So now we know. According to a report in "The Wall Street Journal," Microsoft competitors Adobe Systems and Symantec are behind recent European Union (EU) investigations into Windows Vista. The two companies have lobbied EU regulators to prevent Microsoft from shipping free features in Vista that compete with products that these companies now sell to consumers.
It's too bad that both complaints are completely bogus. Adobe is complaining about Microsoft technology that offers part of the functionality of Adobe's powerful PDF format. What's different, apparently, is that Adobe charges customers to create PDF documents, whereas Microsoft's competing format, XML Paper Specification (XPS), is free. PDF is widely regarded as a de facto standard, thanks largely to Adobe's practice of giving away its Adobe Reader 7.0 software, which can display PDF documents but doesn't let you edit or create them.
Symantec's complaint is more tenuous. The company alleges that users should be able to replace Windows Security Center in Vista with third-party software, even though you can populate Security Center with links to third-party products and Microsoft is letting third parties brand Security Center with their own logos and icons. Symantec has also complained about a new security feature called Kernel PatchGuard that prevents software--malicious or otherwise--from altering the Windows kernel at runtime. In the past, security companies have been forced to patch the Windows kernel themselves to reverse kernel patches applied by malicious software. Such patches won't be possible in Vista, which should make the system more secure. However, Symantec wants the feature removed.
Microsoft's response to these complaints has been interesting. Earlier this year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote to the European Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes and asked whether she wanted Microsoft to remove XPS from Vista. Kroes never responded, though the EU has said publicly that "it is for Microsoft to decide how they package and sell Vista."
As for Symantec, Microsoft has been working with it and other security companies for years to ensure that they're up-to-date on the changes in Vista. I spoke with Stephen Tolouse at the Microsoft Security Response Center. He said that Microsoft is providing only a baseline of security in Vista: There's plenty of room for third-party products, as before. With Vista, information about third-party solutions, including Symantec's, is even available in Security Center.
Here's the thing. Back in the bad old days a decade ago, when Microsoft was busy integrating Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) into Windows solely to harm the competition, one could easily make the case for anticompetitive behavior. There's room for debate about whether features such as Web browsers and IM applications need to be bundled and deeply integrated into an OS. Today, however, few could argue that improving the security of Windows is anything but a good idea. In fact, one might describe such changes as mandatory.
What Symantec--and, ultimately, Adobe--is really worried about is that its gravy train is about to end. With emerging electronic threats, Symantec and other security firms will have enough opportunities to keep busy and remain profitable. But everyone wins when Windows becomes more secure. As for Adobe, it's telling that this firm has yet to broadly ship a low-cost way to edit PDF files. If XPS simply lowers the price of entry into the PDF world, well, that too will benefit consumers.
In short, Microsoft's competitors are simply running to the friendly ear of antitrust regulators because they can do so easily and without cost. If these companies spent more time worrying about their customers, and less about an OS company that deserves to improve its products legally, none of this would have happened.
Longtime readers will remember how strongly I came down against Microsoft's IE bundling strategy. I still feel that those decisions were wrong and that they served as the foundation for a decade of security vulnerabilities and customer pain that we're still experiencing. Adobe's and Symantec's complaints, however, bear no relation at all to those of Netscape a decade ago. Today, Microsoft is doing the right thing for its customers. Frankly, it's about time.
Yesterday's WinInfo Daily Update included an unfortunate typo that I should have caught during editing. As published, the article "Low-Cost HD DVD Player, True 1080p Output for Xbox 360 Coming in November," noted that "the Xbox 360 still lacks an HDMI connection. (However, you can easily add an HDMI connection by using a new cable connection kit.)" This is incorrect. It should have read, "the Xbox 360 still lacks an HDMI connection. (However, you could conceivably add an HDMI connection by using a new cable connection kit, should one be made available.)" The point here is that there is no HDMI cable connection kit available for the Xbox 360, and Microsoft has not yet announced such a product. My apologies.