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States Filing Alternate Remedy Proposal for MS Anti-Trust Case 420

cbull writes: "News.com reports that 9 states and the District of Columbia will be filing an alternate remedy proposal in the Microsoft case later today. This would close some of the loopholes, better define middleware, require Microsoft to continue Office development for Macintosh and to develop a version of Office for Linux, among other things." There's also a Cringely column about the case. Somehow the phrase "Microsoft Office for Linux" has gotten people all fired up. Do you really want a version of Office for Linux? Really?
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States Filing Alternate Remedy Proposal for MS Anti-Trust Case

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  • Office for Linux (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:31PM (#2673167)
    Do you really want a version of Office for Linux? Really?

    YES!! Gawd, don't be such a dumbass. Corporate buyers (remember them? the ones who buy millions of PCs a year?) have STANDARDIZED on Microsoft Office for all their documents. Availability of Office for Linux would very substantially accelerate deployment of Linux desktops in business locations, which is precisely why Micros~1 hasn't done it! Forcing them to develop it would be a damn good idea.

  • by natslovR ( 530503 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:31PM (#2673176)
    And their (lack of) sale figures from the crippled version of Office for Linux would probably be used to show that Linux is a flop and that Open Source is really all about 'piracy' and getting things for free.
  • by archen ( 447353 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:32PM (#2673181)
    I'll agree that as a monopoly MS should have to play fair in the OS field (allowing competing products and such), but it strikes me as downright wrong to make MS develop Linux versions of a product.

    Not that I think it would matter since Open/Star Office would own them in that area anyway, as most Linux users are not the sort of people that like to pay hundreds of dollars for a closed source which probably wouldn't work very well anyway. (remember MS doesn't have the advantage in controlling the system from the ground up).
  • by Azog ( 20907 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:33PM (#2673187) Homepage
    I'd rather have Microsoft be forced to completely specify the Microsoft file formats for Office applications.

    That way, Star Office, KOffice, Gnumeric, and the rest can get the import filters 100% correct.

    That's really where Microsoft's monopoly is - many businesses would happily switch to Linux if they could be 100% sure that they could still reliably read and edit the thousands of documents they have already created.
  • by JimRay ( 6620 ) <`jimray' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:34PM (#2673194) Homepage
    Rather than force Microsoft to develop bloated software for linux, which will probably only work with a single distribution anyway, why not force them to open their file formats? Projects like OpenOffice [openoffice.org] and AppleWorks [apple.com] could then really compete. MS wouldn't have quite the same stranglehold that they currently enjoy with opened file formats. This would include, of course, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and interchange capabilities with Outlook. I suppose you could add Access into that, but it's such worthless crap anyway, why bother?

    And make them open every aspect of the file formats, not just make them compatible. My understanding is that the way things currently are, most non-MS Office Suites can still read MOST MS office files, but not ALL MS Office files, which keeps a lot of shops from converting. Especially those that rely on specialized macros and whatnot.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:36PM (#2673212)
    It's in the Cringely article.

    E-mail: microsoft.atr@usdoj.gov
    In the Subject line of the e-mail, type "Microsoft Settlement."
    Fax: 1-202-307-1454 or 1-202-616-9937
    Mail : Renata B. Hesse
    Antitrust Division
    U.S. Department of Justice
    601 D Street NW
    Suite 1200
    Washington, DC 20530-0001
  • by alfredo ( 18243 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:39PM (#2673240)
    they broke the law, they lose their freedom to do what they wish.

    Development of a Linux port will cost them time and money. Having to develop for their enemy would be a bitter pill for him to swallow.
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:41PM (#2673256) Homepage Journal
    For that matter, as someone who is (primarily) a Mac user, I don't even want it for Mac, though I can see how it has some business value (convincing PHB's that the Mac is a "real" computer, etc.) Cringely is right -- the settlement is a sham, and even with the states' proposed changes, it's still pretty toothless. The real problem, unfortunately, is that there is no conduct remedy that will do a damned bit of good. Breakup is the only solution ...

    ... and since that's not going to happen, my next preferred remedy would be one something like the one Steve Jobs is asking for: a big cash fine (not a "donation" to schools designed to ensure that future generations of developers will use all Microsoft all the time). But the proposed $1 billion is nothing, pocket change for Bill Gates. Make it $10 billion per year for ten years, and you're maybe talking about real money.

