The Other Microsoft Monopoly, And Abuses Thereof

The weekend’s leak by Microsoft that Office 12 would include support for PDF output is certainly a validation of PDF as the standard for final-form portable documents. But is it also illegal abuse of a monopoly? How might a hypothetical (currently non-existent) consent decree around Office have modified Microsoft’s behavior?
This is a very sensitive topic: I do not speak for Adobe, I am not a lawyer, and I am not responsible for managing Adobe’s relationship with Microsoft. But in a way that frees me to be iconoclastic. So I’m not going to spin how this is good for Adobe in the long-run, and how much value-add we deliver in other capabilities beyond basic PDF generation. I will instead be blunt: I think Microsoft’s behavior is, or at least ought to be, illegal.
Others have opined that Microsoft’s Office monopoly is potentially more dangerous than their Windows monopoly. A significant number of users buy Adobe Acrobat primarily to generate PDFs from Office documents – no surprise, given Office’s monopoly status. Microsoft is deliberately augmenting its monopoly to bundle a substantial portion of the value another vendor presently independently delivers to users. In legal-speak this is called “Tying”.
Indeed had Microsoft directly cloned PDF in Vista that might have fallen afoul of the consent decree terms. Metro/Reach aka XML Paper of course may be considered an indirect cloning of PDF but that’s another topic.
A hypothetical consent decree for Microsoft Office might have helped the industry and consumers by requiring Microsoft to license competing technology to significant new products or features that will be “tied” to its Office monopoly, rather than just clone them. This would advantage ISVs like Adobe, obviously, but arguably also consumers, because ISVs would be able to continue to profitably innovate around solutions for knowledge workers. And given the excess revenue generated by Microsoft’s monopoly it is unlikely consumers would see higher prices as a result of such a requirement.

4 Responses to The Other Microsoft Monopoly, And Abuses Thereof

  1. Joel Pan says:

    You’re arguing that it should be considered illegal for Microsoft to embrace and integrate a file format that is an open standard? I’ve grown steadily more disillusioned with Microsoft over the past few years but your claim is ridiculous.
    What if Microsoft decided to completely embrace the OpenDocument Format? Would that be an illegal abuse of its monopoly too?
    There’s just no pleasing some people. Ultimately this is a move that is beneficial to consumers and I, for one, will be happy to see native PDF support in Office Vista (or whatever they decide to call it in the end).

  2. Andrew Booth says:

    Bill – sorry but I really don’t understand what you’re complaining about?
    Yes, it’s bad that MS have a monopoly on office apps. Yes, it would be bad if they cloned pdf and called it ‘Metro’. Yes, they should support open file formats.
    But why complain when they do actually go ahead an implement pdf export? Adobe publish the specs, and encourage developers to adopt it as a standard.
    Sure you’re loosing some revenue stream if users can export directly from Office without buying Acrobat, but isn’t this what Adobe wanted all along? Complaining that MS are wrong to not implement open document standards, then complaining when they do seems like illogical doublethink.
    You can’t have it both ways.

  3. Anton Zeelie says:

    Mmmm… I seem to misunderstand the concept of Monopoly here.
    According to dictionaries, these are what it means:
    monopoly
    noun [C or S]
    (an organization or group which has) complete control of something, especially an area of business, so that others have no share
    monopolize, UK USUALLY monopolise verb [T]
    in business, to control something completely and to prevent other people having any effect on what happens
    According to these definitions, how can Microsoft be a monopoly?? They do not prevent ANYBODY from creating, selling, manufacturing anything that is in competition. They are not protected by law to have no competitors (eg Telkom in RSA – the only Telekom service provider and no competition is allowed). So how can they be called a monopoly?
    You have the choice to use Adobe, nobody forces you to use the Microsoft add-in. Just like Microsoft does not force you to use MS-Office, MS-Windows etc. Is it their fault that their competitors cannot keep up with them? Many other manufacturers haev existed LONG before Microsoft, but they fell off the wagon by being short-sighted and not being progressive enough. Look at IBM and OS/2 for example. They were there before MS – but they couldn’t compete! And that is Not the fault of Microsoft.
    I can go on and on, but will leave it at this.
    Anton

  4. Eric says:

    Anton,
    You seem to have forgotten the role of Microsoft in OS/2.
    Be that as it may, your question is easy to answer. Multiple legal bodies have ruled MS is a monopoly.
    As for the question of whether MS should adopt PDF as an output format, well, I don’t have a problem with that. There are plenty of free plug-ins out there for Macs, PCs adn Linux, and I don’t hear Adobe complaining about that. Maybe because they’re not a threat to Adobe. Microsoft is.
    Still, I can’t help but think that the pricing of Acrobat could play a role in the motivation of many to get around paying the high toll for its admittedly worthy capabilities.