April 08, 2005

What's in a name (reduced media edition)?

The rapacious Microsoft corporation has of course mostly gotten its way with its passive-aggressive behavior over the name of the the special European edition of Windows XP that (by European Commission regulators' insistence) does not have Windows Media Player bundled into it. The regulators have now acceded to the names "Windows XP Home Edition N" and "Windows XP Professional Edition N". The N is of course an abbreviation for "No fucking good, No one will want it, and Nobody will ever make Microsoft respect legal or ethical standards of business behavior." Neither side likes the names but they both say they are tolerating them so things can "move on". However, I am here not merely to cavil and carp: I have a proposal concerning what the name should have been. Read on.

For those recently returned from sailing around the world nonstop with no radio, let me remind you that Microsoft has been actively pursuing its policy of illicitly destroying other companies' ability to do business, this time in the media player software market. The idea is to kill companies like Real Audio. The strategy is familiar: if anything new or good comes out, plagiarize it or buy a mediocre competing product (remember, it doesn't have to be good, you're a monopolist); embed it as an integrated component of the Windows operating system in a way that made it easy to access and very hard to remove; introduce a few covert and plausibly deniable difficulties for other vendors' media players and keep your code secret; wait for the other vendors to die; then increase the price of Windows to cover the costs.

In the USA this anti-competitive behavior was long ago found illegal in the courts (mainly with respect to browsers), but nothing serious was done about it. Europe got a bit more serious, and instructed Microsoft to market a version of Windows without Media Player in it if it wanted to go on doing business in the European Community. And the product Microsoft came back with to comply with this had the proposed name "Windows XP Reduced Media Edition".

What's in a name? Well, quite a lot. Imagine if you were permitted to name your competitors' products. Here Windows had been ordered by the court to come out with a product that would compete with its own, so naturally it proposed to give it a name suggesting it was shrunken, inadequate, and not as good. They don't actually want to sell any copies of it, after all.

Again and again I have found myself thinking "These Microsoft people are bandits"; and then I think again and realize I'm being unfair — to bandits. (Bandits who are caught and found to have violated anti-banditry law don't typically manage to plea-bargain robbery and murder down to a parking violation, appeal the parking ticket, and go right back into banditry while the appeal is being heard.)

Anyway, the European Commission has agreed to accept the least offensive and ridiculous of Microsoft's suggestions for the name of the new product.

So, what would my naming suggestion have been, had the regulators thought to ask me? Very simple. I think the regulators should have insisted that the new product without Windows Media Player be called Windows XP. I also have a suggestion about the other product, with Media Player embedded in it. It should be called "Windows XP With Media Player", and I think it should cost more, by roughly the cost of a media player program. That would be fair and reasonable commercial behavior by a virtual operating system monopolist. So don't expect it ever to happen. (For one thing, I guess for basic media players the cost is typically zero, which rather dents my argument.) Instead, expect Microsoft to start out after another portion of the software industry and try to destroy it.

Perhaps, I have been thinking, they will try to destroy the flourishing industry of marketing ready-to-hand-in term-papers to student plagiarists. The new bundled-in program and service could be called Microsoft Cheat™. It could be hooked right into Word as a plugin: the student just types a topic and some keywords, clicks on a "Termpaper" button on the button bar, and the operating system automatically starts the browser goes to the Microsoft termpaper repository, runs a search, downloads a suitable paper, changes the by-line to the student's name, charges the student's credit card $39.99, prints the paper, and starts up the student's favorite video game... Shit! This could work! Sometimes I frighten myself with my ability to see into the future of technology.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at April 8, 2005 07:23 PM