Microsoft works up its own remedy solution

"We're not guilty, but if we were, this would be a fair punishment." That's pretty much the gist of a remedy proposal that Microsoft Corporation will submit to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson this week when it meets its court-ordered May 10 deadline. The proposal is designed to counter the DOJ's breakup proposal by limiting its business practices in a manner that is reportedly consistent with compromises the company made during the abortive settlement process. But Microsoft is put in an odd position by the proposal, as it vigorously denies that it broke any laws in the first place and has already announced that it will appeal any ruling handed down by the judge.

Microsoft's plan reportedly offers a number of concessions. In response to allegations that it denies competitors easy and fast access to new programming interfaces, Microsoft will provide "open and timely" access to these interfaces to any and all third party developers. This will allow developers to create Windows applications that work as well as Office does, the company says, while ending any discrimination. Microsoft will also offer a version of Windows that "hides" Internet Explorer from the user, so that the browser is not installed by default. This is similar to a mode offered by the excellent "98lite", which provides Windows 98 users with the new shell offered by IE but removes the browser. However, this "hiding" tact is cosmetic only: A user could simply type a Web address into a My Computer window and browse the Web that way. Microsoft argues that this is necessary because IE is integrated into Windows too closely to remove it at this point. However, 98lite also offers a "micro" mode that replaces only three files with older Windows 95 versions to remove all IE functionality from the system for good. It's unlikely that this argument will sway the judge, who obviously believes that the integration of IE and Windows is far more tenuous that Microsoft admits.

Microsoft will also reportedly propose that PC makers will be able to modify the default Windows desktop, which addresses charges that the company bullied those manufacturers that attempted to do so previously. During the trial, Microsoft argued that it needed to protect the Windows desktop from modification in order to provide a consistent look and feel for users, who might be otherwise confused by different interfaces. And finally, Microsoft will not attempt to prevent PC makers from promoting products from other companies on systems that include Windows; the company had been using Windows as a bludgeon against PC makers such as Compaq and IBM that wished to promote Netscape Communicator, Lotus SmartSuite, and other products. PC makers allege that Microsoft threatened to cancel their license for Windows if they continued bundling non-Microsoft products on their PCs. The Microsoft proposal says that this change would prevent it from maintaining and extending its monopoly by limiting the distribution of other software products.

Going forward, the schedule will likely be revised, possibly extensively. Originally, Judge Jackson had set a May 17 date for the DOJ response to the Microsoft proposal, with hearings set to begin on May 24. But Microsoft says it will ask for an extension because of new evidence introduced in the DOJ's proposal, which asked for Microsoft to be split into two separate companies.

In related news, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates suggests in Newsweek this week that a breakup of Microsoft would make it harder for the company to prevent viruses and worms like the "Love Bug" outbreak that brought email down across the country last week. Gates says that the best defense against such problems is a constantly evolving operating system with strong developer support. Detractors note, however, that it was the very situation that led to the Love Bug virus in the first place and that if Windows wasn't so obscenely popular it wouldn't have been targeted in the first place. Likewise, the integration of VBScript into every level of a system--from Outlook (an Office application) to the OS itself--made it possible for this virus to exist in the first place. Gates points to such product tying, however, as a good thing.

And on another related note, Microsoft recently created a new job that will be responsible for "corporate and industry initiatives." Linda Stone will move from her post in Microsoft Research to examine how the company can work less aggressively with competitors and basically get along with people in the post-antitrust case world. Or, as Microsoft president says it, "work through this climate of criticism we're in and move forward." Stone will report directly to Ballmer, who is apparently trying to recreate Microsoft in his own image while quietly shedding some of the Gates-like qualities that got it in trouble in the first place

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