Beware of Microsoft's gifts

Although the Microsoft spin promises interoperability with Novell, Ephraim Schwartz wonders if it isn't a brilliant ploy to ensure that IT will get locked in to using Microsoft products

Can you name some top technologies and companies that jeopardize or have jeopardized Microsoft's hegemony over the operating system world? If you asked me that question, I would have said Apple, Linux, Java, and the Netscape browser owned by AOL, all of which at one time or another have been considered a good alternative to the Windows platform.

But it was Microsoft's latest agreement with Novell -- in which it agreed to pay Novell US$536 million and promised to share technology in order to have Windows and Suse Linux interoperate -- that rang a bell. So I checked the archives.

On Aug. 6, 1997, at MacWorld in Boston, Bill Gates stood onstage with Steve Jobs to announce a broad product and technology development agreement. "To further support its relationship with Apple, Microsoft will invest US$150 million in non-voting Apple stock," Gates declared.

On May 29, 2003, Microsoft and AOL Time Warner announced an agreement to, among other things, a "royalty-free" seven-year license of Microsoft's browsing technology. Microsoft paid AOL US$750 million.

And it was on April 2, 2004, that Steve Ballmer took the stage with Sun's Scott McNealy and announced "a technology collaboration agreement to enable their products to work better together." As part of that deal, Microsoft gave Sun a total of US$1.95 billion.

Does anybody else see a pattern emerging here?

Of course it's part of Microsoft's overall strategy on how to deal with its antitrust problems. For example, you can add BeOS to the list. On Sept. 5, 2003, Microsoft paid Be US$23.5 million to settle an antitrust suit. The Microsoft press release also noted that "Be is currently in the process of completing its dissolution."

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