hard choices for microsoft in the eu

In a ruling two days back, the European Court of First Instance which is one of the highest legal bodies in the European Union (EU), imposed hefty fines and asked Microsoft to comply with a couple of key directives

a) it should in EU countries, unbundle the add-ons like Windows Media Player in its Windows operating system allowing competing players and such better access, and

b) it should in the EU, allow third party producers access to its technology (and IP) to enhance ‘interoperability’ with various systems.

Now I’m sure this ruling has come after much thought and due dilligence, and the EU Court sees plenty of merit in the case.

But as a consumer of Microsoft products, I am not so sure it will help me, and here’s why:

For years we suffered from the porus and unstable nature of Microsoft products – blue screens, unstable systems, virus attacks, you name it. And Microsoft became everyone’s favorite whipping boy.

Now finally MS has tightened the screws and got everything in order, making most of the previously mentioned things history. In fact new users won’t even know what I’m talking about.

At the same time, Microsoft instead of taking its monopoly for granted, has moved ahead to provide the best possible features in all its bundled products. As a normal-semi-professional user, I cannot find any other software that compares to Windows Media Player 11, Microsoft Office 2007, and what have you. So why should I be looking elsewhere??

Let me take a simplistic parallel example –

A Fully Loaded Car with factory fitted everything vs A Base Model where you add what you want.

In the 80s and 90s in India, most cars came without airconditioning, without power steering, without power windows, without a music system… even without mats and upholstery! You had to add it all yourself!

And what a pain it was finding the right match. And then discovering how much it messes up your car, the wiring, the battery, the cooling, etc. You longed for a fully loaded factory fitted car.

Thankfully today, you can buy a fully loaded car in India, without worrying about the necessary add-ons. And only an idiot with more money than brains, or someone with very special needs would want to modify or change any of these factory-fittings.

I would say, the same principle applies to the Windows XP I have on my laptop. Why would I mess with adding stuff which isn’t recommended by Microsoft? It’s a Brand I’ve chosen to put my trust in (versus Linux), so why not go whole hog?

Haven’t we in the past complained about system errors and slow computers, only to be told we have too many clashing programs installed, so the only solution is to reformat the computer and re-instal everything??!

So if the WM Player and MS office aren’t broke, what am I trying to fix?

Protectionist Raj revisited?

Of course, there’s the belief in the EU, that strong companies such as MS need to be forced to loosen their stranglehold on the market, in order to allow competition and give the customers choice.

But what happened to the concept of free trade, and surival of the fittest, and the consumer should get the best?

Moves like this remind me of the narrow minded protectionist attitude of the Indian government way back in the 70s & 80s! Companies that weren’t good enough to compete in a level playing field, were given undue protection by imposing official sanctions and blocking any perceived competition!

Which makes me wonder, who’s going to be next in the firing line – Intel for its leadership in semiconductorsSamsung Electronics because it is the world’s largest electronics and IT company? Or Boeing because it threatens Airbus Industrie?!

But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe it is a better thing, and I don’t know all the issues, and that the Honorable Court knows what’s best.

But still I am not so sure it is a good thing for me. And I wonder if my thoughts are reflected in other minds.

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