MS is at it again.
In a nutshell, here’s the situation: There are two major video graphic standards nowadays: DirectX and OpenGL. DirectX is owned and operated by MS. OpenGL isn’t.
Well . . . .
Recently, at a meeting of the OpenGL Architectural Review Board, MS announced that it had “possible claims” on vertex programming. Later, it announced it may have claims on fragment shading.
Apparently, MS has been busy buying this sort of thing.
MS said it wasn’t going to keep that technology to itself. It would share. For a price. This is something new for OpenGL, which up to now has been royalty-free.
MS’s rights and whether or not they have a valid claim is at least arguable; for more details, read here.
However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or even a patent lawyer to realize that no matter what eventually happens, this does the OpenGL standard no good. If MS gets the money, it makes OpenGL less desirable (and DirectX more desirable). If somebody fights them on it, MS can tie up matters (and OpenGL) in court for years. Perhaps long enough and badly enough to make DirectX the sole standard by default.
Those who have reported on this have compared MS’s actions to what Rambus tried to do. That’s not quite accurate. What Rambus did was listen in on the JEDEC meetings, then run to the patent office to lay claim on JEDEC’s ideas.
MS, on the other hand, appears to have bought these rights (though what they’re doing with them may well be the opposite of what the seller intended).
It may turn out to be more like Michael Jackson buying the rights to Beatles songs, then deciding the radio station royalty will now be one preteen per X Beatle songs played. 🙂
When The System Works And When It Doesn’t
The PC industry is an illustration of how the free enterprise system is supposed to work. Ruthless competition have mostly turned the PC industry into a commodity industry.
You have to understand something about capitalism, though. Capitalism doesn’t work because capitalists are sweet, nice people; it works because they’re not.
Capitalism works best when you have the equivalent of a bunch of pitbulls thrown into a pit. So long as they spend their time and effort pounding each other to get an advantage over each other, things are fine. The process of competition benefits the society as a whole.
It doesn’t terribly benefit the pit bulls, though.
Rather often, the pit bulls say to themselves, “Why are we killing each other? There’s more than enough for everybody. Let’s just split up the audience, get out of the pit, and eat them instead?” When you hear terms like “cartel,” that’s what it means. In the computer industry, it’s at least arguable that this is the case with DSL and cable.
Sometimes, one pit bull manages to kill all the others, then he climbs out of the pit and goes after the audience. This is what Microsoft is starting to look like, especially over the past few years.
The proper role of government regulation is to either keep the pit bulls attacking each other rather than the audience, or, when there’s a sole survivor, to put a short leash on him by carefully regulating what he can and cannot do.
I think we’re at the point with MS where we probably better start measuring the leash.
Forget the court case; that’s dealing with ancient history. Forget breaking up MS; that’s not going to do much, either. Apple and Linux will continue to have 2% of the desktop each; they’ll just lose a big excuse for it being that way.
It’s what MS is trying to do now, this being but a small example, that justifies the leash.
A leash. Not “MS is evil, so I’ll steal their software.” That’s like being fleas on a pit bull. It doesn’t stop the pit dog; all it does is irritate him into looking for a good flea collar.