20 September 2007

The Answer to Microsoft's Wrong Question

Here's an interesting question, posed by a Microsoft lawyer called Horatio Gutierrez to James Governor:

“If Microsoft can’t bundle an audio player with Windows, why can Nokia bundle a camera with a phone?”

It's interesting because it lays bare the fallacy at the heart of Microsoft's arguments against the current EU anti-trust action, which it claims are a brake on "innovation". It treats the addition of the Windows Media Player as if it were just another feature, like a camera added to a mobile. But it's not.

When Microsoft bundles WMP, it effectively establishes its own proprietary multimedia standards, because of Windows' dominance. When Nokia adds a camera, it is simply offering the same as everyone else - there are no new standards involved. This is what Microsoft conveniently forgets: that everything it produces is proprietary - and that this is problem here, just as it was with Internet Explorer.

To see this, consider the case of Microsoft bundling a standards-based media player - supporting MP3, and OGG, say. See? There's no problem - it's like adding, say, a standards-based camera to a phone. Just like Nokia does.


Unknown said...

The standards implemented on the media player aren't important. It is the monopolist extending its monopoly into a new business area that is the problem.

Nokia doesn't have a monopoly in phones so what it bundles with its offerings is irrelevant.

Glyn Moody said...

I think the standards *do* matter. If Microsoft had adopted general industry standards, there would be no lock-in - people could switch to other media players supporting them. Microsoft would have had no control.

What the Windows monopoly did was to establish Microsoft's own media standards, over which it had absolute, monopolist control.

Unknown said...

@Glyn: I think we just agreed with each other didn't we?

Its the monopoly thing that is important not the standards. Had Microsoft used MP3 (is that a "standard") instead of Microsoft's own formats Real would have moaned just as loudly to the EU that it was being "locked" out of Windows. So, I don't think the sound/video formats themselves are particularly relevant to the complaint.

The control Microsoft has is that it owns Windows and it was using that monopoly to create a new monopoly for media players.

Glyn Moody said...

I'm happy to agree that it's the monopoly that matters....

Part of the problem is that it's apples and pears: Real and MP3 aren't competitive, since Real is about streaming media. Real can't bleat about MP3 because it is a de facto standard; it can bleat about Windows Media, because it's not.

Another problem is that there's not a widely-used, truly open standard for streaming - is there?