STATES BAIL OUT ON MODULAR WINDOWS DEMO

The states in the Microsoft trial screwed up in a big way yesterday. The lawyers blew it, and the states may have blown a hole in their case.

The states have been insisting that Microsoft be ordered to produce a stripped-down “modular” version of Windows XP in which various “add-ons” (media player, Internet browser, etc.) can be snapped in and out.

Microsoft’s response to that concept has been that such a project is so technically difficult as to be essentially impossible. Windows XP has been written so that the various programs are “integrated,” and the code cannot be easily removed or segregated for the various components. Microsoft also says that supporting various combinations of “modules” would be essentially impossible, because there would be a large variety of Windows flavors and it would be impossible to ensure that each worked correctly with all the various hardware and software combinations in the world.

A few days ago the judge expressed interest in hearing from an expert who claimed to have developed a “modular” version of Windows XP. Turns out that the states had hired a consultant in February to cook up a modular version of Windows XP in his garage. He started from a stripped down version of Windows XP called “Windows XP Embedded,” designed by Microsoft to run cash registers and other single-purpose machines. Earlier this week the states announced their plan for the first time to the judge and Microsoft, and said the guy’s work was ready to be demonstrated. The judge was tantalized enough that she said she wanted to see it.

So yesterday the states delivered a computer and some CDs to Microsoft. The computer had ten different versions of this guy’s “modular Windows,” and 67 CDs of documentation – potentially the equivalent of 36,000 400-page books.

The judge was furious. This effort funded by the states had been going on since February, but they hadn’t told Microsoft or the court about it until this week. Microsoft sounded pretty reasonable when they said they’d want some time to look over this guy’s work – and more importantly, to test it far more deeply than he had.

After thinking about that for a few hours, the states bailed out and abandoned the whole idea.

The article at The Register includes some of the colloquy with the judge.

The states will put a brave face on it and claim they bowed out to avoid delay and keep the momentum of their case going. Uh uh. The reality is that this is not just hugely embarrassing – it’s also potentially damaging to the states’ case. This consultant delivered ten different versions of his work, and I assume his stuff would have collapsed under examination – and that’s exactly Microsoft’s point. They create an operating system that has to support incredibly odd combinations of hardware and software. They’ve chosen to do it – and largely accomplished the goal of making it work correctly – by insisting that every copy of Windows be identical, so that testing and support can at least be done on the same platform. Creating and supporting many different flavors of Windows would be immeasurably more complex – and it would require rewriting a product which has taken billions of dollars and millions of man hours to produce.

And the consumer benefit? Don’t make me laugh. This has nothing to do with consumers. I shudder when I think of going back to a fragmented industry with incompatible hardware and software. I’ve been there. It’s ugly.