Microsoft States 12 'Principles' of Fairness

Microsoft this week published a list of 12 "voluntary principles" of fairness that it says it will live up to in developing future products and dealing with competitors, consumers and partners after the U.S. Justice Department's oversight expires.

Among Microsoft's pledges, the company says that PC manufacturers will not be penalized for including software from competitors on Windows PCs and that OEMs will be free to disable components such as Windows Media Player or Internet Explorer.

"Every computer manufacturer and customer is free to install and promote any operating system, any application, and any Web service on PCs that run Windows. Ultimately, end users are free to choose which software they prefer to use," says the first of its tenets.

The move appears to be nearly a 180-degree turn from the principles of "innovation" that Microsoft has insisted were its birthright since early on in anti-trust investigations and proceedings by numerous national governments, including the European Commission.

Another of the new principles is to provide developers and competitors with the same information that Microsoft's own developers have access to -- a claim that competitors have made against Microsoft for more than a decade.

"Going forward, Microsoft will ensure that all the interfaces within Windows called by any other Microsoft product, such as the Microsoft Office system or Windows Live, will be disclosed for use by the developer community generally. That means that anything that Microsoft's products can do in terms of how they plug into Windows, competing products will be able to do as well," the principles state.

Last week, in fact, the EC fined Microsoft $357 million for repeatedly not sharing technical information that rivals claim are needed to enable their products to interoperate with Microsoft's products as well as its own do.

Despite the words about openness and fair competition, however, not everyone is buying the idea that the leopard has changed his spots.

"My gut reaction: There is almost nothing new here. Most of these principles derive from concessions Microsoft made as part of its U.S. antitrust trial," said Joe Wilcox, senior analyst for operating systems at JupiterResearch, on his blog.

That is not to say that Wilcox thinks Microsoft's whole spiel is old news. He said he sees some important differences between the old and new Microsoft in terms of the company's principles regarding Internet services, such as Windows Live.

"Microsoft is committing to give people the choice as to whether or not to take Windows Live services. But Microsoft doesn't say that it wouldn't bundle Windows Live services with Windows Vista, just that people wouldn't have to take them," Wilcox's blog continues.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.