- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

With little apparent regard for what the country and the economy has undergone since Sept. 11, a coalition of Washington lawyers and presumptive "consumer advocates" seem to believe now is the perfect time to throw some sand in the gears of technology's future.

Four groups the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the Media Access Project and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) fired a pre-emptive broadside at Microsoft Corp. over that firm's new operating system, Windows XP, due in stores Oct. 25. These groups, which each claim to work in the public interest, believe Microsoft will enhance its "monopoly" power by configuring the operating system, a new version of Internet Explorer, and an authentication service called Passport in certain ways.

"According to the analysis, Microsoft has designed a bundle of products and services designed to extend its monopoly to the new generation of Internet-based and currently competitive applications and services," a news release issued by the four groups states. "These include communications, such as e-mail and instant messaging; commerce, such as identity verification and transaction records; utilities such as calendars and contact lists; applications such as media players and digital photography, and event Internet services themselves (e.g. MSN)."

The organizations sent a strongly worded letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, calling Windows XP "anticompetitive and anti-consumer," and asking for legal steps to rein in Microsoft.

"We urge the attorneys general, who represent consumers as plaintiffs in the case, to seek a swift and sure end to what we believe to be illegal leveraging of illegally obtained monopolies for the PC operating system and Internet browser," the letter from the four groups states.

Microsoft, for its part, says the new software will make computing better for home and business users. The company, and lawyers for the Justice Department, were due in court at the end of last week to discuss progress in the federal antitrust case against the firm.

At the same time, Microsoft said it will roll out Windows XP at a ceremony in New York City's Time Square, in part as a salute to the resurgent spirit of the city, which was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11.

"Microsoft's launch of Windows XP in our City is an affirmation of the business community's continuing commitment to New York City remaining the Business Capital of the World," says Rudolph W. Giuliani, mayor of New York, in a statement released by the software firm. "We welcome Microsoft to our city. It is another example of the fact that New York City is open for business."

"Mayor Giuliani has said that he wants New York open for business, and we're responding to that call," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft. "While the city is forever changed, we want this event to help remind the world that New York still represents strength and determination."

It is this juxtaposition of events the consumer groups lining up against Microsoft while a beleaguered city asks the firm in that got me thinking, and then got me angry.

While there are aspects of Windows XP which may present a challenge to some companies in the marketplace, the notion that this new operating system will block competitive products at every turn is rubbish. I've been testing Beta and later versions of Windows XP for several months, and have installed and run a raft of software NOT made by Microsoft.

At the same time, some of the improvements are nothing short of wonderful for people who have to use computers, as opposed to a cadre of lawyers and lobbyists seeking to roadblock a digital pilgrim's progress. One is the "digital camera wizard," which worked flawlessly in transferring snapshots from a Kodak DX3900 digital camera to an appropriate directory and file folder on my PC. From that location, I could view, open and edit the photos with software from Adobe, Inc. as well as JASC, neither firm being under the thumb of Microsoft.

It is to me galling that organizations whose principal leaders have never owned a business, never had to meet a for-profit company's demands, never programmed a piece of software, and never had to support computer users frustrated by operating systems that hiccupped and hung up, would seek to block the introduction of an operating system that holds great promise for users, at reasonable costs (home users can expect to pay about $99 or less for each copy of Windows XP they need).

While I am not a computer programmer or a lawyer, for that matter I have been hanging around, and writing about, PCs for the better part of two decades and for one stretch worked as a "micro manager" for a D.C.-based charity. I've seen users frustrated by stuff that doesn't work, and I've seen the tremendous potential of Windows XP to relieve that frustration.

To think that advancement and better computing might be frustrated through the legal process is enough to raise my blood pressure a few notches. If anyone at the Justice Department is interested in this user's opinion, leave Microsoft and Windows XP alone, please, and devote your resources to more pressing issues, such as determining and freezing monetary and other financial assets of terrorists.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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