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Why we need "suits" in IT
There is a reason that the 'suits' and not the scientists have always run IBM. Letting scientists run things is bad for users and investors. It's not just an information technology (IT) phenomenon although DEC, Data General, and Wang are examples. Their founders, the hackers of their day, refused to compromise on legal and marketing issues that eventually doomed their companies. Thomas Edison, the hacker of all hackers, famously refused to compromise his preference for direct-current (DC) electricity distribution in favor of alternating current (AC), reportedly arranging to electrocute many cats, cows, dogs, and horses to prove his point.

There is no need to go back 30 or 120 years for proof. The phenomenon of no compromise among hackers continues between parts of the open source software (OSS) community and Microsoft over client/server (C/S) interoperability. The latest battleground involves the European Union's (EU's) 2004 anti-trust findings against Microsoft, which was upheld on September 17, 2007 by the EU's Court of First Instance (CFI). 'Suits' simply would not have let this side show go on this long.

(Note: I use the term "side show" because the EU investigation and court case discussed here has other aspects, most notably the bundling of Window Media Player. This article is only about C/S interoperability.)

In 1998, Sun asked Microsoft for protocol information to allow Solaris servers to work with Windows clients. Microsoft said, "Sure, come to TechEd." That was also Microsoft's initial legal defense two years later after an EU Competition Commission (EU CC) anti-trust investigation began. Sun's request, according to the EU CC, could be summarized as "We want a Solaris server to interact with Windows clients in a workgroup exactly the same way a Windows server does." It boils down to interfacing the server message block (SMB). As a result there have been $10s of millions in attorney fees and EU bureaucrat time spent on NetBIOSs and NetBEUIs, named pipes, inter-process communications, remote procedure calls, sockets and a lot of other artefacts out of the mists of the beginnings of IT.

In April 2004 the EU CC ruled that Microsoft had to provide "complete and accurate interface information which would allow rival vendors to interoperate with Windows, and to make that information available on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms." This was pretty bland stuff, nothing like the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) forcing IBM to unbundle in the 1970s. 'Suits' would most likely not even have appealed. But Microsoft did. Even if the suits had appealed, they certainly would have settled up when Microsoft couldn't get an EU court to issue a stay on the EU CC ruling. Without a stay, Microsoft had to begin implementing what it calls the Workgroup Server Protocol Program (WSPP) even as appeals continued. Any 'suit' would have realized that it would be expensive and a burden on users to reverse course once the WSPP began.


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