Microsoft's New Openness: Wait and See


It's hard to criticize a company for publicly proclaiming a commitment to open competition.

It's also easy for a company to pay lip service to a level playing field once it has established overwhelming market pressures in its favor.

That's the mixed reaction to Microsoft's announcement of a 12-point philosophy to embrace competition by opening its APIs and allowing OEMs to set other companies' software as the default option on their systems.

One of the smartest comments we've seen on the announcement came from Ken Wasch, president of the Software & Information Industry Association. Wasch was quoted by Television New Zealand as saying that unless Microsoft actually offers a discounted version of Windows sans IE or Media Player, OEMs will have no financial reason to go to the hassle of ripping out those components and replacing them with a competitor, even if that competitor is freeware such as Firefox. And Microsoft didn't promise such adjustments to its royalty fees.

Microsoft critics are quick to call yesterday's announcement a political spin on market realities, not unlike MS's announcement that it would create Office ODF translators that someone else was sure to make anyway. Redmond seems oddly sensitive to public outcry these days -- see the recent Private Folder flack -- and needs to curry the favor of EU regulators in its ongoing anti-trust battle.

Ultimately, open APIs are never a bad thing, so there's certainly some merit to Microsoft's public gesture. And the fact that Microsoft can even feel market pressure should be encouraging to those who want a more diverse software market.

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