Once again, here's the official link to the Final Decree. Almost anybody that has anything to do with anything that relates even somewhat closely to money is going to be looking it up. With that in mind, I'll be pasting pieces and parts here in the story to keep the reader up to date, and anyone who thinks I miss something significant should follow up with a comment.
A Terrible Summary
Summaries are always regarded as terrible in someone's view because what is important to me may not be important to you and vice versa. However, I'll do my best to cover the big bases here in case you don't want to read the whole article.
The first part of the Decree places restrictions on Microsoft's past behavior of retaliating against OEM's that have tried to bundle Non-Microsoft-Approved software with their PCs. Next, they free up the OEMs to display icons on the default Windows desktop as they see fit, including launching programs on the first start-up or even installing an alternative Operating System to boot into. This is probably one of the first and most exciting parts of this Decree, as it frees up the OEMs to offer Linux and other alternative operating systems preinstalled. The Decree goes on to instruct Microsoft to make available it's APIs to the end that people will be able to choose their own Middleware (Internet Explorer and it's previous inability to uninstall is a good example of this). The last major judgment is that Microsoft must offer to license any intellectual property rights that must be available to comply with the judgment. It essentially ends by saying that nothing in the judgment obligates Microsoft to compromise security of any application. Whew.
The Most Important Parts: Number 1, Stop Ruining the World
Microsoft shall not retaliate against or threaten retaliation against an OEM by altering
Microsoft's commercial relations with that OEM, or by withholding newly introduced forms of non-monetary Consideration (including but not limited to new versions of existing forms of non-monetary Consideration) from that OEM, because it is known to Microsoft that the OEM is or is contemplating:
1. developing, distributing, promoting, using, selling, or licensing any software that competes with Microsoft Platform Software or any product or service that distributes or promotes any Non-Microsoft Middleware;
2. shipping a Personal Computer that (a) includes both a Windows Operating System Product and a non-Microsoft Operating System, or (b) will boot with
more than one Operating System;
Issue Number One we're tackling here is Microsoft's behavior towards OEMs when an OEM attempts to provide any software or bundled package on a computer that is not Microsoft approved. Up until this point, Microsoft has used threats of withholding Windows licenses from said OEM if they attempted to include anything of the such. Withholding Windows licenses would effectively run that OEM into the ground, as Windows is the dominant operating system.
Why is this good? In my opinion, this is the first and most critical step in encouraging competition in the technology marketplace. Putting aside Microsoft's success or failure to continue to innovate during their time as Monopoly, it has been proven time and time again that competition can be a catalyst for the new ideas that will become tomorrows great technology. Whenever a company has a monopoly and uses that monopoly to hold down or stifle technology of any sort, the technology sector suffers. It is important that people have the choice to become aware of new technology, even if they choose not to, so that those that do choose to can continue to contribute to further advancement.
TMIP: Number 2, Stop Extorting Me
Microsoft's provision of Windows Operating System Products to Covered OEMs shall be
pursuant to uniform license agreements with uniform terms and conditions. Without
limiting the foregoing, Microsoft shall charge each Covered OEM the applicable royalty
for Windows Operating System Products as set forth on a schedule, to be established by
Microsoft and published on a web site accessible to the Plaintiffs and all Covered OEMs,
that provides for uniform royalties for Windows Operating System Products...
I'm not going to hang on this too long, because it's not that difficult to understand. Barring volume discounts and other reasonable modifications, Microsoft will have to publish their costs and the cost will have to be largely uniform.
This is important because it's easy (and common) for a monopoly company to sell or license their products at different costs depending on the reseller. This doesn't sound so bad until Microsoft tries to charge you 5 times the normal amount for a Windows license just because you were trying to bundle Linux.
TMIP: Number 3, Stop Beating Up the Other Kids on the Playground
Microsoft shall not restrict by agreement any OEM licensee from exercising any of the
following options or alternatives:
2. Distributing or promoting Non-Microsoft Middleware by installing and displaying on the desktop shortcuts of any size or shape so long as such shortcuts do not impair the functionality of the user interface.
