As its leadership has changed, so, too, has Microsoft. But I am never going to stop being skeptical of Microsoft's motives.
Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie may profess that the company's top priorities are transparency, standards and interoperability. But regardless of these kinds of pronouncements, the Softies seem to believe that insisting their actions are altruistic and customer-motivated -- even when they are really motivated by lawsuit threats and other, less-palatable reasons -- will fool its constituencies.
The latest case in point: The relaxation of the Windows Vista End-User License Agreement (EULA) to allow customers to virtualize the less pricey, lower-end SKUs of Vista. When Microsoft finally relented in January and allowed Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium to be virtualized, company officials attributed the change of heart to a newfound "maturity in the industry,” in terms of being able to trust “what’s under the virtual machine.”
But the real reason for Microsoft's capitulation became clear on March 7 via a new joint-status report in the Microsoft-Department of Justice case. It turns out BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies (a long-time Microsoft partner) filed a complaint with antitrust regulators about Microsoft's virtualization restrictions. From the status report:
"Phoenix, which had recently announced a virtualization product, complained that Microsoft's EULA restrictions would deter OEMs from including its product on new PCs, and also deter consumers from using virtualization software made by Phoenix and other companies.
"After discussions with Plaintiff States and the TC, Microsoft agreed to remove the EULA restrictions and has done so."
This isn't the first time in recent memory that Microsoft buried its real motivations for its actions. A few days after announcing what it touted as sweeping interoperability pledges made for the good of its customers and partners, Microsoft was fined more than $1 billion by the European Commission for continuing to drag its feet for failing to make information required to allow its competitors and partners to build software and services that would be interoperable with Microsoft's own wares.
Meanwhile, I'm still wondering why the Redmondians really flip-flopped and decided to support super-standards mode in Internet Explorer 8. Microsoft claims that Opera Software's antitrust complaint had no bearing on its decision. But Microsoft's decision to throw a quote from its chief counsel into its IE standards press release didn't seem like an action motivated by developer and customer love and affection.
In the Phoenix case, Microsoft's behavior change staved off a potential antitrust investigation. In the interoperability case, Microsoft's gyrations were in vain; the company was still fined by the European regulators. But in both cases -- and a growing number of examples -- Microsoft's failure to be upfront regarding its reasons for its behavioral changes leads me to continue to assume the worst about any technology, policy or strategy changes the company makes.
What about you? Do revelations like these make you more of a Microsoft skeptic? Or do you think the Softies are just doing what most execs would do: Hoping against hope that the motivations leading to its actions never come to light?