Is Microsoft Really Changing Its Tune?

Or are Justice Department and states prosecuting the antitrust case losing their nerve?

The latter is a lot more likely, based on history.

A report in this morning’s Wall Street Journal (ZDNet) suggests that Microsoft is backing away from its extreme stance — that, for all practical purposes, antitrust law does not apply to software — and is genuinely trying to come up with a settlement it can live with. But as always with a company like Microsoft, the fine print is not just important. It’s the ballgame.

The Journal reports that Microsoft has offered to toss a couple of bones to the government — making its Windows internal code more available to competitors and giving all computer manufacturers who buy Windows the same price. As concessions go, those are almost worthless. They close the barn door, in the old cliché, long after the horse has gone.

The alarming part of this development is that we’ve heard it all before. Microsoft has a habit of making and breaking promises. It has a habit of using fine print and deliberately imprecise languate, pretending to mean one thing while actually meaning another. It has, to put this bluntly, a habit of dishonesty.

Unfortunately, the government has a history of being snookered by Microsoft. The 1995 Consent Decree was a sick joke on consumers. It ceded Microsoft’s ill-gotten monopoly and begged the company not to abuse it — and we all know what happened then.

If you care about the rule of law, about genuine competition in personal computing, you should be hoping the Justice Department is doing its homework this time.

Privacy and the Census

Technologist and pundit Bob Metcalfe wonders whether privacy advocates are missing a really big story (Infoworld). In an e-mail, Bob “urges revolt against United States Census 2000, especially the 40-page long form, which is to be returned, without even 56-bit encryption, in a securely sealed paper envelop through the mails, and read only by Census employees, unless there’s another of those White House file snafus.”

Nice try, but Bob’s onto a mostly bogus issue. The Census Bureau is required by law to keep private the personal information it collects, and it has done so in recent decades. The numbers are used only in aggregate. This is in total contrast to the private sector’s policies, which are to buy and sell the information it collects on us to anyone with a big enough bankroll.

Cisco Aims Yet Higher

Cisco Systems want to sell you Web-based office phones.

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