* Posts by Alex Jackson

1 post • joined 21 Sep 2007

Why Microsoft vs Mankind still matters

Alex Jackson

Open standards and forget the OS

A very thought provoking article. I've been scratching my head for years trying to work out how Microsoft have pulled this monopolisation trick off, and what can be done about it.

I believe the EU, or indeed any political organisation needs to look to the how the Internet has developed over the years to see a way forward here. It doesn't matter whether the server you connect to is xNIX, Windows, Mac or Linux, the end result for the user is the same: Webpage displayed.

Now, it is true and correct to say that the recent ruling is less than relevant as a method of ensuring the market stays open, as any efforts spent in making MS remove its own software from the OS install is pointless. It doesn't work, and I think MS are right that it stifles their innovation. If fact, how dare a court dictate how much 'free' software is given away with a PC. Imagine Apple not being able to offer Quicktime or iLife with their machines because Adobe can't get a foot in the door.

For a long time now, PCs makers, and consumers and the majority of commercial organisations, have only had one choice when installing an OS and for many obvious reasons, and MS's size, universal acceptance, support and familiarity will continue to provide MS with a natural advantage for years to come.

Instead of looking to tinker at the edges to stimulate competition, the EU, China and Indian governments ought to be taking a 100 year view of IT services, in much the same way that archivists in libraries are being forced to. There has been a deal of coverage in recent months regarding the problems of superceded document formats. Who could open a Locoscript file from an Amstrad PCW with anything they have in the house today?

Well, the point of IT is to enable information to be shared between people and displayed in a format that is useable by them, and I'm sure there are documents out there in Locoscript that someone would love to be able to read again.

By moving to open and universal standards for documents, the platform on which the information is displayed becomes less relevant, people can read the document, and most importantly, suppliers of IT software and hardware will have less power to monopolise the industry. Certainly, in the future, I would expect a raft of platforms to enable access to information in much the same way that mobile phones or the iPod Touch are now able to display web pages. But this will only happen in the commercial world if open standards are adhered to in the same way the HTML standards are.

A parallel here would be CDs, cassettes, DVDs and the like. There are many companies making digital camcorders, CD players and so on, but each device is using an open set of standards so no one company dominates. There is real choice and competition. Also, I notice that just because JVC's VHS standard won the battle against Betamax, Sony didn't go out of business.

I'm sure that if Microsoft had been created the VHS standard, it would have continually developed the format to ensure that rival players wouldn't be able to play the latest releases.

As regards Microsoft's lack of innovation, well they do innovate occasionally, but I can't help thinking that the during the days of the USSR, the Trabant was a product of a 95% market share. Not exactly cutting edge was it . .

It seems to me that if any progress in avoiding natural monopolies such as Microsoft's is to be made, then a way must be found to force all companies to adopt open document standards in much the same way as the IETF collaboratively guides development of the Internet. And if the format is universal, then other companies would have a fighting chance to create applications to create and edit them.

All political organisations around the world should dictate to all IT suppliers that any document to be used in government adheres to global open standards and should be readable in a hundred years time, be they text, image, presentation or spreadsheet. And its immensely important that they do, or not only will it keep the monopolies in place, it will also mean that vast swathes of historical information will be unreadable for future generations.

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