Financial Times blogger Richard Waters makes a convincing case for Microsoft being one of the unnamed forces behind a complaint filed with the European Commission (EC) that claims IBM is abusing its mainframe monopoly. As Waters notes in his January 21 post, it seems highly coincidental that Microsoft recently made an investment of an undisclosed amount in T3, the mainframe services that brought the new antitrust case to the EC. When Waters asked Microsoft about its possible involvement in the antitrust complaint against IBM, Microsoft didn't deny it. Instead, the Microsoft spokesperson told Waters: "Microsoft believes there needs to be greater openness and choice for customers in the mainframe market."
Backroom politicking isn't new news. But the timing is amusing, given Microsoft's outrage around another EC antitrust complaint -- Opera's browser-bundling one, of which Microsoft happens to be the target (rather than an instigator).
Charles Fitzgerald, a former Microsoft executive who made a career out of skewering IBM while part of the Redmond software maker, had some interesting observations on the latest antitrust tit-for-tat. On January 21, Fitzgerald blogged:
"(A)s much as I welcome scrutiny of IBM's business practices, the whole cycle of antitrust action is depressing, akin to the endless cycle of violence in the Middle East. Microsoft naively once thought they could just go about their business (as IBM no doubt did as well decades before), but they faced competitors with better lobbying chops than software chops. So Microsoft spent and spent to build up its own defensive lobbying capacity, yet could not resist using it offensively when the opportunity presented itself. And so Google, after being jerked around on DoubleClick and their Yahoo search deal, is looking for payback and building a lobbying force that they too will need to keep busy."
He adds -- I'm assuming -- (mostly) tongue-in-cheek:
"To return to our original topic, the obvious solution is IBM should just open source its mainframe software. The bundling complaint goes away. Mainframe software and competition probably improve. IBM demonstrates their open source commitment extends to their own businesses and not just other people's businesses. And the EU regulators are happy and can focus all their attention on Windows 7 (as a counter, Microsoft should fess up and let the world know that Vista was actually designed by EU bureaucrats in Brussels)."
It's becoming increasingly clear -- at least to me -- that the EC isn't about protecting consumers. It's all about giving competitors a place to entangle their adversaries in court. While Microsoft has been on the receiving end of the EC's wrath, it's not solely a victim. Microsoft undoubtedly will use the EC for its own means, when it can....
Update: A Microsoft spokesperson sent a couple of follow-up points to reiterate and further detail Microsoft's position. From an e-mailed statement:
"We're not a party to T3's complaint against IBM, but we do believe the concerns T3 has raised in both the U.S. and Europe deserved full and fair hearings. Anyone who shares these concerns about the mainframe market should check out OpenMainframe.org. (Our role supporting this website is clearly called ou on the "About" page.)"
The spokesperson also stated that T3 went public with its intentions to file its antitrust case in August 2008, but Microsoft didn't invest until in T3 until November 2008.
(I don't think Waters was implying Microsoft was party to T3's complaint; he likened the investment it made in T3 to the investment it made in SCO -- more of an indirect funding of a lawsuit targeting a Microsoft competitor.)