    Where should the money go? Although my first impulse is to say "to Microsoft's competitors and/or to free software," I don't think that's quite right in the long run, because it puts the government in the position of deciding who's worthy. Better, I think, would be to parcel the money out for public math and comp. sci. education according to some simple, objective formula (primary/secondary schools get money based on the number of students in the district, colleges get it based on the current size of their math and CS departments, say.)

    Is this ideal? No, because Microsoft will still be there, as one company. But it will seriously limit their ability to crush innovation in the industry for a decade (by which time things will no doubt have changed in all kinds of ways) and produce a generation of well-educated computer scientists, and hopefully be politically acceptable to all sides.
  • by Anonymous DWord ( 466154 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:41PM (#2673265) Homepage
    http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases/ms-settle.htm [usdoj.gov]

    Submitting Comments

    Before you submit comments about the settlement, the Department of Justice recommends that you review the documents related to the settlement [usdoj.gov].

    You may submit comments about the settlement by e-mail, fax, or mail.

    Note: Given recent mail delivery interruptions in Washington, DC, and current uncertainties involving the resumption of timely mail service, the Department of Justice strongly encourages that comments be submitted via e-mail or fax.

    microsoft.atr@usdoj.gov [mailto]
    In the Subject line of the e-mail, type Microsoft Settlement.

    1-202-307-1454 or 1-202-616-9937

    Renata B. Hesse
    Antitrust Division
    U.S. Department of Justice
    601 D Street NW
    Suite 1200
    Washington, DC 20530-0001
  • by BobTheWonderMonkey ( 144907 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:42PM (#2673267) Homepage

    Gods, you /. editors, stop sounding like the ignorant bigots you are!

    Office is one of the precious few things MS has done well! The suite is amazingly powerful, amazingly flexible, and as long as you avoid the VBA scripting, works very well!

    The Linux community hasn't produced anything comparable to date, and in fact, they never will, because the Linux community is missing the Machiavellian organization that it needs to effectively compete with MS (RMS's deluded efforts notwithstanding).

    If you're going to be anti-MS, which is a laudable opinion to be sure, at least sound intelligent and educated about it. Stop acting like ignorant bigots.

  • by Rick the Red ( 307103 ) <Rick,The,Red&gmail,com> on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:47PM (#2673305) Journal
    I don't want "Office for Linux" either. I want "Office for UNIX," able to run on Linux or BSD* or Solaris or HP/UX or Irix or...

    If that means they have to distribute source that we then compile for our target OS/processor, so be it ;-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:51PM (#2673327)

    I think we have to balance.

    1. MS Office is not Open Source so it is against
    our ideals

    2. MS Office will allow to increase hugely
    Linux user base - I know many people
    for whom Word/Excel/PowerPoint are the
    reason for keeping Windows.

    3. There will be no need for buying Windows
    anymore - huge savings both in trouble and
    in money

    4. Imagine PCs with Linux with preinstalled
    MS Office from Dell :)

    So my final answer is: I want it!

    I would phrase it this way:

    I want Microsoft to be forced to develop
    Office for the two-three most common non-MS
    dektop PC OSes. This would mean:
    Macs, Linux and BEOS or BSD.

    For me it is the same problem as unbundling
    local loop access with telecoms: one should
    be able to use different long distance
    provider (OS provider).


  • by axelrod ( 181682 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:51PM (#2673332)
    I'd go a step or two further:

    Publish the API's for Exchange (Yes, Ximian has reversed it, but make this permament)

    Force them to open their modifications to LDAP and Kerberos in the server world. I-planet's LDAP, for example, works with Solaris, Win2k, etc, as does Novel's Edirectory. Does Active Directory? Of course not.

    The browser wars really are over, what is imporant now is to keep MS from leveraging their desktop monopoly into an eventual server/internet monopoly, where things like MS-LDAP, MS-Kerberos, MS-Mail, Windows Media, etc serve to tie one down to only one end to end solution. Theirs.
  • Re:Do we? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:52PM (#2673333)
    Most places are going to snub an office replacement because most places -- by which I assume you mean most businesses -- will also continue to exist in a stagnant past, drifting in the doldrums of mismanagement in a sea of flickering flourescent lights or foul coffee, without a breath of wind to blow their wayward enterprises into the waters of success.

    The truth is this: there is very little business value added by Microsoft Office. Word is a very substandard document editor which focuses on layout over content, and at the same time is almost useless for layout. Powerpoint can only be used to create presentations to waste company time at tedious meetings. "Management Plan: Part A" can definitely be drawn on a chalk board faster than it can be written in powerpoint. Access should not be used to store any data your business actually needs, which implies that your business doesn't need Access. Excel is the sole component of Office that does anything useful. This is probably the best spreadsheet for financial and scientific applications out there, and has been since the first release on the MacOS Back in the Day. Too bad it is now bundled with all that other tripe.

