am the host of “.NET Rocks!”, an Internet audio talk show for .NET developers online at www.dotnetrocks.com and msdn.microsoft.com/dotnetrocks. My co-host Richard Campbell and I interview the movers and shakers in the .NET community. We have nearly 200 shows archived online, and we publish a new show every Tuesday morning. For more history of the show check out the May/June 2004 issue of CoDe Magazine, in which the first column appeared.
In show #188, Richard and I talked with Microsoft pundits Mary Jo Foley and Daryll K Taft, who write for eWeek online. We had them come up to Connecticut from New York to record a showdown-style show where we just threw out some topics and turned on the microphones. Here’s an excerpt from that show.
Carl Franklin: All right. So, we have got a series of topics here that we are just going to throw out and let you two discuss. And these topics are on everybody’s mind these days. Starting with Microsoft’s legal troubles, here, there and everywhere. Mary Jo, what’s up with that?
Mary Jo Foley: Well, I think it’s kind of like the chickens coming home to roost with Microsoft lately. It’s like all the things they have done in the past are catching up with them and a lot of different countries aren’t really putting up with the behaviors that they have typically used to get ahead in the market.
Carl Franklin: What behaviors are we talking about?
Mary Jo Foley: I guess when I think of what they have done in the past, I think of things like having companies come in and show them their business plans and show off a product, and the next thing you know, Microsoft is making the product.
Carl Franklin: Yeah.
Mary Jo Foley: So, some of them have been issues with the DOJ, some have been issues with the EC, and some?definitely, it’s been a case where competitors have brought action against Microsoft, and in some cases just because they were inept competitors. But, I think they have also had points to make, and I know a lot of .NET backers and Microsoft Regional Directors won’t agree with that, but I think it’s a time when Microsoft really has to take more responsibility for its behavior and kind of start playing fair.
Carl Franklin: As far as playing fair goes, what specific things can you cite? I mean, we were talking about the EU lawsuit and all that stuff, but what other things, what other lawsuits or legal actions that have come up recently are we talking about; and are these exclusive to Microsoft?
Mary Jo Foley: I don’t know if they are exclusive to Microsoft or not, but one I am thinking of is in Japan; the FTC [has a] case there where they are looking at whether Microsoft should be able to bundle things?not just Internet Explorer, but things like Messenger and some other components, or whether those are really part of the operating system or not. So, I think this issue keeps coming to haunt Microsoft and it’s really not going to go away as they continue to bundle more and more things into the operating system. Now, I should say from the outset, from users I’ve talked to, they want things bundled into the operating system. So, it’s not a case of this is hurting consumers, and I never believe that, but it’s more a case of are people really going to use software if it’s not bundled into the operating system? I know the argument is, if it is superior software, people will still download it, or buy it and put it on their machines, but I don’t think the actual way people operate bears that out.
Carl Franklin: Darryl Taft?how are you doing Darryl?
Darryl Taft: Oh, I am good.
Carl Franklin: What do you have to say about that?
Darryl Taft: Well, I have a bit to say on it. I think, as you said, these things happened in the past mostly and the past is past. I tend to disagree a bit with Mary Jo in that. I think the majority of the lawsuits that came against Microsoft were from sour grapes?bitter competitors that couldn’t compete in the market. So, they went after the company that they knew had big pockets.
Mary Jo Foley: I agree; a lot of these suits have been brought by competitors like Sun Microsystems, [which] is a perfect example. I mean, these guys were on the downslide so they bring a lawsuit and they get billions of dollars out of Microsoft. But there are legitimate cases where there are smaller businesses, ISVs, even resellers sometimes, who have products and services that Microsoft is basically cutting out from under them?I mean, after saying they wanted to be their partner.
Carl Franklin: Your point, Mary Jo, about what consumers actually want, is a good point against the argument of, well, not against the argument but it’s a good point in favor of Microsoft if you think about it, because haven’t they done this in the past? They have allowed ISVs to configure PCs for example, with things other than Office?as far as the 12 tenets that we’ll get to next, this is one of their things. And different browsers or different media players, but people want the standard stuff don’t they?
Mary Jo Foley: I think people want whatever is easiest. Like, if you say to somebody like, my mom, do you want to download RealPlayer and put that on your machine? She doesn’t.
Carl Franklin: Right. So, you think people would rather have RealPlayer as their default, or QuickTime as their default media player, if it’s the default media player?
Mary Jo Foley: Yeah I do.
Carl Franklin: Darryl?
Darryl Taft: [That’s a] perfect example of one of the companies I was talking about?Real Networks. Sour grapes.
Carl Franklin: Yeah? How so?
Darryl Taft: I can’t even remember the guy’s name. Sorry, I am blanking on it, but the CEO there, former Microsoftie…
Mary Jo Foley: Rob Glaser.
