Linux a “cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.”
And as if that wasn’t inflammatory enough, the Microsoft CEO also provided the software world with an interpretation of the role of government in the software marketplace that can only be described as pure Orwellian doublespeak:
“The only thing we have a problem with is when the government funds open-source work,” said Ballmer. “Government funding should be for work that is available to everybody. Open source is not available to commercial companies. The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source.”
So it’s OK if the federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing Microsoft software for use in its many departments, even though the source code to that software is locked up by patents and copyright restrictions and everything else Microsoft lawyers can think of — but the government can’t fund software that is truly designed to be accessible to the general public.
The line “if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source” is staggeringly misleading. Yes, it is true that there is a vigorous debate within the software programming community over exactly how proprietary software and free software can be “integrated.” It’s a complex question with intricacies that have never been hammered out in front of a judge, so no one really knows the answer.
But Microsoft doesn’t seem to notice that even the free-software GPL (general public license) that it is so intent on demonizing has an alternative — the LGPL, specifically designed to assuage the concerns of precisely those commercial interests wary of what they can or cannot do with software that has been protected with the more rigorous GPL. And then there are scores of other licenses that let you do anything you want.
But even if the most venomous interpretation of the GPL is true, there’s a very simple answer for companies like Microsoft, fearful of entanglement with the stain of free software: Don’t turn to open-source software at all — instead, innovate, like Microsoft’s marketing literature says. Strictly written free-software licenses aren’t designed to make it difficult for commercial software companies to do business; they’re designed to prevent corporations from profiting off of the freely donated labor of programmers without giving anything back.
Exhibit B: Mud-wrestling with AOL
It’s not easy to pick a fan favorite in the AOL-Microsoft tussle. AOL wants its software included in Windows XP. But it also doesn’t want Microsoft bundling Microsoft’s instant messaging software in XP. Microsoft, meanwhile, wants people to only have the option of signing up with MSN when they boot up new computers, and if there’s a useful piece of software out there that they can integrate into their operating system, well, bring it on.
Oh, the joys of “integration.” When prevented from integrating with GPL’ed free software, Microsoft calls it a cancer. But when questioned about its habits of wiping out competing companies by making versions of their products and then including them for free in its operating system, that’s praiseworthy “innovation.”
The spat with AOL would be only so much déjà vu posturing between two giant conglomerates if there weren’t so much at stake. For years observers of Microsoft’s MSN have called it an also-ran or worse. But if MSN is the default Internet service provider for Microsoft Windows machines, and AOL users are forced to install from a CD-ROM, then it’s not hard to imagine Microsoft doing to AOL what it did to Netscape. It’s the same principle, the same desktop, the same leveraging of monopoly power. And this time around, if the appellate court lets Microsoft off the hook, there will be nothing to stop Microsoft from further leveraging that power at every opportunity.
Exhibit C: XP, the eternal cash register
Oh, the wonders of XP — the next version of the Windows operating system, due for release this fall. Business users will be forced to upgrade more often, at higher prices. Regular old users better not change the hardware on their machines, or they’ll have to reregister online with Microsoft, which will thus be able to keep tabs on their every computerized move. And in an added benefit for the consumer, XP comes with all kinds of newfangled copy protection, sure to fill Windows users with glee.
From a distance, one has to wonder how Microsoft’s plans to turn its software products into subscription offerings are going to go over with consumers. How are our lives enhanced by making it more difficult to install and run software that we’ve purchased on the different computers that we own? Could there really be a new, improved form of copy protection that doesn’t end up alienating and infuriating us?
But wait — maybe XP actually does offer hope for a better, freer future. Imagine what will happen if XP makes software piracy impossible, or at the least much more difficult. What happens next? All those people who can’t afford Microsoft software will be forced to look for lower-cost (or free) alternatives, which can only boost the development of those alternatives. In its obsession with piracy, Microsoft may well be creating a market for its competition.
No wonder Microsoft has taken off the gloves with respect to free software. The federal government is no longer a threat, nor are any commercial software companies. So, suddenly, Linux is a cancer.
Microsoft triumphant, again.
More Related Stories
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Marc Maron on Twitter feud with Michael Ian Black: "We have an understanding"
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
- The camp-free "Behind the Candelabra"
- Justin Bieber will destroy you if you live-tweet his parties
- "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis to jury: "You should be euthanized"
- Ai Weiwei releases heavy metal music video
- Actually, Beyoncé is a feminist
- Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black's epic Twitter battle
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
- Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" to use porn star body doubles
- New Beyoncé single leaked
- The sweet, sure to be short-lived "The Goodwin Games"
- Damon Lindelof admits barely-clothed scene in "Star Trek" was "gratuitous"
- Justin Timberlake: I'm a mediocre folk singer!
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11