    My point: a "100% office replacement" really means a replacement for Excel in any business where the management retains frontal lobe function.

  • by dimator ( 71399 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:55PM (#2673350) Homepage Journal
    Open file formats are important, but I'd argue the more important feature is maturity. MS Office has been around a while, and for all the whining people do about MS in general, Office for the most part kicks a lot of ass and deserves it's seat at the top of the productivity suite kingdom.

    Alternative suites are no where near as mature, and I doubt they ever will be, given the fact that Office is MS's cash cow, and they'd be stupid to let it slip. I mean while the latest Office sports speech recognition/dictation, the "alternative" suites are just now getting spell checking! While Office is available in 35 languages, others are just now thinking about considering getting started [openoffice.org]. And I'm not even going to go into usability (how many open-source applications do you know of that have the resources to conduct and utilize novice useability tests?)

    If you're using Windows, do me a favor: using IE, find a web page with a table in it, highlight the table, copy it, and paste it into Word or Excel. See what happens? The contents are interpreted correctly, and a Table appears in Word, and the contents of the table appear in seperate cells in Excel. Now ask yourself if that's anywhere near a possibility in ANY "alternative" office suite.

    Open file formats or not, I'd be happy with Office for linux, as I'm tired of having to settle for immature, poorly designed suites.
  • by Ldir ( 411548 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:58PM (#2673361)
    I believe "Office for Linux" has the potential to break the MS desktop OS monopoly, at least on corporate desktops. The lack of MS Office is the single biggest impediment to Linux in business.

    Companies don't really care about the desktop OS. To the business, the desktop OS is background noise, like the brand of the light bulbs in the ceiling. You might notice the difference, but it's not the basis for a business decision (an exaggeration, but more true than not). IT wants to manage support costs by using the same OS on every desktop (ideally), but the choice of which OS is based on technical nits and training issues. If you don't have to pay the yearly MS toll, you can buy a lot of training.

    On the other hand, your office suite is critical. If your business exchanges information with other businesses -- and virtually all big companies do -- then potential compatibility problems are a real issue. You look unprofessional if you have to tell a partner or client that you can't open their spreadsheet because you can't afford to run "real" Excel.

    Office for Linux could really shift the balance. The bad news is that as long as MS-the-OS-company is the same as MS-the-office-suite-company, Office for Linux will be an empty threat. You can bet that it will be crippled in performance, pricing, and/or reliability so that companies can't consider it seriously.

    The States' heart is in the right place. They deserve credit for that.

  • by ocip ( 200888 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @06:58PM (#2673364) Homepage
    Office for Linux would be interesting. Of course, it wouldn't be open. Likely, Microsoft would pick one distribution on which it will officially support Office for Linux (RedHat?). With RH's crazy compiler, the binaries wouldn't be very portable, either. So, instead of porting Office to Linux, why don't they open the details about how the files are constructed?

    Microsoft could be forced to not only open the details for Office documents, but why not Windows Media documents too? They could open details about protocols for Back Office, MSN Messenger, etc. Basically, make the files their software creates, and the protocols their software uses, open. This could make the life of writing new, better, open software that is compatible with the files/protocols more feature complete.
  • by bwt ( 68845 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:01PM (#2673387) Homepage
    I agree. ABSOLUETELY.

    I want to use linux as my desktop OS at work. Right now I can't. Having MSOffice available on linux would eliminate some of the reasons.

    Having it would ease the migration for both home users who aren't power users but are willing to try something different and for corporate IT departments who want CYA, risk mitigation, and change in small doses.

    OS wise open source is ready to replace MS. There is lots of good development occuring in the Office apps sector, but right now it's not uniformly ready. Even if it was, I shouldn't have to tie changing my spreadsheet to changing my word processor to changing my presentation software to changing my corporate email app. With MS Office on Linux, larger numbers of people would be able to try out individual office apps without converting wholesale.
  • by horster ( 516139 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:05PM (#2673419)
    then never mind, thanks for help!

    while your at it, would you mind pointing me to the full win32 api? those wine developers seem to be too stupid to do a search.

    oh, and how about SMB? those idiots at samba sure are having a hard time getting it right, it's right there on MSDN right?

    oh, and darn it those Tom fools who can't figure out Exchange - could you help them out too?

    thanks a lot, we're pretty naive not being professional programers you know
  • Re:NO..... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pthisis ( 27352 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:05PM (#2673422) Homepage Journal
    He didn't say "the same file standard". They could add new features as long as they document the file format for them openly.
  • by Pauly ( 382 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:08PM (#2673446)
    The Open Source office suite's barriers to import/export perfection (and believe me, export is as important as import) lie solely with the programmers on the projects either not having the motivation or time to get it right/ do more than cursory research.

