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AT LARGE: At last?

AT LARGE: At last?

OK, here's the game: you be a major developer with an anti-competitive stranglehold on the software business, and I'll be a government body charged with altering your strategies. OK?

Now, let's pretend you've got me all riled up because you promised you wouldn't "tie" your applications and operating systems together, then you turned around and put a Web browser in the box. "No fair. Foul," I cry. You must remove that browser or you'll be breaking a solemn promise.

"No foul," you say, because the Web browser isn't an application, it's part of the operating system. Now we're in court.

Let's skip ahead three years. There's been a lot of blustering and ballyhoo on both sides. Sound and fury that signifies nothing. None of the judges understand what we're talking about, so let's just throw in technical terms like "API" and "middleware" from time to time and watch their eyes glaze.

Finally, we reach a settlement. I would like you to publish more of your APIs so that third-party developers can write better applications. This looks like it will help them, but in fact it will mainly help you because it will attract more developers and customers to your platform.

And you have to let computer manufacturers configure the startup state of your operating system's desktop, so they can have their own menus, their own icons, their own welcome screens and so forth. This looks like it will help them because they'll be able to make a more distinctive product. In fact, it will help you because software developers will be driven to understand your APIs in order to get around all that surface noise.

I won't ask you to remove your browser from the operating system. Instead, I'll agree with you that it's "middleware". I'll also agree that a media player is "middleware" and let you bundle one of them. Heck, let's call video-editing software "middleware" and you can toss one of them in too.

Of course, some short-sighted people will see this as an overwhelming victory for you. How about we appoint a "watchdog" committee to oversee your thousands of employees working across hundreds of divisions on a virtually unlimited number of projects at any one time. I think a goodly number of people to do that would be three. Any more and you'd have to get too large an office for them. Three folks can be tucked away somewhere. Let's make sure they're judges, not technologists.

OK? You've got pretty much everything you wanted, and I've got pretty much nothing I wanted. Great, now let's just say I won.

Matthew JC. Powell has a feeling it ain't over yet. Exchange views on mjcp@optushome.com.au


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