Sorting out Microsoft, the American way

Too many questions remain over Microsoft's European antitrust case. Let's take a lead from American justice

There's chutzpah, there's jaw-dropping rank disrespect, and then there's Microsoft. Now that Europe is out of patience and extracting real money, we're just getting more excuses. Microsoft says the EU wasn't clear about what it wanted at first, but that now the company knows it has 300 people working around the clock to deliver it, so we should just leave 'em alone, right?

None of this rings true. The basis for the antitrust case is that Microsoft is withholding necessary information from people who want to write software that interoperates with its servers. There's nothing obscure there. No room for ambiguity.

Furthermore, Microsoft must have always known exactly what was needed and where it was, because the company needs precisely the same information for precisely the same reason. The only way it could produce software otherwise would be by the most inefficient, error-prone and staggeringly incompetent way imaginable — and they learned not to do that in the days of MS-Dos.

In any case, the interface to a server is not that complex — take a look at the handful of documents that lay out one open source networked filing system. It is inconceivable that even if Microsoft's internal documentation had been in a poor state of repair years ago at the beginning of the case, none of its legal team ever asked to see what it was that might have to be handed over.

So what is Microsoft hiding? Trade secrets be damned: the only thing it needs to hide from the world is why it makes such a mess of things such as WinFS. And is a sense of shame enough to explain why the company would rather pay huge fines than just publish the interface and move on? It makes no sense. Time to take the gloves off.

It's on record that the American regulators are impressed by the headway the Europeans are making. So let's reciprocate. With three UK executives being extradited to the Hotel Houston for alleged crimes in Europe, let's have Ballmer and Gates handcuffed to the cheap seats on the next BA from Seattle. After six months cooling their heels in Pentonville, they may better appreciate the value of being open.