Today’s tech giants are fine with competing on their own terms, terms that give them an advantage. They’re not so keen to participate in a fair fight.
Usually, tech companies rely on the legal system to insulate themselves from competition. When Apple sued HTC two years ago, then-CEO Steve Jobs condemned HTC for infringing Apple’s patents. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours,” he said.
Microsoft said as much protesting the European Commission’s 2004 finding that the company had abused its PC industry dominance. As a remedy, the European Commission required that Microsoft disclose its interface documentation to allow non-Microsoft servers to work with PCs.
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Microsoft objected to this requirement. “[T]he compulsory license will allow competitors to replicate Microsoft’s technologies such that their products would be indistinguishable from Microsoft’s products in important respects,” the company said. “This outcome will largely eliminate incentives for these companies to develop alternative or better technologies–precisely the opposite of what competition law is intended to achieve.”
Occasionally, a company will acknowledge wanting to avoid competition. ATT CEO Randall Stephenson, for example, recently suggested that Google and Mozilla object, knowing that their browsers can’t compete on Windows RT devices without access to those APIs.
Harvey Anderson, general counsel for Mozilla, said Mozilla isn’t presently pursuing the issue with the Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department. “We will continue to evaluate and see if that will be the appropriate mechanism to get the resolution that we seek,” he said in an emailed statement.
2. Apple’s iOS
Apple has not been shy about using patents and copyrights to limit competitors. But it also relies on contracts to constrain developers and makers of peripherals that interface with Apple products. In some circumstances, Apple couples contracts with technological barriers. Apple’s rules prevent the use of writable, executable memory pages, except for its own Safari browser. Apple, in other words, is imposing the same kind of restriction as Microsoft is in Windows RT to preclude the possibility of JIT compilers, which are essential for the operation of modern browsers.
Mozilla is less bothered by Apple’s barriers, presumably due to its traditional focus on desktop browsing. “The similarities to iOS don’t justify an outcome on Windows that deprives users of choice, reduces competition, and hurts innovation,” Mozilla’s counsel Anderson said. “The difference here is that Microsoft is using its Windows monopoly power in the OS market to exclude competition in the browser market. Microsoft also published commitments to users, industry, and software developers … that in essence said Microsoft would design Windows to allow choice and provide a level playing field for third-party applications like the browser. These factors create a situation that is materially different than iOS.”
Perhaps, but the situation is not so materially different that we have Firefox or Chrome for iOS.
3. Google’s Chrome OS
How do you avoid competing with other browser makers? Make an operating system with a built-in browser. Chrome OS supports only Google’s Chrome browser. That’s the way it was made. When Microsoft tried that, the European Commission forced Microsoft to stop bundling its operating system and browser. But Google has gotten away with it, largely because so few people are using Chrome OS devices. Why worry that the playing field isn’t level if Google’s team is the only one that showed up for the game?
Microsoft is taking heat from browser competitors Firefox and Chrome for blocking them out of planned Windows 8 devices that will be based on ARM processors.
These low-power machines will run Windows RT, which Microsoft describes as a new member of its Windows operating system family that won’t allow installing third-party software.
Firefox maker Mozilla says that means it won’t be able to devise a version of its browser to run on Windows RT machines, something it says kills competition and is ultimately bad for customers.
“In practice, this means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability, and security to which users have grown accustomed,” writes Harvey Anderson, Mozilla general counsel in a blog post. “Given that IE can run in Windows on ARM, there is no technical reason to conclude other browsers can’t do the same.”
He also hints that allowing Internet Explorer but effectively blocking other browsers may stir up already settled legal issues about browser bias. “If Windows on ARM is simply another version of Windows on new hardware,” he writes, “it also runs afoul of the EC browser choice and seems to represent the very behavior the DOJ-Microsoft settlement sought to prohibit.”
Mozilla project manager Asa Dotzler expands on the perceived problem in a separate blog post in which he acknowledges that initially this will affect mostly tablets. But he says that as ARM processors are more widely used, Windows RT will have a bigger footprint. “ARM will be migrating to laptop PCs and all-in-one PCs very quickly,” Dotzler writes. “If you read Microsoft’s blog posts about Windows on ARM, you’ll see that they expect ARM PCs to cover the whole spectrum. ARM chips are already being used in servers. This is not a tablet-only concern.”
No word from Microsoft on this.
Windows 8 upgrades?
Microsoft plans a discount program for customers who buy Windows 7 computers this summer who later want to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, according to a CNET blog post that attributes the details to unnamed sources.
The intent apparently is to keep up sales of Windows 7 PCs during the run-up to the release of Windows 8, since customers might opt to wait a few months to buy the newer version.
It’s not a free upgrade, so customers would buy a Windows 7 PC, then pay more to install Windows 8 on it. Depending on the pricing of the two platforms, that could be more or less expensive than just waiting for Windows 8 and paying for it all at once. Presumably Microsoft has this all thought through.
HP bets its tablet future on Windows 8
HP CEO Meg Whitman says the company will start making tablets again after discontinuing them last year – and they will be based on the new Windows 8 operating system. No word on whether they will be x86 machines or ARM machines.
Whitman also pointed to new technology – memristors – that will eventually be worked into its PCs. A memristor is a resistor that also has memory in enough capacity that it could replace traditional storage in tablets and smartphones. No word on when they might come into play.
Lenovo plans Windows 8 convertible
Lenovo will come out with a Windows 8 version if its tablet/laptop that will take advantage of the operating systems support for traditional applications as well as its new touch-centric Metro aspect, the company’s president of products Peter Hortensius told a Wall Street Journal blogger.
The device will be similar to the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga that looks like a laptop, but if you want to use it as a tablet, the keyboard hinges back behind the screen.
Timeframe for the device: 12 months.
No DVD player
Windows 8 won’t support playing DVD videos, at least not out of the box. Support for optical players has to come from either a Windows add-on at some unspecified extra fee, be bundled as part of a package by hardware manufacturers or bought from a third party and installed by the end user. There are also some free players out there that users could install.
Microsoft says licensing fees for the decoder is one reason for the decision. Another is that fewer and fewer PC hardware platforms come with optical drives, so it just doesn’t make sense to include DVD video support on all of them that run Windows 8, Microsoft says.
ChkDsk gets better
In Windows 8, the ChkDsk utility that looks for and fixes disk problems has been made less disruptive, according to the Building Windows 8 blog.
Currently ChkDsk deals with the disk as a whole and therefore the machine can’t be used while it is running. In Windows 8, the checks can be made in the background so users can keep working on the machines. If ChkDsk finds problems, it notes them and fixes them straight away when the machine is taken offline, reducing the downtime needed to fix disk problems.