Is Windows XP a Non-Starter?
As all of your loyal readers know, I have been pointedly critical of
Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson and his mishandling of the Microsoft case.
Indeed, I have described his conduct in the most pejorative terms. The
decision of the United State Court of Appeals has vindicated much of what
I said and in terms that even this academic commentator would hesitate
to use. Indeed, I will go further and suggest that his misconduct
was so egregious that I believe the Supreme Court may take the Microsoft
appeal and vacate the entire order. By the time you read this, you will
probably know the answer to that question.
That said, many of you have told me that I am just a patsy for Microsoft and a Bill Gates henchman. Now is the time to show that my criticism goes both ways.
It has been claimed that Windows XP is going to save the high tech world. Its features, it is said, will be so compelling that buyers will come in droves to purchase new computers with the XP operating system on them. I don’t think so.
XP is Microsoft’s attempt to bring the stability of the Windows 2000 Professional world to home computers. As such, it will undoubtedly be more stable and very comfortable to use once the user gets used to the very different interface. We have had Windows XP running in the Law Office of the Future for some months and it is a very, very nice system. Whether it really offers any advantages over Windows 2000 Professional, however, is a matter to be decided after careful comparison of the two operating systems. XP is a huge program. It requires 2 gigabytes of hard drive space and more than an hour to install. It also requires 128 megabytes of memory or more as well as a computer that is no more than two years old. Compared to Windows 95, 98, and ME, the existing personal computer versions of the Microsoft monopoly operating system, Windows XP is a huge step forward. It uses the Windows 2000 Professional engine, which has essentially eliminated crashes and reboots on a day-to-day basis. The problem with Windows 2000 Professional has always been that it is incompatible with many hardware and software add-ons and as a result I have recommended to users that they adopt it with great care, making sure that the hardware that they have will not be disabled by its incompatibility with Windows 2000. With the XP model going on sale October 25th, Microsoft believes that it has overcome that problem by improving XP’s compatibility by almost doubling the number of hardware add-ons that it will support. Windows 2000 worked with about 6,000 peripherals and Microsoft claims that XP will work with 12,000. The interface, what you see on the screen, has changed substantially. And while many people have claimed that Microsoft seeks to emulate the Mac interface, they have had a hard time making that argument until now. Windows XP looks so much like Apple’s new Mac OSX that it would not be surprising for many people to be confused.
There are some parts of XP that are very useful, particularly for home users. You can burn a CD just by dragging the folders and files that you want onto your CD burner's icon. There is an automatic button that allows you to email a file including digital photos that have been shrunk to a smaller size so that you don’t violate the rule that I talked about a few months ago requiring sensitivity to sending large files. That said, it is clear that the focus of Windows XP is not upon lawyers and law offices but upon young folks who are excited by digital cameras, MP3 music players, and instant messaging. If there is perchance any reader here who falls into that group, I say that XP is something that you probably will want to have. Whether or not it is something that lawyers absolutely have to have, particularly as opposed to Windows 2000 Professional, is a matter yet to be decided. One of the things that must play into that decision is the continuation of Microsoft’s unfortunate business practices relating to licensing and copying. Everyone knows that Microsoft is paranoid about allowing people to rip off its intellectual product. It takes a very rigid and legalistic line in regard to that. In the case of XP, what it has done is to copy protect the CD that installs Windows so that you cannot purchase a copy of Windows for your main machine while at the same time copying the new operating system to your laptop. Years ago it was understood in the computer industry that if you bought a particular piece of software that there should be no problem in using that one software piece on multiple machines so long as there were not two people using the same operating system or same software device at the same time. With Windows XP, Microsoft has turned that on it head, requiring that every installation of Windows XP be activated by contacting Microsoft and allowing them to take a picture of your computer’s hard drive which is then stored on their servers. This is a very large issue, which is enraging many people around the country and may lead them to conclude that XP is not their cup of tea. If the Microsoft effort is successful, one large alarming fact emerges. The end result of the Microsoft “activation” process will be to give Microsoft a database that contains the address and phone number of 90% of the computer users in the world. That alone is a bothersome question even though Microsoft claims that its interest is benign and directed only toward the protection of their intellectual property.
At the end of the day, I believe that Microsoft will be forced to relax some of the draconian rules that it has attempted to impose. Whether that comes as a result of the antitrust actions brought by various governmental agencies against it or by its own conscious decision to change its business practice for purposes relating primarily to increasing sales. Indeed, the licensing scheme that Microsoft has implemented for new versions Windows and Office are thought to be likely to increase licensing costs as much as 100%. Microsoft has often argued that its practice of decreasing the price of its products shows that it is not exacting a monopoly profit. It appears to have now abandoned that position.
Thus, we return to the question that we began with at the beginning
of this column. I think there is a very strong likelihood that there
will be tremendous consumer backlash against the Microsoft heavy-handed
registration processes and increase in software prices. In point
of fact, most users will not see remarkable advantages to upgrading their
systems or buying new computers. That point is particularly compelling
in regard to the use of the new Intel Pentium IV processors which are very
expensive in and of themselves and use a new kind of RAM memory that is
extraordinarily expensive. When you put the whole thing together
I do not believe that there will be the kind of massive excitement on the
part of consumers that existed when Windows 95 hit the scene and when the
2nd edition of Windows 98 became available. XP will certainly not
be a failure in the marketplace but whether or not it is the mother ship
that is going to lift the entire computer industry out of the doldrums
is another matter entirely. I think it is not. I think it will
not. And, I think it should not.