More on Microsoft Monopolism

Several commenters on my post on Microsoft’s Other Monopoly suggested I was being unreasonable in expecting that Microsoft should not be free to support PDF, since Adobe promotes it as an open document format. I was even accused of wanting it both ways. Well, in a sense I do: I believe Microsoft should support standards such as PDF, and I also believe Microsoft should honor the special obligations that come with being a monopolist, such as not engaging in “tying” practices that leverage a monopoly (Windows or Office) to impinge on another company’s business. Where these concerns are in tension, one solution is obvious: Microsoft could make a business deal that eliminates the “tying” concern.
To clarify my position, here’s another hypothetical example. Suppose Microsoft were to integrate QuickTime generation into Windows Vista. I’m no expert but I believe this would violate the spirit if not the letter of the consent decree Microsoft entered into with the DOJ (gotta love that knife the baby line). Yes QuickTime’s an open standard but that doesn’t give Microsoft license to (ab)use its OS monopoly to trample on Apple’s media encoding business. If that would be impermissable for Microsoft’s Windows monopoly, even under a watered-down consent decree, couldn’t support for PDF in Office be at least as verboten? And in terms of the dollars at stake, Adobe’s revenue stream on Acrobat runs to the hundreds of millions per year, much more than Real or Apple’s businesses in video encoding.
Another commenter took me to task because PDF support in Office will benefit consumers. In the short term, I agree. But, if Microsoft is free to expand Office to the point where no other vendor can profitably market solutions for information workers, I believe consumers will ultimately be harmed, through decreased innovation and ultimately higher prices exacted by Microsoft. These days almost every solution whether for portable documents, or CAD, or accounting, is necessarily built on open standards: that’s what customers demand. IMO that shouldn’t give Microsoft a free pass on monopoly abuse. And would it be a good idea to incent ISVs to employ closed proprietary formats, lest they suffer Microsoft elephant-trampling?
Finally, one commenter questioned whether the definition of “monopoly” applies to Microsoft. Well, uh, one encyclopedia definition of monopoly specifically references Microsoft. I believe most people would agree that Microsoft’s Windows and Office franchises are natural monopolies stemming from network effects. And, several legal jurisdictions have so opined.

3 Responses to More on Microsoft Monopolism

  1. Bill,
    I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on this point. Microsoft has a right to improve their products in ways that will please their customers thereby generating sales. They should not be restricted just because someone else “got their first”. Adobe has a “natural monopoly” on certain aspects of PDF (e.g. Reader Enablement). How would you feel if some third party added value to PDF in a way that was universally appealing but at a premium price and/or with licensing that only included part of the Adobe customer base? What if Adobe could duplicate the same functionality for a development investment that would easily be returned in new sales and/or renewals? Do you think that Adobe should be restricted in how they spend their development dollars? Do you think that Adobe should be restricted in what they can add to PDF?
    I have to agree with one of the other commenters that this is a pricing model issue. Adobe has long known that many people buy Acrobat strictly for its PDF generation capabilities. Adobe has been either unwilling or unable to bring that PDF generation to the masses (Acrobat Elements still requires volume licensing). They shouldn’t gripe if Microsoft chooses to.
    Lastly, Microsoft Office does have competitors – Open Office. That competitor offers PDF generation and clearly the Microsoft Office team feels they need to match this feature. Adobe’s Acrobat Elements product will probably be the unfortunate victim of that competition, but only because it was moving too slowly and got steamrollered by some bigger players.
    B.T.W. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that full Acrobat still has a lot to offer over what’s going to be in Office. So I believe that Acrobat still has a strong value proposition. IMHO Elements will be the main victim of the Microsoft move.

  2. Leonard Rosenthol says:

    I also have to disagree with you Bill.
    PDF is an open standard – anyone (incl. MSFT) can do what they want with it.
    I personally think that direct integration of PDF into Office is going to be a BIG WIN for the existing PDF community (incl. Adobe) on a number of fronts.
    First – it validates PDF as THE “ePaper” standard and will therefore help to put all Metro/XMLPaper revolts to rest.
    Second – we all know that MSFT is going to do a poor job of supporting PDF functionality. That means there is a HUGE opportunity for folks to come in and offer tools that fix it – or offer better alternatives.
    Acrobat is going to produce PDFs that will be more functional and useful to the world at large (proper transparency support, TAGGING for 508 & PDF/A support, smaller sizes, etc.).
    3rd parties, like myself, can offer tools that will “clean up” what MSFT produces.
    Big win for the serious PDF players – and (IMO) more importantly, it will kill a lot of the cheapy/crappy PDF generators currently available today.

  3. S Evans says:

    My concern is if Microsoft decides to Adopt/Improve/Fragment PDF by offering their own Enhanced PDF whereby they add their own “innovations” making it incompatible with anyone else (after all, MS is if nothing else an industry innovator, right?). The average MS user will start to incorporate these “advanced” features and then complain when stupid Adobe Reader (or other product) can’t read/render it properly. Then you may end up with the situation that plagues the Internet with MS Explorer… sites that only work in Explorer.
    On the bright side, the receptions will now be abe to create PDFs in Word that they can sent off to a printing house and wait for their 4-colour brochures to arrive. Of course if they aren’t what she expected it’s because the printing house isn’t compliant with Microsoft’s PDF Standard.
    Naw. This would never happen.