For your nightmares: 10 more things which could be unbundled from Windows

Microsoft is caving to the EU and unbundling Internet Explorer from Windows 7 in Europe. Arguments over whether bundling a browser with Windows is anti-competitive go back many years of course, and were central to the US Department of Justice case in the late nineties. The DOJ won in court, but too late to save Netscape.

But which other vendors have lost market share when the functionality of their products became a standard part of Windows? There are numerous examples. Trumpet Winsock was a popular TCP/IP implementation for Windows 3.0, for example.

Windows didn’t always come with a built-in firewall. You had to use a 3rd party product such as ZoneAlarm.

Windows now has basic CD/DVD writing built-in, which can’t have helped the market for Nero and the like.

Media players of course from iTunes to Real Player, which have to compete with Windows Media Player. The EU’s solution was the useless Windows N.

Application runtimes like Java – the .NET runtime comes standard with Windows.

Video editing and authoring: Movie Maker is free with Windows, which can’t help Sony Vegas products, for example.

Zip compression and extraction: building this into Explorer must have been a blow to WinZip.

Email clients – Outlook Express / Windows Mail comes free, which reduces the market for Thunderbird and the like.

Fax clients – remember WinFax? Now we have Windows Fax and Scan built-in.

Hard disk defragmentation – does Diskeeper like having to compete with utilities built into Windows?

What would Windows be like if third-parties insisted on either the removal of the competing functionality, or some sort of equal billing with user choices or OEM bundling deals (to some extent we have the latter already)? Most likely vile. We would all flee to Apple, which seemingly has no problem bundling all this stuff, or to Linux, which in many ways is designed for this kind of free-for-all.

I am no lawyer; but I can’t help wondering which other third-parties are queuing up to say, “You did this for Opera, what about us?” In fact, the EU’s January 2008 press release specifically mentions desktop search and Windows Live as other topics about which complaints were received.

Competition is good; but so too is a rich, stable and complete operating system.

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6 thoughts on “For your nightmares: 10 more things which could be unbundled from Windows”

  1. Of course you can run that argument the other direction as well.

    Would Google Maps have ever emerged if Windows had bundled Streets & Maps years ago? Would Quicken have won in the end if Windows had bundled Money years ago? Would Wikipedia have emerged if Microsoft bundled Encarta with Windows years ago?

    Consumers benefit from fair competition.

  2. @Rob I’d guess the answer to all your question is “Yes” but it’s pure speculation.

    Google Maps is an offshoot of Google’s success with search.

    Wikipedia is a different model from Encarta; I doubt bundling Encarta would have made a jot of difference to its growth.

    Quicken vs Money maybe, but Quicken has won now because Microsoft is no longer interested in its niche.

    The really big one is the failure of the original MSN (Blackbird) – which *was* bundled with Windows 95 and potentially could have killed the open web – but no, it didn’t.


  3. Jut to note that Movie Maker, Windows Mail and indeed Windows Messenger which was not mentioned will not be coming installed with Windows 7. All will need to be downloaded as part of the Windows Live suite.

  4. Hi Tim,
    You wrote: “Competition is good; but so too is a rich, stable and complete operating system.” The problem here must have something to do with figuring out where the operating system stops and applications begin. Being able to defragment a disk or write to a DVD seem like things an operating system should do. But sending faxes, reading and sending E-mail, browsing the Web, and video editing sound like things applications do.

    (Maybe you could go either way on faxes? I don’t know.)

    At any rate that’s something the various courts will have to decide when the EU is done with IE. Then everyone will look at the resulting case law and decide if they want to try to jump in to court with MS or not.

    When I read about this, I often see the words “major application.” I wonder how we are supposed to define what a major application is?


  5. The problem here must have something to do with figuring out where the operating system stops and applications begin.

    That’s one of the problems. There are others though. While I think Microsoft should not be allowed to abuse its position, I also think it should be allowed to compete fairly with other OS vendors – ie. Apple. Maybe those two desiderata are hard to reconcile. Consumer interests matter too – that’s what, in theory, the EU is trying to protect; but hobbling Microsoft’s ability to create an integrated OS isn’t in consumer interest; 3rd party utilities are often, IME, a cause of system slowdown and instability.


  6. Heck, if the EU wants an excuse to go after Microsoft it would make more sense to do so for failing to deliver the OS and applications in UK English.


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