The MS - EU ruling

For all the people who think the EU ruling in the Microsoft case is about Realplayer vs. Windows Media Player: you don't get it.

It's not about some crappy player vs. some other crappy player program. It's about the difference between integrating a program into an OS and shipping a program with an OS. In both occasions the user will not see the difference, as in both occasions the program is in the start menu. The difference is in the fact that the real (pun intended) customers of Windows (the OEM's) should be able to decide which package of extra software they ship with the OS. They can in the situation where the programs are not integrated with the OS. They can't when the programs are part of the OS.

I haven't read anyone debating the obvious question: why did Microsoft integrate WMP into Windows and why wasn't WMP made a separate program? The answer is pretty simple. When you start WMP in its default form, you are, when connected to the net, automatically visiting which website? Ok, and what can you do on that website? Buy music! But that's not all. You can also listen to content delivered by 3rd parties, the so called 'partners'. That content is streamed to you in MP3 format, or any other format than WMP's native formats? No, WMP native.

Now here's the catch: WMP is a tool to get people onto sites where they can spend money and it is also a tool to get as much content providers use the WMP native formats. You see: if more and more people have WMP installed on their system, more and more content providers will obviously provide their content in WMP native formats so the largest possible group of people can consume the content.

Who will benefit from that, financially? Who can sell WMP streaming servers to the content providers? (They happen to come with a nice Windows 2003 installer ) Who can sub-license their streaming technology to 3rd parties because it will be the de-facto standard, because every consumer has the player right there on their desktop?

This is Big Money PoliticsTM, people. Who has the media, has the people. Today people watch content on their TV. within a few years more and more content will be made available via the Internet via streaming technology.

Do you still think this is about a silly player vs. silly player debate? If you still do, go back to the top of this article and start reading. Until you get it.

(disclaimer: I don't use either one of them, I use Winamp 5)


  • I have one simple question for those who oppose the practice of "bundling":

    Should Microsoft have quit integrating new features into the operating system when networking stacks were still being provided by third parties?

    Perhaps others don't, but I remember the bad old days of Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 when one had to download a Winsock package just to get online. Not very pleasant. But when Microsoft integrated these features into the OS, they put third-party providers out of business.

    Seems to me that that's a normal hazard of providing add-on software that people might conceivably want out-of-the-box. After all, how many operating systems can you name that do not automatically install a web browser by default? Yet somehow Opera, Firebird, etc., still manage to hang on, and still get downloaded, as do WinAmp, Real, Apple's iTunes player and other media players. So it doesn't appear to me that people's choices are being restricted at all.

  • You also don't get the point. It's not about the program, it's about what the program will establish over time. Of course, you can download another player. That's not the point. It's also not the point about MS integrating codecs into the OS. It's about the player making WMA and friends defacto standards.

    I remember the days when Trumpet winsu^Hock was the TCP stack you had to use to get access to the internet. I too am aware of the fact that there is a thin line between what should and what shouldn't be integrated in an OS. However, it's not the tool integrated in the OS, it's WHY the tool is INTEGRATED (and not shipped separately) in the OS. It's not integrated because MS wants you to play music, because it doesn't require integration for that and MS wouldn't pouring that amount of money in WMP marketing. It's about making WMA and friends defacto standards, so in the end you need WMP or you can't consume the content or: you neet WMA streaming technology or you can't reach any consumers.

    Try using the Firebird browser and you'll soon see that some sites are not usable so you have to use IE, so you have to keep IE around. "Then why bother using Firebird?" a lot of people will think, and will not use Firebird, but will stick with IE.

    The old dreaded "but you can download the player" is a moot point. Most people won't download them. They already have a player, and look, you can use it with all the content you want to see. Gee, how can that be: because the player is so great it can show you all those content, or because the player is there and THUS the content providers are required to use WMA otherwise their target audience has a hard time consuming the content? Why can't WMP play .rm files, why can't WMP play quicktime movies? WHy wouldn't MS give the user the codec to play these streams as well, because a LOT Of content is in those formats? It would give more customer satisfaction, right? It also would give other formats a way to get to the consumer, and content providers a reason NOT to use WMA and friends, as .rm and quicktime are also watchable by everybody, as everybody has WMP.

  • >>Why can't WMP play .rm files, why can't WMP play quicktime movies? WHy wouldn't MS give the user the codec to play these streams as well, because a LOT Of content is in those formats<<

    Lets say MS built this into WMP. Would this be good or bad for Real/Apple?

