Is It Too Late For Microsoft to Make Nice?

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Funny what the threat of a government-sponsored breakup will do to whet a company's appetite for compromise. According to Sunday’s Washington Post, Microsoft has drafted a plan designed to address many of the primary charges brought by the government's antitrust case, while keeping the company whole. If the counteroffer is accepted, its provisions would essentially rewrite the company's disclosure and marketing policies. Among the terms of the offer: Consumers would be able to purchase PCs with Windows operating systems and without Internet Explorer; the company would not require computer makers to promote Microsoft products over other companies' offerings; and the holy grail of code would finally see the light of day: Microsoft's proposal would provide universal access to the company’s application programming interfaces.

As anyone who's kept an eye on this case knows, this attitude signifies a novel approach for Microsoft. Throughout the course of the government's antitrust investigation, the software giant has publicly struck something of a confrontational stance, defiantly rejecting criticism, staunchly defending the legality of company initiatives and pursuing business as usual back in Redmond. Sunday's reports of compromise, however, suggest that behind the scenes Gates et al. may have acknowledged not only the strength of the government's case, but also the growing tide of anti-Microsoft feeling among consumers.

Unfortunately for Gates, the saga looks set to continue despite all the recent, promising overtures: The Post story suggests the plan does not quite live up to a proposal Microsoft offered informally prior to U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's initial ruling against the company. If that opinion is widely held, Microsoft could suffer; any public perception that Microsoft is trying to loosen the noose around its neck will likely be met with widespread ire among consumers — and, perhaps more important, within Judge Penfield Jackson's chambers.