Darryl Taft: [Yeah, he was sort of] kicked out the door; [and now] wants to do anything he can to get back at Bill [Gates].
Carl Franklin: Is [it] a fair assumption, Mary Jo, that since they’re the biggest guys with the biggest pockets, they [Microsoft] are the obvious target for lawsuits?
Mary Jo Foley: Oh, definitely. I mean, if you are [in] business these days and you are running out of money, what’s your No. 1 strategy? ?sue Microsoft. And maybe they will settle with you; maybe you’ll win something.
Richard Campbell: Yeah. The thing that I find frustrating about the Real Networks thing, and even the browser thing is, we were talking about products that don’t make any money directly. Nobody wants the spyware that is RealPlayer; that constant pinging and sending messages and things that a RealPlayer does. The biggest advantage I see of Media Center or of the media software that comes with Windows is that it only plays media?it doesn’t do anything else. That’s all I really want from a media player. Why this squabble over products that don’t actually make money?
Darryl Taft: Amen.
Carl Franklin: Yeah.
Mary Jo Foley: Well, I don’t think we should be talking about products that unknowingly ping people if we are going to not talk about Windows Genuine Advantage.
Carl Franklin: (Laughter).
Richard Campbell: Now, you know what? I’ve got to go with you on this Mary Jo, because I see that as the next legal trouble for Microsoft?
Mary Jo Foley: Totally.
Richard Campbell: This is a mistake I think they have made. Bill [Gates] has been at the forefront of the piracy issue since day one; he originated the piracy issue, because he is one of the first people to ever charge for software; and now we are seeing?I think they are an ultimate manifestation of that?I think they have gone too far.
Carl Franklin: Well, we don’t like that with any software?Microsoft or anybody else; I mean, how viral is QuickTime? You install iTunes so that you can get tunes on to your iPod and QuickTime is installed and it gets its hooks in there and becomes the default MP3 player so that when you want to download an MP3 file, you click in the browser, oh no, you go to another page where QuickTime is loading and running?oh, and if it’s a video and you want to see it full screen, you got to pay for that, and? what do you think of that?
Mary Jo Foley: I don’t really have a lot of opinions on it.
Carl Franklin: Yeah, Darryl?
Darryl Taft: Yeah, same.
Carl Franklin: Yeah.
Mary Jo Foley: We kind of ignore QuickTime.
Carl Franklin: Yeah.
Mary Jo Foley: iTunes, QuickTime, Apple.
Carl Franklin: Yeah.
Mary Jo Foley: Just kidding.
Carl Franklin: Well, no, I mean, it’s a good product. iTunes is a good product and it’s one of?it’s the biggest portal for podcasts, so that’s the way most people are discovering podcasts. Obviously, we were concerned about that. All right, let’s move on to the 12 tenets guaranteeing the post-2007 behavior with partners that Microsoft has recently published on the Web. They have made 12 promises about how, you know, things that they plan to do, some of them are just old promises and some are pretty interesting. Mary Jo, you’ve written about this in your column. What’s?summarize this for us.
Mary Jo Foley: To me, I don’t really think anything on that list is new and I felt when Microsoft first presented this a couple of weeks ago that it was almost disingenuous on their part that they are saying like, “We are so magnanimous, we are going to do all these behaviors out of the goodness of our heart.” But, in fact, most of those behaviors are required by the Department of Justice right now, which Microsoft will admit. And they are saying, “We are going to continue this self-policing after 2007.” Well, of course they are, otherwise they are going to get sued again.
Carl Franklin: Sure.
Mary Jo Foley: So, I just feel totally like they are acting like, “Oh, OEMs we’re trying to help you, we’re being your friends now” and OEMs I talked to say, they are still the same snakes in the grass they’ve always been.
Carl Franklin: So it’s mostly spin. But what about the?if you look at the tenets themselves and the value whether they are old, whether they are new, are they good for consumers?
Mary Jo Foley: Definitely good for consumers, I mean, it’s Microsoft saying, “We are going to level the playing field and by leveling the playing field there are going to be more hardware partners who can compete, plus lower prices, better offerings in hardware and software.” So it’s all goodness for sure.
Carl Franklin: Darryl, you got a comment on that?
Darryl Taft: I do. I agree sort of with Mary Jo on this, but I think it’s an issue of time will tell. These things have been in effect for a few years already, [and] as she said that most [of the] things the DOJ had already hammered out with Microsoft. I think Brad Smith, the Chief Council, said, “Eight of the 12 tenets were directly from the consent decree.” But still, announcing that they are going to do them, that they are going to continue with them; I think is a good thing.
Carl Franklin: Yeah. Does it reassure ISVs and consumers that this is what they are going to continue to do, or is it just chest beating?
