Microsoft Principles to Promote Competition

I always cringe whenever I hear about another lawsuit aimed at Microsoft for this or that perceived anti-trust violation or unfair practices. Recent examples include the EU’s recent verdict on Microsoft’s appeal to the 2004 ruling imposing fines on Microsoft, and Adobe’s effort to force Microsoft to remove features from Office 2007 that simply add features that already exist in many other products.

As a developer, I am constantly overwhelmed with the power, capability and productivity that Microsoft puts into developers hands… all of which can be used to develop all kinds of software, including software that might compete with Microsoft’s own products. The operating system’s open-ness is also both a blessing and a curse. The biggest blight on the ease of use debate between Macs and PCs (highlighted by the recent cute and funny series of commercials by Mac) is really a direct result of the fact that Microsoft is so darned open with the OS – they will let any darn vendor provide software or hardware components for the OS that claim to work fine with Windows, and then when they don’t, people blame the OS manufacturer, not the component vendors, yet they fail to see the fact that it is the very openness of the platform that causes the problems. In the next breath, they are cursing Microsoft for trying to squash the competition by running every other company out of business.

The sad fact is that these kinds of lawsuits just hurt the consumer. For those hundreds of millions of us out there who happen to use and like the Windows operating system, we just get less features and capabilities because opponents want to use Microsoft’s prominence in the industry as evidence that it must be doing something wrong. How about they create a great product at a competitive price, and that is a hard equation for many companies to measure up to? It also hurts the shareholders and employees of Microsoft (whos numbers are not insignificant) because Microsoft’s revenues are burned up in flames in legal costs.

Yesterday Brad Smith, Microsoft General Counsel,gave a talk I wish I could have attended that outlined 12 principles to promote competition. The overview of the talk, the principles, and a vibrant community discussion are going on here:

I read over this list and it looks to me like things Microsoft has been doing for many years now. Unfortunately it is also being spun as “Microsoft is finally agreeing to play fair”, implying that they haven’t been doing these things all along.

Whatever the case, I think it is a good thing to have these principles outlined as a manifesto of sorts that people can measure Microsoft and other companies against to try to see if there is any basis for the frequent and invalid claims of unfair practices that get levied against Microsoft. Maybe people can quit spending expensive resources on fighting suits like the EU one and focus on providing what is best for consumers and the economy.