Microsoft Gets Principles

Many parts of the antitrust settlement Microsoft agreed to with the US Department of Justice will expire soon, but the company said that will not stop them from adhering to 12 tenets of good corporate behavior.

Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith has been a news fixture for some time, as Microsoft battles accusations of anti-competitive behavior in the European Union. The company has had to deal with the same issues in the United States, which led to the 2002 settlement with the Justice Department.

Avoiding appearances of anti-competitive actions led the company to disclose its 12 tenets, which expand on three principles of consumer and PC manufacturer choice, third-party developer opportunities, and interoperability. Smith announced these at a talk at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Under the first principle, Choice for Computer Manufacturers and Customers, the key tenet regards business terms. Microsoft said it “will not retaliate against any computer manufacturer that supports non-Microsoft software.”

Microsoft discusses this more as a matter of standardized volume pricing for Windows licensing. Other could see it a different way: OEM PC makers like Dell or HP could conceivably market their hardware with non-Microsoft operating systems, without fear of retaliation.

Although Apple has said it would not make Mac OS X available on non-Apple hardware, what if Microsoft’s position here encourages an OEM, perhaps with Intel’s prodding, to approach Apple CEO Steve Jobs about rethinking the non-Apple hardware position?

That probably won’t happen. Apple makes a lot of money on hardware margins. But Novell should at least chat with HP or Dell about the possibility of SuSE Linux distribution on OEM machines.

Microsoft’s second principle of Opportunities for Developers includes the tenet of no exclusivity, as it applies to third-party developers. It will be a continuation of Microsoft’s settlement with Justice, where the company agreed not to enter into contracts that would require promoting Windows or Windows middleware on an exclusive basis.

In its Interoperability for Users principle, Microsoft will make its communication protocols available through reasonable licensing terms. This has been an issue in Europe, where the European Commission has asked for the imposition of a $357 million fine against Microsoft for not providing this information as they had demanded in an antitrust ruling in 2004.

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