Dave Kearns: Microsoft muddies the waters

Microsoft Corp. has made a couple of announcements recently about major undertakings: .Net and the antitrust settlement. Neither announcement, though, could be considered as clearing the air, but seemed to be designed to keep the waters muddied.

Last week, Microsoft’s Brad Smith, senior vice-president and general counsel, outlined steps Microsoft would take to implement the proposed settlement of its antitrust suit. But the only problem is that the settlement isn’t final. Nor was the Department of Justice asked to sign off on the Microsoft initiative (as the proposed settlement requires). Evidently the Justice Department can only stomach a certain amount of hypocrisy – much less than Redmond can.

I’m not at all sure what Microsoft’s point was. It appears all but certain that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly will make changes to the settlement if not entirely replace it with her own judgment. In either case, what Microsoft announced last week might have to be modified. So what was it all about?

It’s all about staking out a position. Microsoft now can claim to have begun a good faith effort to implement the settlement. The company can point to its behaviour as showing that it is now a good citizen of the corporate community. It can request that Kollar-Kotelly shouldn’t make changes to these parts of the settlement because it would impose a hardship on Bill Gates and Co.

Hogwash. Microsoft is doing exactly what it wants but colouring it as being part of the settlement. It means nothing.

Speaking of things with no meaning, Microsoft launched Phase II of its .Net initiative a few weeks ago. What? You missed the end of Phase I? So did just about everyone else.

But reading the words of Gates on that occasion, it appears to be a claim for inventing XML, or at least being the first folks to implement it. That probably came as a big surprise to the people who have been looking to create XML standards for a number of years.

In fact, it was only a week before the start of Phase II that Microsoft announced it would support XML (in the form of the Security Assertions Markup Language) for purposes of federated identity and single sign-on (something Microsoft’s .Net MyServices, aka HailStorm, was supposed to do).

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.