Microsoft promised us a kinder, gentler company. But this week, the software giant sent a legal threat to Steven Bink, curator of WindowsXP.nu, a Windows enthusiast Web site that provides news, tips, and information. The problem? Microsoft says that it owns two trademarks on the name Windows and never gave Bink authority to use its names, logos, and other graphics on his Web site. But why would the company only now take such an action against a Web site that's existed for more than 18 months?
"We know of the existence of the windowsxp.nu Web site which is registered in your name," reads a rough translation of the fax, which is written in Dutch. "Microsoft appreciates your support of Microsoft services and products." The note goes on to warn that if Bink doesn't immediately transfer the domain name freely to Microsoft by December 19, the company "will be forced to take serious action in court. Microsoft hopes that it won't go this far and that this issue will be solved in an acceptable manner."
Ironically, Microsoft is conducting a campaign called "Delighting the Customer," which the company designed to improve the public's perception of the company after its abysmal performance during the years-long antitrust battle with the US government. During the trial, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson found that many of the testifying Microsoft employees were disingenuous; he later ruled that many of the company's actions against competitors were also illegal.
When I asked Bink how he plans to respond to Microsoft's threat, he said he's still unsure what to do; as is the case with many individuals the company has threatened, Bink doesn't have the financial resources to withstand a full-blown lawsuit. Bink has spent a lot of time during the past year promoting his site, which is now one of the top-listed Windows XP sites on Google (behind Microsoft) because of the many sites that link to his domain. If he's forced to give up the domain, he'll have to promote the site all over again. And when Bink investigated his options, he discovered that almost 200 registered domain names have "windowsxp" in their titles, including more than 100 domains that begin with the word.
In the meantime, Bink is left wondering why Microsoft would threaten someone who has so vocally supported XP. The company has taken a hard line against similar Web sites in the past; for example, in 1998, Microsoft demanded that I change the name of my site from Windows SuperSite to SuperSite for Windows, and Active Windows had to change its name to Active Network.
In an interesting twist, Bink received the threatening fax just days after Lindows.com issued its final legal filing in a case against Microsoft that could end in Microsoft losing the Windows trademark. The judge in that case cited legal precedent that strongly suggests Microsoft can't own a trademark on the term Windows because the term is too common and general. A ruling will likely come by the end of this month.