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Microsoft Makes Moves to Promote Competition

Microsoft on Wednesday released a set of guiding principles it drafted for itself that will allow computer manufacturers using Vista and any other future Microsoft operating system to remove Microsoft’s MSN Search, Internet Explorer and Media Player as defaults and put competitive alternatives in their place.

The move is meant to emphasize Microsoft’s commitment to regulatory compliance and transparency, according to Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel at Microsoft.

Special Responsibility

“As creators of an operating system used so widely around the world, we recognize that we have a special responsibility both to advance innovation and to help preserve competition in the information technology industry,” said Smith. “We take this responsibility very seriously. We’ve learned that people care not only about what we do but about how we do it. So our goal is to be principled, transparent and accountable in our design of Windows as we go forward now and in the future.”

Even with IE7 in the works, the company feels it is important to honor the settings the user had configured prior to an upgrade, including the search application, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of IE for Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld. The default search provider from IE6 AutoSearch is automatically set as the default search provider in IE7’s Toolbar Search Box. So if a consumer uses Google in IE6, for instance, he or she will still have Google as the default after upgrading.

A Sign of Maturity

While the pledge to honor these 12 guiding tenets, which Microsoft says are meant to promote competition, is admittedly a direct reaction to antitrust action in both the United States and Europe, the step is commendable, Richard Neff, chairman of the intellectual property and technology department of Greenberg Glusker and longtime expert in international antipiracy activities, told TechNewsWorld.

“This is a groundbreaking announcement. It shows a new maturity and transparency. It’s an acknowledgement Microsoft is trying to be an open standard within a proprietary framework,” he said. “Brad Smith’s approach as general counsel has been to try to resolve all of the issues that Microsoft is facing so they can focus on the business. That’s a very constructive approach.”

Smith acknowledged that these new principles are intended to assure both regulators and customers that Microsoft is committed to developing Windows in ways that advance innovation for consumers and preserve competitive opportunities. The company will review its principles at least once every three years and display changes on its Web site.

Building Blocks

Microsoft wants to enable software developers to build other products on top of Windows and to provide users with interoperability among disparate computer systems and applications.

“In a sense, an operating system alone is a bit like a dinner table without food or a Broadway stage without any actors,” Smith said. “It is the platform on which other things rest, but it is not the end in and of itself. We need to fulfill our responsibilities to everyone who builds on top of our platform if we’re to fulfill our responsibilities to the world at large.”

This strategy might not be the most profitable, especially given the advertising benefits that could be enjoyed if more customers use Microsoft’s own search tools, but it is a commendable one that can pay off in other ways. “It allows Microsoft to resolve nettlesome legal issues so they can move from their core business into new business,” Neff said.

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