    This is utter uninformed BS. As Alan Cox pointed out, I could write a TCP stack exclusively from the RFC's and it would never be able to make a connection on today's internet. The same goes, moreso, for these file format specifications. I've looked at them, I'm a programmer, and I can tell you with absolute assurance there is no way those documents alone can give anyone enough information to properly decode the format. There are a million mysteries in just how word manipulates the format, much less OLE object formats and other counter-intuitive Windows behavior.

    Other posts have it right. Let's kill Office's stranglehold by killing it's file format. This could happend by making an indisputable format standard for documents. I don't care if it's XML based like the StarOffice format and SVG, but that's surely a good idea. Get the UN, ISO, W3C, and the IEEE to rubber stamp it and get on with an era of computing without risk of getting your data trapped in a proprietary format. Make Microsoft use it, and it could happen. That way, people can still use Office to share informaton if they like and the rest of us can communicate back with them in any way we choose.

  • by Tuzanor ( 125152 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:08PM (#2673450) Homepage
    Forcing MS to open source their software is not only niave, its stupid. First of all, MS office for Linux would probably do very poorly, not because it wouldn't be any good, but because most Linux users are avid Microsoft haters. They'll claim that now Microsoft is trying to invade Linux blah blah blah.

    What would be a good thing is porting it to Solaris and HP-UX. Those are 2 OSes that are used as a desktop a lot by businesses, especially ones that do a lot of CAD/CAM and engineering work. One of the reasons why Sun is doing the whole StarOffice thing is because, even with the sunPCI, a lot of people are forgoing thier Sun workstations for windows so they can have IE, Office, etc.

  • by mazur ( 99215 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:09PM (#2673458) Homepage
    I mean, we all know that under this USA government no serious measures will be taken against Microsofts law breaking policies and actions. It's nice that some states are still holding out, but that will also soon end as soon as enough political palms are greased in an unobtrusive manner.

    The only real way to break Microsofts monopoly is to force and enforce their disclosing their "standards" (and I don't mean business atandards), and to follow the standards laid out by others, primarily the RFCs and such, if they choose to use those standards. (SMTP, etc.)

    And it may be a good idea to have an inquiry by a committee of GPL'ed people to look over the code of Microsoft products and point out the parts of the code that are used from open source and have an independant, expert committee reporting to a judge to see if Microsoft has done a baddie there.

    But this MS Office bit, that don't impress me much, won't keep me warm in the long, cold... Sorry, got distracted there.


  • Absolutely! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RelliK ( 4466 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:14PM (#2673495)
    Microsoft's monopoly is propped up by incompatible file formats and protocols. Take away their ability to make incompatible files/protocols, and suddenly their monopoly power vanishes. *That* is what will stimulate competition as everyone would be able to compete on a level playing field. There are two problems with this approach though: first, what are the odds that government officials have any clue? OK, that was a rhetorical question. Next, how do you ensure that Microsoft released all the specs and that they don't make suble incompatible changes in the future? That's a tricky one, and Microsoft can always plead ignorance (they attempted to pull that off at the trial).

    Now what effects will the release of MS Office for Linux have? It seems like a good idea: since most businesses are standardized on MS Office, it will speed the adoption of Linux on the desktop. (This, BTW, seems to be the only major obstacle). So, in the short run it's a good thing... except for one little problem: does anyone doubt that the Linux version of MS Office, if it is ever released, would be so crippled as to make it virtually useless? Or that Microsoft would find some other way to tie their customers to Windows? Microsoft could easily say "we coplied with the ruling" while blaming everything on Linux. So much for that.

    Now what are the long term effects of this? If the scenario I described above plays out, then none whatsoever: MS Office for Linux will die a horrible death and we are back to square one. But now suppose MS Office for Linux is a success. Then corporations accelerate the adoption of Linux on the desktop; sooner or later, Linux becomes a viable choice for home PCs too and OEMs start bundling it, etc. Great! The windows monopoly is broken... but the office monopoly is perpetuated. And who know what other effects this may have. I suppose one monopoly is better than two, but it is nowhere near the ideal state.
  • by blindbat ( 189141 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:19PM (#2673523)
    Heck, I don't even want Office for Windows! I use alternate products from Corel and Lotus.
  • Do you really want a version of Office for Linux? Really?

