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Voices for Innovation Say, "Please Stop Fining Us"

It's smoked salmon and champagne all around these days at the lavish Brussels headquarters of the European Union. Neelie Kroes, the EU's competition czar, officially (and finally) dropped a hefty $357 million fine on Microsoft yesterday for non-compliance with anti-trust orders.

Apparently, the crux of the EU's case is that Microsoft's server software works better with Windows than competitors' software does. The EU is upset that Microsoft won't do more to reveal Windows server protocols to competitors -- this despite the fact that Redmond has offered access to Windows source code and claims to be producing thousands of pages of documentation to satisfy the EU's craving for information that most members of the European Parliament could never come close to understanding.

Of course, Microsoft's trademark arrogance and failure to take the EU's threats of fines seriously has not helped Redmond in this whole mess. In that sense, and with Steve Ballmer's partner ultimatum from this week's Worldwide Partner Conference still fresh on a lot of minds (, maybe it's time somebody showed Pride of the Pacific Northwest that it can't just get whatever it wants whenever it wants it. Still, this the wrong place for that to happen -- government over-regulation is no substitute for the free market when it comes to creating a healthy competitive atmosphere.

What nobody can figure out is exactly what impact these Eurofines and the EU's demand for massive amounts of documentation and uncorking of intellectual property are going to have (,39024677,39160288,00.htm). One of the chief anti-trust complainers, down-and-out Sun Microsystems, probably faces a bigger challenge from Linux -- and its own bloated product offering and inflated employee roles -- than it does from Microsoft. And Linux is running tons of Web servers already.

The EU's bloodlust will hurt Microsoft, though, at least a little bit. The company's already beleaguered stock price took another dip yesterday on the news, and this Europunishment comes at a time when a lot of observers are starting to wonder whether Microsoft is past its prime in general (not that we haven't heard that before -- and Redmond is still king of the technology mountain.)

There's a slight whiff of anti-Americanism about all of this, too. The EU -- whose members of parliament are often elected by tiny percentages of the electorate in their respective countries because nobody bothers to vote in EU elections -- still revolves around a French-German axis, and there are plenty of power brokers in those quarters who would love nothing more than to bring an ubersuccessful American monolith to its knees, or at least make life a little more difficult for Steve Ballmer.

And so, in Microsoft's hour of need, a lone voice cries in the darkness: Voices for Innovation, a rough-and-tumble bunch of free thinkers who just want to be able to innovate without the government breaking down their doors and seizing their developers' Skittles and Mountain Dew. The Voices have been here at the WWPC this week, quietly dropping pro-Microsoft Wall Street Journal editorials (no link; you have to pay for a subscription) in the press room and peddling anti-EU propaganda. These brave freedom fighters are small developers, service providers and other interested parties. Some of them have identified themselves on their Web site; others are underground members of La Resistance:

Of course, if you look at the bottom of the home page, you'll see that it's Copyright 2006, Microsoft Corporation. So maybe it's not so grass-roots after all; don't let that ".org" URL fool you. Still, it's about time Microsoft came up with a clear, relatively humble lobbying effort to try to sway EU members of parliament and casual observers alike to its cause. And beyond all that, you can bet that Microsoft and the EU will continue to see each other in court. This isn't over yet.

What message do you have for Eurofine czar Neelie Kroes? Tell me at [email protected].

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Microsoft Sweetens The Security Pot
Not everybody who responded to Tuesday's newsletter was thrilled with Steve Ballmer's Microsoft's-way-or-the-highway WWPC keynote.

Wayne wrote to say:

"If Steve Ballmer wants to ramp up the Microsoft strong arm business tactics, I will start selling Linux packages. I am NOT going to turn my back on other companies that I have partnered with. I plan to provide my customers the best computer services that can be found in (I won't reveal where he is -- just in case --LP). If I can NOT provide solutions that fit my customers' needs and can only provide the Microsoft solution to continue my partnership then COUNT ME OUT!"

Well said, Wayne. And you're not alone. David's not happy, either:

"I like Microsoft (sort of), but when they start hammering anyone that doesn't toe their line, it just makes me... angry. I knew it wasn't an accident that the Security Center didn't recognize my Norton Anti-Virus installation, but I'm really tired of their arrogance. It's no wonder the EU is hammering them daily. If the apps my company needs to operate were available on Linux, we'd be there in a heartbeat."

Serial RCPU e-mailer Matt also chimed in with this gem:

"Pushing all Microsoft no matter what isn't going to fly if you want to have long term credibility with your clients. My clients look to me to determine what works best for their situation, not what is easiest for me to source and integrate. Asking clients to put full trust in Microsoft for their security is a little like asking Ted Kennedy to teach driving safety."

Driving safety is a bit of a sensitive issue in Boston this week, Matt, but we get your (very funny) point. And William chimes in with a thought-provoking history lesson:

"Having spent more time in the computer industry than I really want to remember, I know of another company that took the same attitude that Ballmer is now shouting. Maybe he should look at how far down IBM went with that attitude and then concentrate on putting the product on the market that makes us want to follow his wishes instead of feeling we must follow."

