CyberTech Rambler

June 25, 2008

Did Windows “N” edition failed??

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:25 pm

Via LinuxWorld, I came across an article in Northwestern University Law Review discussing the Microsoft-SamBA agreement, and via citation 8 of the article, a link to SSRN for an article by William H Page which claims, on page 16-18, that EU’s decision to force Microsoft to provide Windows “N” edition, i.e., without Windows Media Player, failed miserably.

I have nothing to add about the Microsoft-SamBA’s agreement except to say that the authors of the NorthWestern University Law Review Article could had seen the agreement as potentially a “third way” to manage the patent quirkmere we find ourselves in, i.e., a full disclosure of the patents one party says it has and where it will impact for all to scrutinize and challenge rather than the expensive, the-party-with-most-money-wins patent lawsuits. Moreover, in a lot of respect, it is a more balanced agreement than usual, given that it not only define a route that both parties in the agreements (SamBA and Microsoft) can work in harmony on a really torny issue, but also protect third parties with the setting of an expiry date after which no claim that the person used privileged information simply because he saw a document under Non-disclosure agreement can be filed.

I have to say, being an outsider working in the EU, I have to disagree with with the claim in the SSRN article that Microsoft’s “N” edition failed. A few facts that I disagree with the authors. Before I mention them, I have to say that I am not a lawyer and perhaps fact alone makes me interpret things wrongly. First of all, I do not think EC did not say that Microsoft can charge the same for “N” edition. Nor did it says the “N” edition cannot be less functional. By definition, removal of Windows Media Player means “N” edition is less functional. It says that customer cannot be disadvantaged for choosing the “N” edition. This translate to having ALL functionality that Windows must have with exception of the Windows Media Player, and also means that customer cannot be made to pay for Windows Media Player that did not come with the “N” edition. After all, if you have to pay for Windows Media Player which you do not need, you are at a disadvantage by definition (again)! Another theory on “disadvantaging” which I might decide to check with the UK authority to test is whether retailer must sell me Windows Home Basic N at a price consistent with their price for the standard edition because I cannot find Windows Home Basic N edition. I admit my theory, if accepted, is pushing the envelope of “disadvantaging N edition user” since there will be a lot of economic factor at play.

Second, EC says Microsoft must create “N” editions for ALL Microsoft Windows product on sale, not only OEM. To me, Windows “N” edition had not failed. I am one of the few that original believe the “N” edition will not have much impact, until recently where I find that the “N” edition will suit me fine and that I can get it cheaper than Windows with Media player, at least in theory. I am sure a lot of businesses will find this is the case as well since we can get the more expensive versions of Windows “N” edition. Don’t believe me? Go and take a walk down PC World and you will find them. [For those of you in not in Europe just search for Windows “N” edition on any  reasonably-sized UK-based retailer]

Back to the article. I do not know why the author choose to restrict his discussion on the unbundling of Media Player on the OEM business only. While it is a big section of the technology hardware for Microsoft Windows, it is not the only business in town. The increase popluarity of Mac, with its dual boot possibility, and the rise of virtual machines will decrease the dominance of OEM business for Microsoft Windows day-by-day.

It is true that today in the OEM segment of business, it is difficult to find “N” edition of Windows. However, I think it is only a matter of time. When the US Antitrust judgement first came out, it took a while before the first OEM dare to ship a rival operating system preinstalled on computers. Three years ago I would not had thought PC World will be selling “N” editions but they do today. This might just be enough to get the momentum going for us to see “N” editions on computers three years down the line.

Could the authors be possibly trying to setup a strawman when they concentrated on the OEM market alone? It is tempting to criticize them that way, but I think not. Rather, I will say the authors do not have their hands on the pulse of the overall technology business at large. After all, the article demonstrates that their expertise is in law, perhaps with a slant towards technology related law, not the business of pushing hardware/software.

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