A modular Windows worse for consumers?


— 12:12 AM on April 18, 2002

Wired has the latest on Microsoft's courtroom proceedings, and Redmond's most recent witness said something that caught my eye. The trial is in the penalty phase, which means that it's already been decided that Microsoft is a monopoly, and that they've illegally leveraged that monopoly.

The courts still have to figure out what to do to Microsoft to penalize it for its past behavior, and ensure that proper controls are in place to curtail future abuses of its monopoly power. Achieving a fair marketplace and the best interests of consumers is a tricky balance, one which a modular version of the Windows operating system would seem to upset.

A modular version of Windows would enable computer makers to decide whether to include Microsoft components or replace them with the components of competitors when selling PCs outfitted with a Microsoft operating system. Those components could include browsers, media players and instant-messaging applications.

The provision "is a very bad idea," Murphy said. "It applies to a very wide range of operating system functionalities, forcing (Microsoft) to make every piece removable."

"You pay (computer manufacturers) to remove the functionality that Windows provides to consumers," Murphy added. "I don't think it necessarily gives consumers more choice."

Despite the fact that the quoted witness, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, has had his work largely funded by Microsoft, I think there's a lot of truth to his arguement. The fact that OEMs could dictate which OS components appear on a customer's Windows install install appears, at least to me, to give consumers less choice.

Perhaps, in a perfect world, Dell would let you select your OS, IM, media player, web browser, and so on, just like you select your processor speed, memory and graphics card; this would be the ultimate in consumer choice. However, as great as that would be, it's potentially a logistical nightmare for OEMs, and what about consumers lacking the acumen to make an appropriate choice when it comes to OS components in the first place? Do we trust OEMs to make the choice for them?

 
   
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