Consumer advocate Brian Livingston says that Microsoft is crossing the line with Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) by offering an operating system that so obviously includes software designed specifically to harm competitors. Windows Me, Livingston says, includes Windows Movie Maker and Windows Media Player 7, two software applications that are not integral parts of the OS. Regardless, the user has no choice about these applications: They are installed by default, with no option to not install them, and there is no way to uninstall them after the OS is up and running. Livingston, who has written several books, including the soon-to-be released Windows Me Secrets, is a columnist for InfoWorld.
"Microsoft is giving away free in Windows Me a pair of programs that are designed to eliminate competition in the market for audio and video programs that run on personal computers," Livingston says. "This bundling of free software is designed to eliminate competitors who sell audio and video programs, such as Real Networks."
Livingston isn't surprised that Microsoft might want to bundle audio and video applications in Windows, which goes on sale this week. But Microsoft designed the apps in such a way that the user cannot remove them, knowing that most people who buy new computers will simply use the programs that come preinstalled. Microsoft has used this strategy in the past, he says, to gain market share for programs such as Microsoft Office and Encarta. What's amazing, of course, is that Microsoft would release such a system just months after being found guilty of identical crimes in its historic antitrust case. But Livingston says he understands how that could happen: "The company knows that the courts don't like to break things apart after they are released. With Windows Me, they can establish a baseline of OS functionality that they can use going forward, in case the courts rule that Judge Jackson's behavior restrictions are to be enforced." Jackson set aside his final verdict in the case against Microsoft during the course of its appeal, essentially allowing the company to continue business as usual.
I'll have more on this topic later this week when my interview with Brian is published on the SuperSite for Windows. Stay tuned