    Nope. I really don't want it for Windows. Wouldn't this make the problem worse?

    MS makes OfficeNix[tm] then it crashes millions of servers everywhere. Then it's linux's fault. Wouldn't that help to broaden their powers anyways? Help them convert people?

    I just installed Star Office for Windows, and I love it.

    Why not solve everyone's problem and develop a Windows Layer for Linux? Basically WINE but once loaded you could run anything windoze, DirectX games, office, etc. This would keep their code secret and let everyone run Red Alert 2 [my fav] while using a REAL OS.

    Plus, they could still charge 100 bucks a pop!
  • by grendelkhan ( 168481 ) <scottricketts.gmail@com> on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:25PM (#2673566) Journal

    Except that MS isn't going to develop Office for Linux, the source code and code for all the underlying OS calls is going to be auctioned off to three seperate companies, who will then do the porting.

    I think the States have really nailed this one on the head, they realized that MS has no incentive to make this project actually work, so why bother to make them do it? Turn it over to someone who does, and then, just to make sure it gets done correctly, throw parallel processing at it by allowing three different companies the right to do it.

    Read the filing, the States have their heads squared on straight enough to see most of the loopholes in the DOJ agreement. File formats get left out, but bundling, phasing out old versions of Windows just to get people to upgrade, embrace-and-extend, closed API's, tying, OEM preference, they all get hit. It's a very good read.

  • by uberman ( 17724 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:26PM (#2673575)
    Microsoft Office for Linux - A means to an end?

    Seeing an authentic MS Office on Linux would jump an important hurdle impeding wide-spread rollouts of Desktop Linux.

    OpenOffice (as good as it is) won't make large scale gains in the 'Enterprise' because it will take more than Free Software ideals for the massive MS Office massive user-base to migrate to a Linux platform.

    I'm sure many IT Directors are looking for alternatives to MicroSoft's new 'software-rental' purchasing. Many know linux is a solid desktop OS, unfortunately that's when reality hits. Not having true MS Office means:

    - MS Access client apps will need to be rewritten (hundreds lurk in my company)
    - Any Visual Basic code and Macros will need to be redeveloped
    - Retrain hundreds/thousands of end-users
    - Train all new employees (When's the last time an applicant listed StarOffice as a skill?)

    I believe MS Office on Linux could lead to widescale Linux OS adoption in the corporate world, and wouldn't that be the first half of the battle won? By that tme I'm sure OpenOffice will be tough to beat.

    /uberman tossing in his $0.02
  • Re:Do we? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:50PM (#2673704)
    ...visuals are half the battle, content is the other.

    I don't buy that. Content is everything. If you have no content and great visuals, you don't have 1/2 a presentation, you have nothing. Powerpoint is horrible, even for presentations. The display medium is usually a projection, and that means typically an 800x600 distorted trapezodioal projection on a distant wall. Further, Powerpoint encourages you to waste what little precious space you have to work with. Logos, patterns, colored polygons, and bullets use space and add nothing. Here's a mockup PowerPoint slide:

    Management Plan:

    • * Execute Global Synergy
    • * Synergize Global Execution
    • * Globalize Synergistic Executives

    Damn, that was useful. Can we go over it again?

    Next thing: Powerpoint leaves no traces. You can't take it with you unless the presenter prints it out, which is an insult to the information carrying ability of paper. You can't refer to something that used to be projected up on a wall but now isn't. Often, the presentation itself is of little use if the presenter isn't speaking any more.

    A lot of businesses would do themselves a favor by getting rid of Powerpoint. A really well executed 1-page paper handout can carry enough information to accompany an hour-long presentation or class. Computer printouts are 1200dpi. 2400dpi offset printing is considered low tech. If you print a chart at 1200dpi someone might actually be able to make sense of it.

    Some businesses are clued into this already. 3M has a worldwide effort to burn powerpoint at the stake. Other large companies are watching. If I were an executive, I'd fire any and all employees who invited me to a powerpoint presentation. It doesn't doesn't respect the intelligence or the value of the time of the victim ...er... audience.

    Here's an exercise. Go to google. Search for powerpoint presentations. Find one that's really great. One that is really informative and beautiful. Then come back here and post the URL.

