On May 24, judge Thomas Penfield Jackson begins the remedy phase of the Microsoft v. Department of Justice case. How this part of the infamous trial concludes will have a direct impact on CIOs. This case boils down to two opposing positions: Microsoft Corp.'s claim that it has the right to innovate, and the Department of Justice's point of view that the Windows operating system constitutes a monopoly that needs to be carefully watched -- a monopoly that bundles products into Windows to harm competitors and consumers, though the nearly 2-year-old case has come up dramatically short on parading consumer victims into the courtroom.
Does Microsoft have a corporate legacy as an innovator? If so, what is the most prominent technology product the company has truly innovated?
Microsoft first hit it big in the early '80s by licensing MS-DOS to IBM for its personal computer products. But MS-DOS was in reality a quick-and-dirty DOS built by another Seattle-based software company. Not Microsoft.
What about Windows? Surely Microsoft was an innovator there? Afraid not.
Computer scientists like Douglas Englebart back in the late 1960s invented the idea of partitioning computer screens into windows. Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center further developed the windowing idea in the '70s, and then Steve Jobs and Bill Gates brought the concept to the masses with the Macintosh and Windows operating systems in the mid to late 1980s.
So what is Microsoft's historical claim to innovation? Probably Windows NT/Windows 2000, though some claim that early versions of WinNT had huge chunks of Digital Equipment Corp.'s VMS operating system embedded in it.
At the crux of the antitrust case is Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Did Microsoft invent Internet Explorer? No, it didn't. Explorer's heritage is licensed software code from Naperville, Ill.-based Spyglass.
So, what has Microsoft truly innovated? A perusal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website shows the PTO has assigned over 700 patents to Microsoft since 1995, but most of those awarded are for arcane devices and software code. Which leads to my remedy for Judge Jackson. March into the courtroom May 24 and say to Microsoft, "I believe every company has the right to innovate. And going forward if Microsoft truly innovates (a.k.a. invents) a product, then you are free to bundle that product into Windows software code immediately, if you so wish. However, if you use your $18 billion cash hoard to license or acquire a piece of technology, while you are free to sell that product immediately as a separate offering, you must wait 24 months before bundling it into the Windows operating system."
Simple. Clean. It gives Microsoft an incentive to innovate. And puts to rest forever its B-to-B strategy of "buying to bundle," a strategy many feel should not be in Microsoft's future.
What do you think? Should Judge Jackson follow this advice? Drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.