  • "Lets say MS built this into WMP. Would this be good or bad for Real/Apple? "

    Yes, because millions and millions of people can then use content in their formats. So content providers can license quicktime streaming technology or real media streaming technology (their main source of income). For consumers this is also better, because if they swap operating system (!) they don't have to be afraid all of the content will be WMA'ed as content providers will not be forced to use WMA per se (because potential consumers do have a player installed already)

    After all, if you opt for real media or quicktime, you force your consumers to download an extra player, which can be a pretty high hurdle for a lot of people (I for one don't use real player because it is spyware, although you have open source alternatives)

  • I don't really claim to know which side is correct, but your post was enlightening.

  • Paul, me neither :) I do feel that MS has the right to include tools into their OS, even solely to get a bigger marketshare in some area. As long as it doesn't cross a line drawn by laws. The EU decided it has crossed that line and for a reason not a lot of people seem to understand. :)

    As an example why it is important to acknowledge that line drawn by laws, it is good to look at what is integrated in a server OS sold by MS and why it is not a big deal this integration takes place: Windows 2000 server or Windows 2003 server do not have a monopoly on the server. So if MS integrates a webserver in the OS which works only with MS formats (ISAPI) does it make a big difference and does it force developers to adopt it or go out of business? No, not at all. :)

  • I agree with Paul, of all the arguments on either side, Frans' is probably the most well thought out. I still think the ruling is crappy, but you make a good argument Frans. Cheers.

  • You know this is the same argument that I heard about IE over on the states side. The problem that nobody was addressing with that argument, and the Open Source community conviently chose to ingnore, was if you don't have a web browser on your machine out of the box how are you suppose to get any of the other web browsers out there? It was one of those Catch-22's that you are damned if you do and damned if you don't include the browser. So I really found that whole non-sense to be rather annoying, it was just really about a company (i.e. Netscape) that went belly up because they chose not to improve their product any. How many years did we have to deal with Netscape 4.x, it was probably a good 5 years.

    I see the same problems happening here with WMP, how is the average Joe suppose to find out about all these services and music formats out there if he doesn't have a starting point. For instance, my grandmother loves her music CD's getting played on her computer, but how is she suppose to find WinAmp, RealPlayer, QuickTime or WMP if she still thinks the Internet and e-mail are the same thing. But with her new computer all that she has to do is pop in her CD and up comes WMP to play her music.

    I think the problem is everybody who is weighing in on this topic, assumes the average computer user knows about all these media players, and knows where to find them and how to install them.

    I don't mind the MS intigration, because as a developer that has worked on both Windows and Linux machines, I have to say I like knowing that the user that is going to be installing my software will have the same basic setup as me. So I don't have to worry about checking for every little component and library in my code.

    Also I like that MS isn't up in your face intrusive like AOL (with RealPlayer and WinAmp), have you ever tried to clean your system of everything AOL after you install one of those programs? Because it is a task in it self.

    So in summery, I don't agree wtih what Frans says, because I like knowing that MY PC has everything I need right out of the box, and if I want more than that, I go BUY (yes people still buy software) the software or download the free stuff off the internet.

  • Frans, thanks for your notes. Really good arguments. However, I'm not sure the EU understood it this way.

    With these arguments other solutions would be possible: opening of the WMP protocol, the requirement to support other protocols with the media player...

    This was Microsoft's offer to the EU:

    side by side installation of 3 or 4 other media players with the operating system.

  • "This was Microsoft's offer to the EU:

    side by side installation of 3 or 4 other media players with the operating system"

    I couldn't find any trustful information about MS' offer. Could you throw in a link?

  • I can't throw in a link :-(

    Yesterday Thomas Lutz (Microsoft Austria) told about this in the TV-news in Austria.

  • "I can't throw in a link :-(

    Yesterday Thomas Lutz (Microsoft Austria) told about this in the TV-news in Austria"

    Hmmm, bummer...

    Either way, IF it's true, it would have been solved THIS issue, but no future issue. The EU was eager to set a precedent for future cases as well. If they would have allowed the settlement proposal as you state it, a future case (and one is already on the horizon in the case of the virusscanner inclusion in XP SP2, which kills a lot of business of symmantec and others) would have to start from the beginning, which is in the advantage of the violating party, in this case Microsoft.

  • Frans interesting point of view.

    I do have a few concerns with the point of view.

    Lets say in the 80's that we had the DMCA in place. What would the computer industry look like today??

    Compact wouldn't have been able to reverse engineer the IBM Bios. Apple would have been liable to Xerox for the GUI the mouse and a few other items.

