The French Connection: a BeOS Power Play?
August 2000

No matter what people think about the Microsoft-DOJ court case, Microsoft has gotten away with it. Let me repeat that: MICROSOFT has GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT.

The case is over. Just like most trials in this country, the decisions made during pre-trial determined the outcome. Sure, Microsoft may have to be split up. But the really vital market is the preload market, the market for operating systems that come pre-installed from the factory. Windows will still be preloaded on 90% of the PCs in America, which does not remove Microsoft's monopoly power, and does not open the PC marketplace to new platforms. This condition "freezes" the marketplace and prevents the market from moving beyond Windows to better things. Only by divorcing the OEM preload bundle with Windows could there possibly be a restoration of a "free market" for OEM preloaded operating systems. Unless....

People should recognize the pattern here. If Microsoft were a Japanese company, the hammerlock on PC preloads would cause anger, legislation, and protectionism. But at least non-Microsoft U.S. innovators would have a level playing field. The pattern here is that there seems to be a "blind spot" when it comes to monopoly enforcement: As long as the company that's screwing consumers and preventing U.S. companies from access to the marketplace is *another U.S. company (Microsoft)*, then it's apparently okay. The U.S. government and the World Trade Organization do not seem to care about companies that abuse the marketplaces within their own home countries; only when an international trade dispute across boundaries occurs, then they get involved.

This means that, paradoxically, the only company that can open the U.S. OEM preload marketplace to competition must be a foreign company instead of a domestic one. And right now, the company best positioned to use the WTO to open up the U.S. software marketplace is -- BE.

Not only is Jean-Louis Gassee the chief designer at Be, but Be also has one of its three major offices in Paris. Most importantly, it was in France that Be's operation got started, when Gassee was given a $25 Million kick-start and a posh lab in the balmy southern region of that country. So all Be has to do is move their HQ to their Paris office, declare themselves a French corporation, and appeal to the WTO for relief from Microsoft's stifling software monopoly.

Yes, imagine the French appealing to the WTO that BeOS cannot get preloaded on U.S. PCs because Microsoft holds an unfair lock on the U.S. marketplace, preventing foreign software makers from access to the lucrative preload market. If BeOS is suddenly mandated a slice of the preload pie, that would force U.S. computer makers to begin offering real choices. Retail PCs might even offer more choice than just the shape of the box or the number of shareware programs that come bundled, if BeOS and other OS's were granted access to the preload market.

What an ironic twist that would be -- a global institution (the WTO) feared by U.S. citizens as imposing restrictions on the U.S. marketplace, actually becoming the only institution that properly chastises the U.S. government for failing to open its markets to innovators. What a turn of events if the WTO action actually leads to increased opportunities for U.S. companies. And what an irony if BeOS becomes the catalyst to finally break the Microsoft monopoly and encourage choices like Linux, OS/2, and others to become mainstream retail products instead of outsiders.

Most recent revision: August 1, 2000
Copyright © 2000, Tom Nadeau
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