  • by jimlintott ( 317783 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:55PM (#2673736) Homepage

    Try LyX [lyx.org] and you'll never touch Word again.

    I agree with the original poster, only Excel has any value. With Linux I find I don't need Excel as Gnumeric is a great basic spreadsheet and I just use one of the many programming languages if I need more power. The problem with Excel is that too many see it as a platform for building applications (that suck) when they should have just used a real language to begin with.

    Star Office sucks too. All Office suites suck. Small seperate apps that do a single job well is the only way to go.

    When it comes to document sharing if you can't say it with plain old text then you obviously don't have much to say.

  • by helo ( 128311 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:49PM (#2674029) Homepage
    "Microsoft would have to develop the code to load and save Office documents for 5 open source office suites"

    Remember that this isn't only about helping open source get on a level playing field with MS. The agreement is supposed to make sure that all competition to MS has a fair chance.
  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:53PM (#2674049)

    I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you're wrong.

    I don't care what the stupid judge said -- Microsoft is not a monopoly. It does not have exclusive ownership of means of production or distribution channels or anything else, like AT&T or Standard Oil before them did. There are other companies out there that make OSes and office applications and internet browsers, which means there IS competition, and where's competition there's no monopoly.

    There's this thing that's been talked about quite a bit since the first Microsoft case. It's called network effects. Basically it means that the value of something increases with the number of people who own and/or use that thing. Take the FAX machine as the classic example. Say you built one in your garage before anyone had ever thought of it. Great, you have a FAX machine. First one on your block to have one. What are you gonna do with it? Not much unless other people have them as well.

    Software works in a similar way. If I have MS Office, and so does everyone I work with, then I can exchange files with them and we can communicate. Now, What if I go out and buy some other office suite that isn't compatible (and when it comes to MS Office, nothing is 100% compatible), all my co-workers and collegues suddenly can't open the files I send them, nor can I open the files they send me. I become a pariah, get fired, wife leaves me, takes the dog with her, and I end up scrounging for food in the dumpsters outside of Burger King. You see why this is a tough situation? Unless you can get a majority of users to switch virtually all at once, you can't ever switch to an alternative, no matter how appealing it is. You simply can't afford to lose access to your existing documents, and you can't afford to not be able to exhange documents with others.

    Now, this is why Microsoft is a monopoly. Not because there are absolutely no alternatives. It's because there are very high barriers to entry in the OS market. It's not just that Windows has 90% of the market, it's that 90% of software written by practically any company is written for Windows. It's a self-perpetuating cycle. It doesn't matter whether they got where they are because they made a good product or not. The rules exist to protect the public from getting screwed. When a company gets to the point where it is utterly dominant in a market, and especially when there are huge barriers to entry in that market, it is considered a monopoly.

    That, alone, is not a bad thing really. The problem is that once you become a monopoly, you have to play by a different set of rules to ensure that you don't use your power to harm consumers. Microsoft broke those rules bigtime. Many times over, knowing full well that they were doing it. They have alternately lied about it, joked about it, and claimed that they will continue to do it, regardless of what happens. Face it. We don't have unfettered capitalism in this country (or any other that I'm aware of). You can bet that Microsoft doesn't want unfettered capitalism either. We have laws that govern our commerce. Microsoft broke those laws, plain and simple. They were warned repeatedly. They did it willfully. They deserve a LOT worse than the pathetic settlement they'll get.

  • by TandyMasterControl ( 136043 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:29PM (#2674195) Homepage
    Like a lot of people , I think it would be better to have a 10 year requirement for MS to fully publish their document formats. Make that 15 years - if you want 5 years of partial compliance from Microsoft you'll have to budget another 5 years at least for their squirming, insolent footdragging and outright defiance.

    The bottomline in this country is that capital has completely captured the regulatory authority of government, and through its media ownership drastically undermined the legitimacy of government oversight with a Long March of corporate subsidized pro-elite ideology - now 20 years old at least. MS therefore can be guilty as hell and yet there is insufficient political will to enforce the laws regulating behavior of monopolies. The people have been told to disengage from these matters and for the most part they have. The legislators have been told not to bite the hand that feeds them and they have pulled out their own molars to avoid giving offense. Two judges so far have pretty much wrecked their careers trying to deal with MS like they would a normal defendant so the writing is on the wall for any future judge. They see the clout of the defendant, and like the Republican T. P. Jackson, they can see the ideological slant of the Court of Appeals above them: if MS can be let go on a technicality and they can be screwed in the process, that is what the Court of Appeals will do.

