Windows XP brought with it the "Designed for Windows XP" logo program and extended the "signed drivers" program beyond the business oriented Windows 2000 (A3). Many observers feared these programs gave Microsoft far too much control over what software and hardware the public could buy. Office Depot has now cofirmed these fears were well founded.
The logo program requires all hardware and software be submitted to Microsoft and approved by Microsoft before the manufacturer or publisher can use the "Designed for Windows XP" logo on packaging, There is a substantial charge for this service.
The "signed drivers" program requires device drivers for all hardware be submitted to Microsoft for approval and a digital "signature" applied. If a user starts to install an unsigned driver, a warning message pops up recommending it not be installed (A4). Every time a bug fix or other change is made to the driver, it must be resubmitted to Microsoft for re-approval and a new "signature". There is a substantial charge for this service.
Many manufacturers and publishers can't afford the time and expense of Microsoft approval every time they change something, or may have reason to believe Microsoft dislikes their product for competitive reasons. They may skip the approval and mark their boxes "Works with Windows XP" and/or inform users to ignore the warning messages during install. Users have become accustomed to this, which bothers Microsoft.
Office Depot has now destroyed these options by ordering all products not branded with the "Designed for Windows XP" logo removed from their shelves. Almost certainly this move responded pressure from Microsoft, but exactly what pressure we may never know due to the nondisclosure agreement included in every Microsoft contract.
Office Depot sent a letter to their suppliers in mid March (A1) telling them that all purchase orders for goods not carrying the logo by May 30 2003 will be automatically canceled. It's simply impossible to get logo approval from Microsoft in that short a time, or even to change the packaging if your product is already approved (A2). Effectively all products which do not already carry the logo are canceled as of the date of the letter.
If a few other mass market retailers bow to Microsoft pressure as Office Depot did, many products won't be available to the public at all for lack of volume sales. Innovative new products will not be developed because the risk of Microsoft rejection is too great.
This gives Microsoft total control of what products you can buy, destroying any pretense of a free market economy. If they don't approve of a product, they can draw out the logo process until the product is too late to market, or they can just deny the logo entirely based on mysterious "incompatibilities".
Far worse, this gives Microsoft greatly increased leverage over non-Windows competitors like Apple and Linux, depriving their users of access to new peripherals and devices. All it takes to apply monopoly control is hinting "off the record" or under nondisclosure that the logo process might go a lot better if support for competing systems is dropped.
Will Microsoft use this leverage in apparent violation antitrust law? Both the Department of Justice and Caldera antitrust cases yield ample evidence that Microsoft applies this sort of underhanded pressure as a matter of routine. Years ago they forced Epson to drop driver support for OS/2 with far less leverage than this.
What does this mean to you
You'll have fewer products to choose from, and you'll be paying more for products that now face far less competition. New and innovative products will not be developed, especially in the U.S. where Microsoft is strongest. Once again, Microsoft's monopoly threatens our technology leadership and reduces U.S. job opportunities.
For those who wish to express their views to Office Depot, you can contact Michael Dietrich's secretary (toll free) at 1-800-937-3600 ext 83969. Dietrich, Vice President of the Technology Marketing Division, is the person who signed the Office Depot letter. You can also send email to investor relations at email@example.com. If anyone knows any better phone numbers and/or addresses, please let me know.
We don't recommend our clients injure themselves over this matter, but there can be many cases where the decision between Office Depot and another source of supply is about equal. In these cases, keep in mind that Office Depot is conspiring with a convicted monopolist to restrict your ability to chose the best product for your application.
Here's the letter I sent to Office Depot.
- Andrew Grygus
- Automation Access
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