    Times have changed. The PC is moving from a Hobbiest/Office system to the basis for CE devices. and all of the above.

    With that Consumers are demanding that certain features be made available. (I won't mention the true monopolist as defined by law here but will say that Real called them out recently)

    The issue at hand is where the PC is moving. Glitch free audio, glitch free video are neccesities for the market in some areas.

    It should be pointed out in this defence is that Real has as much access as Microsoft does to implement or extend these features.

    I say let the market decide on that point of view. Most of the market decided against Real when they added spyware.

    Security is another big factor. MS just added the firewall, I believe that AV should be added also. Should it be a API or MS actually provide it?? we know that consumers are not buying the protection they need or the expanse of viruses, spam etc etc wouldn't be as high as it is now.

    The question is Who defines the OS and what the OS is. I say that it evolves over time and is dependant on the market it targets.

    Now if you talk at the server level, then yes includeing the audio and media componets at the server level is questionable. BUT MS should be able to make a SKU with it available.

    well enough rambleing. sorry for the stream of thought post it does disjustice for your well thought out post.

    If governments want to play the regulation game, they should just say that Licensing with OEM's must be open and allow them to choose what is put on the systems. I for one would Love that so that I can tell them to stop putting real aol and various other "system distablizing componets on the systems I have to buy from OEM's)

  • Your post hit the nail on the head, Frans.

  • The way I understand it is that the evil Real will not allow MS to include its codec.. This forces users to download alternatives such as Alternative Real to play their content.

    Future behavior shouldn't be punished... There is a fine line between what should be bundled or not bundled.. Let individual companies sort it out. Don't get institutions like the EU involved who will bureacratically make these decisions..

    Also, why hasn't the EU gone after Real for their proprietory format?

  • Frans: "Try using the Firebird browser and you'll soon see that some sites are not usable so you have to use IE, so you have to keep IE around."

    Which sites? I have only found 'windowsupdate' and 'gotdotnet workspaces' the latter of which is rubbish anyway. And there's no big deal with keeping IE round for windowsupdate.

    I'd like to know how MSN Messenger could be configured to fire up Firefox instead of IE though - that'd be useful...

    And hosting Firefox in Sharpreader instead of IE.

  • IM: the occasional site, some sites here in Holland do not work very well with Mozilla browsers.

    You should assign .htm and .html to firefox in the file types section of windows explorer -> tools -> folder options. Assign as much .htm and hmtl extensions to firefox as you can find there. THen it works, firefox opens when I click on a link in outlook for example :)

  • >Should office be integrated with windows? Or at least word? <

    Why not? I know I'd appreciate it.

    For the longest time I've been waiting for MS to get around all of this by simply saying that Windows isn't just an 'Operating System', but rather a 'Desktop Solution' (or some other smart cool term...)

    That is, if people say "this shouldn't be included with an OS" why not just say "Fine, this isn't /just/ an OS we're offering's a /bundle/ consisting of OS + relevant apps - we call it the "Complete Desktop Package"...and voila?

    /Mats Helander

  • Mats, it's not the player as being default, it's the availability of WMP on every desktop.

    Example: last week, started, an online music shop. The format? WMA. Why? They say on their website: "Because it's the most widely used format available, everybody has the player".

    Now, THAT's the point here. :) Realplayer can jump up and down, but Microsoft has already won: WMA is the defacto standard or is becoming it in a very fast pace.

    Metaphore: Objectspaces will become the defacto standard (or at least opath) for O/R mappers on .NET. Just because it is everywhere. I think you can relate to that :)

  • Hi Frans!

    I actually agreed with your post, just not with all of the two comments I replied to! :-)

    I certainly agree with you that "stakes is high" when it comes to owning the mass media distribution channels of the future! Consider if there was only one maker of TVs in the world and all sets were preset to "Fox News"...[shudder] Then, Bush might actually win the upcoming electipon without the help of his fancy new (remote-controlled) electronic voting machines....


  • hey Mats :)

    heh :) I fully agree :) That would be a horrible world to live in *shiver*.

    But to be fair: what MS did was *in the beginning* fair and normal: use the mechanisms at hand to roll out a future strategy. It's for competitors a sour grape that they found out too late (or at least couldn't do anything about it). .. But that's life I guess.

  • Why some people don't like when somebody makes successful business. Guys, in the country where I live we have a saying: "The barn of my neighbor is on fire. Not a family or friend, but VERY pleasing to the eye".

    Well, in general this case smells the same stuff or in other ways to say "can we make some additional money by suiting somebody and not making software?"

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