4. Offering users the option of launching other Operating Systems from the Basic Input/Output System or a non-Microsoft boot-loader or similar program that launches prior to the start of the Windows Operating System Product.
They talk about Middleware in number 2, there, and they are talking largely about things like Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and MSN Instant Messenger. In the past these products were installed by default, you were offered no other choices, and you could not uninstall them. Also this section talks about letting end users and OEMs doing whatever they want with the Windows desktop. Number 4 addresses a very large complaint that many Linux/Unix (*nix) users have: because of Microsoft threats, we can't get *nix preinstalled and set up on an OEM computer. This judgment is opening the door for OEMs to offer their customers a choice of what they want to use. The judgment goes on to call for Microsoft to make available the APIs for their middleware so that competitors can develop more advanced software that will still work well with Windows.
This goes back to my first point of stifling technology. Some may think Internet Explorer is the best browser, some may prefer Netscape or Konqueror or Opera. By eliminating the choice of someone to find that out for themselves, you severely limit possible technological development. This even more so when you limit the population to one operating system. There will always be someone out there that will eventually be able to do it better, but with an illegal monopoly in place, it will be almost impossible for a new idea to ever be realized. It will be much less likely for that idea to succeed. It will be almost impossible for us as a technology culture to learn and grow and lead the world into unexplored territory.
TMIP: Number Four, Stop Being Stingy
I. Microsoft shall offer to license to ISVs, IHVs, IAPs, ICPs, and OEMs any intellectual
property rights owned or licensable by Microsoft that are required to exercise any of the options or alternatives expressly provided to them under this Final Judgment, provided that
1. all terms, including royalties or other payment of monetary consideration, are
reasonable and non-discriminatory;
2. the scope of any such license (and the intellectual property rights licensed
thereunder) need be no broader than is necessary to ensure that an ISV, IHV, IAP, ICP or OEM is able to exercise the options or alternatives expressly provided under this Final Judgment (e.g., an ISV's, IHV's, IAP's, ICP's and OEM's option to promote Non-Microsoft Middleware...
Again, not too much to say here. Microsoft will have to at least offer to license any intellectual property that they solely posses that is needed to comply with this judgment.
This is needed to ensure that Microsoft complies not with just the letter of this Decree but with the spirit of it as well. People will need information that only Microsoft has. We don't deny that it's theirs, but we are going to obligate them to at least license the information instead of keeping it a big secret.
Here's The Catch
I say that this is a catch because I firmly believe that the inclusion of this last part will be the main topic of discussion and will be exploited to great lengths by Microsoft.
J. No provision of this Final Judgment shall:
1. Require Microsoft to document, disclose or license to third parties:
(a) portions of APIs or Documentation or portions or layers of Communications Protocols the disclosure of which would compromise the security of a particular installation or group of installations of anti-piracy, anti-virus, software licensing, digital rights management, encryption or authentication systems, including without limitation, keys, authorization tokens or enforcement criteria; or
(b) any API, interface or other information related to any Microsoft product if lawfully directed not to do so by a governmental agency of competent jurisdiction.
We're saying that Microsoft doesn't have to give up anything that is going to compromise the security of a given program or part of Windows. That makes sense, right? Well, not so fast.
Part of the problem is that Microsoft's past ideas of what must be kept secret to protect the security of the system were part of the problem to begin with. They would not release their APIs previous to this court case for this very reason. What I predict is that Microsoft will twist that section to their every advantage to ensure the now-questionable existence of their TCPA/Palladium project. Not only that, but I foresee a continued bumpy road for the relationship between developers and Microsoft. Developers may have significant work ahead of them when it comes to getting Microsoft to supply everything that developers need to create competitive "middleware".
I'm Done, What did you Conclude?
Again, the whole point of this is to hear what other people think about today's decisions. What are your predictions, and what are the uses that you see that can be drawn from today's Decree? Obviously the settlement the DOJ struck with Microsoft was not totally satisfactory to all, and that's (unfortunately) to be expected when dealing with a company as successful as Microsoft. Despite this, today's judgment unlocks and opens a couple of figurative doors that are unquestionably key to emancipating the desktop computer. This gives us a platform, a starting place, somewhere we (or at least I) can once again draw hope from.