As Microsoft has been besieged with lawsuits from competitors, employees, ex-employees, and of course, the Government, I must admit my sympathies have usually been with Microsoft's opponents.
Nevertheless, I would like to offer Microsoft a plan to reverse its fortunes. It is a radical plan, but I believe it will allow Microsoft to address most of its current troubles and help the company emerge from its tussle with the Department of Justice relatively unscathed.
And with my plan, everyone walks away a winner - including Microsoft. The plan consists of three action items.
Item 1. Microsoft should guarantee source-code availability for its OSs. However, this will work only if Microsoft guarantees in writing that it will always make the Windows source code available for free or at a reasonable price. That gives ISVs and IT decision makers long-term security, because they are guaranteed access to the source code for current and future versions of Windows.
This new policy would silence those who claim Microsoft uses its OS to an unfair advantage. Its OS may even win back the exclusive support of some of the ISVs that recently fled to Linux for refuge. But best of all, it leaves the Justice Department without a case. By Microsoft's definition, the source code for Windows includes the source code for Internet Explorer. What's the point of removing Explorer if Microsoft provides all of its competitors with the means to disable it, work with it, or write around it?
Item 2. All of Microsoft's top executives should quietly retire as quickly as possible. Microsoft should have known the dream was over when Mad magazine did an insightful spoof on Bill Gates a few years ago. Now it has become sport to shatter the illusion of Microsoft being led by technical visionaries.
Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller officially spoiled the Gates persona with the book Barbarians Led by Bill Gates. The magazine Brill's Content poked more holes with its article "Making Bill". Wendy Goldman Rohm then took a rocket launcher to what was left with her book, The Microsoft File. But it was the Justice Department prosecution that dropped the neutron bomb by playing select excerpts of Gates' deposition. Gates lost all credibility as he denied knowledge of some of the company's most crucial decisions.
Microsoft should face the fact that Gates and his crew have become a liability. If the executives stay, their testimony continues to embarrass the company. If they retire, their testimony is no longer relevant to the way Microsoft operates today.
How does this move benefit the executives themselves? Are you kidding? Take the money and run, guys. Go home to your multimillion- dollar mansions and live long and stress-free lives with your families.
Item 3. Microsoft should reinvest its profits in the company by paying its employees better and expecting fewer hours of work. Why? I suspect Microsoft's stock growth will soon slow and begin to fluctuate. If so, Microsoft won't be able to use stock options as bait to attract and keep the best and brightest anymore.
My suspicions regarding Microsoft stock are partly due to year 2000 issues and problems delivering Windows 2000. But I'm also concerned about the recent allegations of securities fraud in a wrongful termination suit by former Microsoft chief of Internal Audits Charles Pancerzewski, who claims to have discovered that Microsoft violated Securities and Exchange Commission regulations in order to show steady net revenue growth every quarter.
Shortly after reporting his discovery to his superiors (and after years of stellar reviews) Pancerzewski was given an unscheduled performance review and asked to resign. The court threw out his claims of securities fraud for lack of evidence, but Microsoft added credibility to his allegations by making an out-of-court settlement with him for a tidy sum rumoured to be about $4 million.
In short, my plan is for Microsoft to find ways to reap rewards by resigning as industry bully. The alternative may be that Microsoft continues to look like a bully without being able to enjoy the benefits.