Paper Machines and Phantom Computers - Has Microsoft Gone Too Far Against Linux?

Posted by Tsela on Dec 5, 2005 4:57 AM EST
Lxer Day Desk; By Tom Adelstein, Editor-in-Chief
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LXer Day Desk: 12-05-2005

Has Microsoft repeated history in its fight against Linux? We wonder if the Redmond company has confused the proposed implementation of the Open Document Format as part of the fight against Linux. One only has to look back at anti-trust litigation from 1968 to shed light on the question. Have the people who are supposed to represent the interests of we, the people, failed? You must answer that question for yourself and so should the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Last week I had a chance to speak with Bob Price, who retired from Control Data Corporation as their CEO back in the early 1990's. Bob has a new book out entitled, "Eye on Innovation" (ISBN-30010877X) published by Yale University Press. I could easily see it making the best seller's list because it so closely parallels the situations organizations face today, and gives people in the industry a fresh look at how to move forward in this crazy computer environment.

Control Data Corporation (CDC) innovated in the early days of computers the way the open source community does today. CDC also faced the same kinds of obstacles that plagues the industry today: a vicious monopoly that knows no bounds when it comes to undermining the innovation of others for its own stake in the market.

Back in 1968, Control Data Corporation filed a lawsuit against IBM for anti-trust under both the Clayton and Sherman Acts. Having seen references to the suit a number of times, I wanted to get my hands on a copy of the original filing which settled in 1972. I couldn't find it published on the Internet and that seemed odd.

I had written an article called Did Bill Gates Invent Linux and Has He Erased the Evidence? and began to wonder if the CDC v IBM documentation had fallen prey to Microsoft's attempts to rewrite history. Far fetched as that seems, it has crossed my mind.

I found a book containing the lawsuit from the library of the Honorable Chet Holifield. Representative Holifield served in Congress during IBM's anti-trust days. You must realize the difficulty I experienced in obtaining a book that contained an original thirty seven year old law suit.

My main interest in the original filing made by Control Data Corporation against IBM focused on sections 23 (a) through (e) also known as "Paper Machines and Phantom Computers".

Sara Baase at San Diego State University wrote about the suit in an article from Reason entitled "IBM: Producer or Predator". She writes:

During the late 1960's there was a trend of IBM main-frame users toward buying peripherals from other companies because of the poorer quality, higher prices, and remote delivery dates of some comparable IBM products (it should not pass unnoticed, that IBM loses customers when they can get better or cheaper service elsewhere). According to testimony in the Telex trial, in 1970 IBM formed a (secret) task force to find ways to reverse the trend.

This task force recommended ... strategic timing of product announcements to confuse the marketing plans of other companies and keep computer users always expecting something new from IBM. IBM allegedly would plan several improvements and new models for a product in advance, then announce them one at a time until they regained the sales they had been losing. All of these policies drew heavy criticism from Telex in its suit.

I came to realize that Microsoft's announcement of their Open Office XML strategy to create an international standard seems like history repeating itself. Microsoft essentially put the clamps down on Massachusetts' Open Document Format the way IBM had done so many times during its reign of terror in an earlier era.

Think about the parallels. Microsoft protested the use of an International Standard to protect its cash cow: The Office Productivity Suite. And don't you wonder if Microsoft by-passed the authority of highly placed officials in the state government, finding ways to call a closed hearing to investigate the matter; got to the governor who originally approved the Massachusetts effort; found a way to hustle a couple of journalists at the Boston globe to denigrate the reputation of Peter Quinn, a man of well known honor and decency? It seems all too convenient to me that such events took place at or around the same time after the Commonwealth originally adopted ODF.

The Big Question

Let's face a question: does it seem as if Microsoft has pulled a tactic out of the play book of one of the world's great monopolies? It's actions have delayed the implementation of an International document format standard and its adoption for an alleged 18-24 months. Has Microsoft entered into "contracts, commitments, and letters of intent in which it was obligated to furnish computers and software and, having deprived its competitors of such sales, has then failed to fulfill the obligations undertaken in such contracts, commitments, and letters of intent"?

If you believe it has, then you must consider whether the allegations from the action taken by Control Data Corporation against International Business Machines Corporation, defendant in 1968, constitute the kinds of acts undertaken in Massachusetts by Microsoft. If you believe those allegations to be true, you must also consider yourself someone who must judge Microsoft in the court of public opinion, and possibly stop buying their products and encourage others, especially in public office, to stop buying their products.

Economic Sanctions

The US Government has demonstrated its dissatisfaction with the policy of various countries by imposing economic sanctions on them. Should not we as individuals demonstrate our dissatisfaction with the policies of a company by exercising sanctions of our own? If you disagree with the actions of Microsoft in the State of Massachusetts and in the various actions Microsoft has had to fight in court for anti-trust violations, then stop buying their products. That's a moral obligation we should undertake just as our representations in government have taken in international diplomacy.

What Say You?

Fortunately, people have encountered the predatory practices of monopolies in the computer industry in earlier eras. Those people, like Bob Price, have much to teach us. I believe the open source community has used innovation in much the same way Control Data Corporation did to combat the entrenched competitive practices and imposing growth of its monopoly of the day. But monopolies by their very existence undermine the rules of free trade and tilt the economic scales in their favor. To invigorate our industry, we must put an end to the predatory practices of companies like Microsoft.

I believe the time has arrived when we must see if the pen is mightier than the sword and put the spotlight on Microsoft's continuing monopolistic practices. If our government refuses to prosecute unfair and possibly immoral conduct, then we must consider taking the matter in our own hands. What's your thinking on the matter?

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"Taking things into our own hands" Bob_Robertson 0 1,915 Dec 5, 2005 5:29 AM

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