Microsoft quits software trade group

The software giant officially withdraws its membership from industry trade group. But was it a political decision?

After more than two years of trading barbs, Microsoft has officially withdrawn its membership from the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA), one of the most prominent software industry trade groups.

Late on Tuesday, Microsoft chief operating officer, Bob Herbold, officially gave up his seat as a director on the SIIA board -- a position to which he was elected after much campaigning less than a year ago. In his resignation letter, Herbold wrote, "[The SIIA] is no longer playing an effective leadership role on the issues where the software and information industries share a united interest." Microsoft also claimed the SIIA's membership is on the decline, citing Intel's decision to drop out of the group.

But SIIA president Ken Wasch, not surprisingly, had a different take on the matter. "Intel was an associate member that dropped out two years ago," Wasch said. "When we first decided to speak out [on Microsoft and competition] two years ago, we presented to our board what could happen if we took certain positions."

Wasch said that three or four board members, including Autodesk, have resigned as a result of the group's outspoken criticism of Microsoft. As to Microsoft's decision to quit the board, "We're sad to see them go after 14 years of participation, but we're certainly not surprised," Wasch said.

That Microsoft's decision to resign from the SIIA is political is of little doubt. Yet the company's move comes at a somewhat strange time. The SIIA, formerly known as the Software Publishers Association before its merger last year with the Information Industry Association, has been fairly quiet lately in terms of its views on Microsoft's impact on the software industry's competitive landscape. While the SIIA did file an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the US government in early February in the DoJ versus Microsoft antitrust case, that was the first public action the association had taken in the case in a year.

Microsoft says that a number of SIIA board members abstained from voting on whether to file the brief. Wasch claims that an "overwhelming majority" voted for it, but he declined to make the exact numbers public.

Last year, the SIIA was far more vocal in presenting its position that Microsoft was curtailing software industry competition. The group created a list of "principles of competition" that outlined how high-tech companies ought to act in the marketplace. It was largely regarded at the time as a not so hidden attempt to criticise Microsoft. The list included principles such as prohibiting "vaporware" announcements and banning discriminatory contracts.

In February of last year, the SIIA issued a report to judicial, legislative and industry decision makers entitled "Addressing the Microsoft Challenge", in which it offered an analysis of possible remedies that might make sense in the Microsoft case. These included conduct, structural and behavioural suggestions.

Last summer, the group filed comments with the European Commission, which also is in the midst of investigating Microsoft for potentially anti-competitive business practises, regarding its views on the matter.

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