All valid points, well articulated. Now, with all of that said, let's give Microsoft its due, at least on the security front. Some of the incentives the company announced this week at the WWPC could end up being very sweet deals for partners. Partners that take part in the new Security Software Advisor Program can get some fat referral fees for sales of Antigen and ForeFront applications -- 20 percent of the sale price of the product, and 30 percent with a special deal Microsoft is offering for the next seven months. That's on top of the original partner margin for the sale. VARs can also get a 5 percent fee on renewals of existing products on top of normal margins.

In order to participate in the SSA program, partners must be at least registered members of the MSPP. Then, they must then either be Certified or Gold members of the Security Competency program or eligible for that certification, or be Sybari partners, or be top-tier member of another security vendor's program. Hey, we're not promoting the all-Microsoft, all the time concept, but this is definitely worth a look.

What do you think of SSA? Let me know at [email protected].

Careless Whispers at the WWPC
This week's Partner Conference in Boston has been a show for the big guys and the global guys. One partner told me that Microsoft told him that more than 70 percent of conference attendees are Gold Certified Partners, and almost half are from Europe. The Dutch in particular have been easy to spot with their bright orange shirts.

I also heard that Microsoft's Ballmer-attended Gold Certified Partner luncheon on Tuesday turned out to be a little less regal than expected. Instead of having the tables, table cloths and other signs of civilized dining that partners surely deserve, Microsoft's channel champions got rows of chairs (no tables) and cold box lunches! Heck, we got a better deal in the press room. Maybe those Eurofines have already led to some cost cutting in Redmond...

If you were at the WWPC, what was your favorite part of the show? What did you not like? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Wow, It's Genuniely Annoying!
In a flood of e-mails that shattered all records for responses to the newsletter (, your unanimous verdict was that Windows Genuine Advantage, Microsoft's so-called anti-piracy effort, stinks. Most of you agreed that Microsoft has every right to protect its privacy... but that WGA reports back to Redmond way too often about we're-not-sure-what, is couched as a "critical" update, is impossible to uninstall and just generally goes way beyond the bounds of what it's meant to do. I did not get one single e-mail defending (or, let's say, not complaining about) WGA.

James lays it all out pretty well:

"First off I do not find any of MS's arguments about WGA hold water. If MS's WGA was about stopping piracy then why not release WGA in China where it's said as much as 90% of the software is pirated instead of the US where we rank the lowest in the world in percent of pirated software? Second the way in which WGA/WGA Notify was sent out to users via Critical Updates with no EULA notification of phoning home and no Uninstall process clearly passes the spyware Test. The fact WGA uses port 80 and connects to and not say port 8888 and was also a clear attempt by Microsoft to hide the tool from network monitors and firewalls. Due to this sleazy backdoor attempt at getting into our networks we have now turned off ALL auto updates at all customer sites. With WSUS we can review and decide for ourselves what we will or will not let install and WGA isn't going to be. On those systems where it was calling home we have manually removed it."

Charles isn't thrilled with his privacy being invaded. He's reminded of some other recent news stories:

"It is genuine spyware by even Microsoft's own definition of spyware. Like a lot of folks, MS appears to believe the problem is not the spying but who is spying on whom. I guess if you're MS doing the spying it must be OK. Gee, I didn't know Bill Gates was of one mind with George W. Bush!"

John's response is balanced and pretty much in line with what most people said:

"My take is that I am really not a fan of the fact that WGA is going out every time I log on, which I verified using the alerts from my firewall. From my perspective I think it is unnecessary and don't think it is beneficial to anyone that a machine that was not changed should "phone home" so frequently. That raised a big question mark in my mind. I didn't have an issue with the fact that it did so when I went to install updates or "freebies" like Windows Defender. I personally think that Microsoft has a right to protect it's investment by attempting to detect pirated software. I also think the frequency of the new WGA's unsolicited contact with Microsoft is well beyond what is needed to achieve that goal. What was once innocuous is now annoying at best, questionable in the middle, and suspicious at worst. I tend to side with ‘questionable.'"

Kevin makes a superb point about Microsoft's previous anti-piracy efforts and wonders what Redmond is doing with all this stuff that gets phoned home:

"The WGA assumes I am pirating the software. I already have to enter a 25 character license, AND activate the software. So are they admitting THAT process is broken? Will they then remove the activation requirement? And let me see if I have this straight... The Government cannot surreptitiously track overseas calls by terrorists, or track their finances (per the media) without an uproar. Microsoft being a private company CAN monitor US citizens' software use? And we are supposed to take their word for it that they ONLY track licensing information. And that the process is secure (from the company that gave us an NOS that assumed all servers were to be web servers (W2K)?), from the same company that has to release security patches at least monthly? If they told you the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy existed would you believe that as well?"

And, Aaron... well, he's just angry:

"I am disgusted by Microsoft's latest efforts to wring every last dollar of profit from their ill-gotten monopoly. This approach betrays their complete lack of respect for their customers, as well as a stunning lack of understanding about those who run pirated software. Much the same as their invasive activation requirements, they have cost MILLIONS of dollars in lost productivity for all users of MS OSs, while providing nearly undetectable levels of deterrence to the lying scumbags who steal software."

I have more e-mails like this. I'll try to run them in a future edition. So, if you didn't see yours here, check back in the next couple of weeks. And if you still want to chime in, feel free: [email protected]

Posted by Lee Pender on July 13, 2006