Thursday, September 18, 2003

Jeffrey Zeldman on the Eolas-Microsoft Patent Case

Jeffrey Zeldman asks "Does Microsoft want to lose the plug-in patent case?"

In today’s New York Times, Steve Lohr confirms what was in Paul Festa’s CNET article on 11 September and in our assessment the following day. In that 12 September Report, we chose not to discuss a dark theory: namely, that Microsoft might willingly lose the case because doing so would harm its competitors worse than it hurt Redmond.

We dismissed that idea, not because Microsoft has a history of fair play, but because the company is not ready to capitalize on the annihalation by patent litigation of Real Networks, Macromedia’s Flash, Sun’s Java, and other competitive products and companies. It is not positioned to survive such a holocaust because its next generation product – one that could fare quite nicely in a world without plug-ins – is not on the market yet and will not be available for years.

Nevertheless, the “losing to win it all” theory has been coming to light in mainstream publications that are finally beginning to cover the case.

Zeldman's conclusion - that while such a scheme wouldn't be beyond the pale for Microsoft, it seems unlikely, if only because Longhorn won't be ready to take advantage of it anytime soon - is more charitable than anything I'd grant the men of Redmond. If there's one thing to be taken to heart by those who have watched Microsoft over the years, it is that however diabolically clever you think Bill Gates may be, he is always even more cunning than you suspected.