    Under a crony capitalism style of government, which we see perfected under Bush II meaningful regulation of monopolies is impossible. (Heck, cartels of energy firms are convened behind closed doors to draft administration "energy policy" and the Vice President goes so far as to openly defy an order from Congress to reveal who was present at these meetings!) At least you can't look for sincere effort from the Feds to obtain a restoration of free and fair markets, or anything like justice. The Dems largely lack the spine to piss off corporate benefactors although the party nominally supports antitrust regulation. It takes them too long to work up the determination to do something about flagrantly abusive monopolies. And trustbusting is just not a value that remotely squares with mainstream GOP politics anymore. It's not like they are hiding that fact either: as a presidential candidate, Bush declared his sympathies were completely with Microsoft on the day they were first "convicted" and his antitrust division chief, Charles James, publicly extolled the consumer benefits of the MS monopoly during the trial. Let's face this honestly and frankly: there can be no doubt about the ideological riptide that Justice must swim against now and for the next 3 years at least. There should also be no surprise that things have come to this sorry pass. The role of big money in elections has so far overshadowed mere votes that even a party committed to antitrust regulation can only manage to do a half assed job of it.

    So if there is a block of states litigating for something that somewhat reflects the fact that MS lost the antitrust case and was indeed judged to be a monopoly, illegally shielding its core market from competition and illegally leveraging that core monopoly to pursue monopolistic dominance in related markets, then you have to get behind whatever the states came up with as their alternative settlement proposal. This is the last hope folks, whether we think it's "ideal" or "flawed". There are simply no more options on your side and criticism is a luxury you can no longer afford. You can choose to let yourself be carried out by the riptide, or throw your strength in with those who are rowing back to shore, though at a slant.
    Judging whether MS Office for Linux is desirable you have to weigh it against the aboslutely certain alternative. There's no mystery about what that is anymore. The alternative is nothing. Under the Bush Asscroft regime and the settlement they agreed to with MS, there will be NOTHING in the court ordered remedies that even touches on the heart of the problem, which is the entwined OS and applications monopoly. So your choice is really between what these 9 states have proposed, hoping they can get it all, and on the other hand, a crony capitalism settlement, a legal forfeit, that amounts to a Federal imprimatur of approval upon the Microsoft Windows monopoly and essentially a GOVERNMENT GRANT of MONOPOLY, rather than any kind of remedy or punishment.

    Office for Linux (plus the required inclusion of Sun's JRE in Windows) is better than that submission and by a breathtakingly huge margin.
    (Just so no one says I am assuming too much, I know that a requirement that MS Office be ported to 3 other non-MS operating systems doesn't necessarily mean that Linux will be one of those.)

  • Re:One Remedy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:33PM (#2674214) Homepage Journal
    Oooooh. Very interesting.

    To round it off, why not make it bilateral? No possibility of Microsoft bringing any kind of suit for any reason for five years, no possibility of anybody suing Microsoft for any reason for five years.

    If you complained about this it would imply that you thought Microsoft could be sued in the first place, and that they are not effectively above the law through ability to manipulate the system.

    But if you figure that Microsoft can do _anything_ and get away with it through abusing the legal system, you conclude things like: the only reason they're not stealing Linux is because they don't want it, they are already taking action to seize still further power and control in the world, and they already take no consideration of legalities in doing so, except as a weapon.

    This would be one hell of an interesting trial balloon. It'd be very revealing to see whether they'd take the 'un-sue-able' aspect as an opportunity, or freak out and refuse to deal on such terms. It would reveal the extent to which they abuse the legal system as a weapon but are themselves exempt from it.

  • by gusnz ( 455113 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:47PM (#2674267) Homepage
    I think the solution to the MS problem is to regulate their real problem behavior


    The court found Microsoft had a monopoly on Windows. Fair enough, I read an article on the currently-down Kuro5hin that detailed how Be was forced out of business by Microsoft's hardware vendor license that (supposedly) said, in effect, install mulitple operating systems on any box and lose your license to Windows.

    That and the whole browser integration shambles gives compelling evidence that Microsoft has a monopoly on operating systems.

    But when did this extend to Office applications? MS Office is pretty good, not perfect, but most importantly it doesn't HAVE to be bundled with new computers under threat of license revokation. Businesses like it because it's easy to use. It's largely a de facto standard.