Richard Campbell: I also wonder if this is not a message to the employees, it’s like, “Look, we are really serious about these things, we are announcing it to the world; you better follow them too.”
Carl Franklin: What about the thing that I mentioned before about PC manufacturers bundling different things and turning off different things? This is new. This is something that you mentioned in your blog, Mary Jo. Now Dell will be able to go [to] Microsoft, for example, and say, “Okay. We want to offer a PC that has RealPlayer, blah, blah, blah, instead of this, and turn off this feature and that feature.” What’s going to be the benefit of that, if any?
Mary Jo Foley: Well, I think that one is probably the most interesting of the 12. But, if you look at the deal Dell recently did with Google, where they’re going to be bundling, I think, it’s a Google search toolbar?
Carl Franklin: Right
Mary Jo Foley: ?with a number of the new laptops that are going out. That wasn’t done for free. Dell paid Google to do that deal, which is kind of like a dirty little secret, and Microsoft has even come out publicly and said, “Yeah. They asked us to pay them and then we said no.” So, I think it’s a tenet that’s true, but the bottom line is there are still going to be all these deals going on, but who is going to get to bundle search, who is going to get to bundle Live Services, and it’s going to be interesting to see if people are willing to pony up the money to get their stuff preloaded because its not just going to be, “Oh, let’s shut off Windows Media Player.” I think it’s going to be a tit for tat and a lot of business skills going on around that.
Carl Franklin: Does anybody really care when they buy?when you know, some big corporation buys a thousand PCs or something like that, and they go to Dell, do they really sit down and say, “Okay, we want Media Player or Real Networks or Google search toolbar, MSN toolbar.” Do they really do that stuff?
Mary Jo Foley: I think it’s more an issue in the retail channel.
Carl Franklin: Yeah.
Richard Campbell: Yeah, in the corporate environment they are putting their own images on the machines anyway.
Carl Franklin: Yeah.
Richard Campbell: They want their machines bare because they want to configure them.
Carl Franklin: That’s a good point
Richard Campbell: I think the retail channel is the big issue and, you know that’s something that worries me, if you are going to pull Media Player out of Windows in a configuration, you are going to mess up a lot of consumers who are expecting it to be there.
Carl Franklin: But are they? And that’s the question. You know? The people that I know that buy?the masses that buy computers?they don’t know what they are getting, they don’t know what to buy. They just go to Staples and they say, “I want a computer, I got eight hundred bucks,” and they get whatever is there for the money. Don’t they?
Mary Jo Foley: Yeah, I think they do. But to Richard’s point I think, you know, Microsoft pulled Media Player out of the version of Windows XP that they sell in the EU. I don’t know if you guys remember this, but when they first pulled it out, it broke a ton of things. Like there were?like they pulled out like 300 APIs or something as part of it, I forget what the exact total was on that but then everybody was crying out because it broke a lot of stuff. Well, yeah, it did and Microsoft kind of knew that was going to happen. I feel like that it was kind of them thumbing their nose yet again at the EC and saying, “Yeah, watch what happens when we do what you want.”
Carl Franklin: Darryl?
Darryl Taft: Well that’s just what they did?same as in the DOJ trial. They were told to do a specific thing, they did it, things broke and everybody got mad, but their response was, this is what you asked us to do.
Carl Franklin: Uh-huh, [but] did they do the right thing? Did they?should they have taken out the APIs or shouldn’t they have?
Darryl Taft: Well, they did what they were told.
Carl Franklin: So they were told to remove, not only the Media Player, but all the APIs, the low-level stuff. So people who’re programming against it wouldn’t?they were told to do that too?
Mary Jo Foley: No, they weren’t told to do that, bullshit!
Darryl Taft: It could be interpreted that way.
Richard Campbell: You know, what if they hadn’t pulled the APIs? What if they had just taken the UI off? It wouldn’t have broken things. But I am sure you would have had people screaming, “Hey, they didn’t actually remove Media Player. Look, I can put it back.”
Mary Jo Foley: True. That would have happened. Definitely.
Richard Campbell: I do think it’s a no-win situation for Microsoft when governments start to legislate how Windows should work.
Mary Jo Foley: True.
Carl Franklin: Because if you are Microsoft, they are naturally going to want to try to pull out everything, right? I mean, wouldn’t they let the opposition argue them into the agreement that they should take the APIs out, so it will break and they will have that reaction, I mean it’s a tactic. Isn’t it?
Mary Jo Foley: It is.
Darryl Taft: Indeed.
Richard Campbell: And it does get into the whole legalese game. Which is not a constructive game when it comes to software, right?
Darryl Taft: Right.
Carl Franklin: Oh! We all agree on that, okay, good.
Mary Jo Foley: We all agree. (Laughter)
Mary Jo Foley: So much for the debate.
This conversation continues online.