    So, why are the courts suggesting that MS open up Office? In my book, that's pointless. You don't see them ordering a Windows version of ClarisWorks, for instance, or iTunes. I don't like some of Microsoft's business practices, but this seems like overstepping the boundaries between fair regulation and harrassment.
  • by killthiskid ( 197397 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @12:30AM (#2674678) Homepage Journal

    Office, and its claim of 'ease of use'...

    Ok, I have some issues with the claim to MS Office suite ease of use.

    I work at a university in the Midwest. I support 40 people directly, among other things (support takes about 35% of my time).

    My users are decent. They are good enough that they require very little support. Once a month I lead a training sessions or two (each three hours long) and I teach them new things. They catch on quickly. There comes a point where the problem isn't the intelligence level of the user, it's the software.

    I've developed an opinion about MS. I've programmed in VC++, VB, used MFC and ATL. I've done extraordinary things with ADO, and made large systems that use COM. I've used MS-SQL, and I know Win95, Win98, WinNT, and Win2000 like the back of my hand (WinME? Not much experience yet, but good luck on getting WinME personal to log onto a domain). I'm also well versed in Office95 to Office 2000.

    In other words, I've used MS products to solve real world problems. I've supported MS users. I've also admined novell and MS servers, and more recently, I've been getting deep in Unix based systems (although, in the case of Unix, my average users don't use it, I use it to get info for them (think Informix and card access systems for security and POS systems)).

    In my experience, I've noticed one thing about MS. There are two layers to MS software (and development environments)- the tasks that the software (or SDK) was very specifically designed to do and every thing else...

    Think Visual Basic. VB gives you access to many events. Open form, load form, preview key... but try to go the next step... try to capture an event that isn't in the VB set, and welcome to the world of Win32 events. Don't get me wrong, you can do it. I've done it. Window moves and resizes (think popup text-tips. I wrote a COM control that popped up text-tips right under a custom active-x control that allowed entry of metric values with a specific range, significant digits, and resolution. The popup gave feedback to the entered value.) I don't know how many times I crashed VB debugging this solution, but I got it, and it shipped.

    Another point... using COM, ATL, MFC... f-ing A, I worked my ass off to get that stuff to work right. Specifically loading dynamic ActiveX controls that each controlled a specific type of hardware. The COM spec., the ActiveX spec., Trying to find some damn good info about any MS tech and using beyond the simple stuff. It is a challenge.

    Don't get me started on Access. Powerful to a point, and cripple for anything beyond the basics.

    Some my users are good. And MS is good for somethings. But I call bullshit on ease of use outside a very narrow range of uses. Mail merge? Use of an ODBC data source? An Access DB that does something with more than 3 tables? Is multi user? Web access? Security?

    MS usability is a layer of façade over a layer of crap.

    I have yet to see something moderately complicated EASY on a MS product.

    I have strong faith that SOMEONE will make it easy, and I doubt it will be MS. They will still be concerned with marketing and profits while someone else will make it easy. Use Napster as a lesson. A thousand people have thought of it, but it only take one to write it.

    On the other hand, MS gets much better with each iteration. The next OS will be killer. It will be full of fluff. It will offer no choices, because everything will be preloaded, but it WILL WORK. And users will user that which is loaded.

    There is hope in there, but I leave it as an exercise to the student to find it.

    Mean while, Monday, I will go back to work, do some work on MS, Oracle, ColdFusion, Unix, Perl, etc... but my life will be dominated by those users using MS.

  • by mikebelrose ( 192357 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @02:38AM (#2674963)
    There's more to open file formats than you realize. It's not just about making applications interoperable, it's about making the data itself accessible to any analysis you want. Think of it this way, as long as .doc files are only readable by the latest version of Word, you can only work with the data in Word, and you are limited by Word's feature set. What if you want to post it on the web and get it crawled? MS won't let people write search spiders to index Word files. What if you want to OCR the file? If you can't read it properly, you can't OCR it properly. God help furture generations who try to go through archives of today. Even if the data still exists, they'll have to learn a different program for each little file format.

    Remember the Middle Ages? That was when you could ask people in three different towns what a yard was, and you'd get three different answers. If MS want's to change the format every 2 years to allow new features, that's their business. However, if they won't share the specs with people, then computer technology will remain in the Dark Ages.

  • by Tuzanor ( 125152 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @03:39AM (#2675062) Homepage
    if programs break across distributions then they are poorly coded

    Office is probably coded alright, but its designed (of course!) to only run on windows. hell, the Mac versions of Office are re-writes from the ground up! Which is what would probably be done if it was ported to UNIX...

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments