A Few Conflicts In A Longer Struggle
Several other places have chronicled Microsoft's temporary successes in blocking states from adopting OpenDocument Format for their office documents, even though ODF is a better choice than NSOOXML from both a technical and a social perspective. Brian Cronmiller tells us about a parallel situation in history. I think the remedy used there would be helpful in this situation as well.
The struggle of openness against closedness is just beginning, really. I foresee a time coming when only a few niche software products will use closed source and proprietary licensing. The bulk of the market will use FLOSS. Even our media will be licensed with openness and without TUR, often euphemized as DRM. This will not occur without a drawn-out fight, as the industries that made easy wealth under the old regime fight to continue making it.
Look for continued use of "undue political influence" (which is often another word for bribery) to enforce high profits for a few software and media giants, but look for continued erosion of their markets, their income, and their power. Suddenly, almost overnight, senators and representatives will pretend to have consciences and pass laws to finish the transfer of power from the elite to consumers.
The forward motion continues. A year ago, California would never have considered an open standard file format for office documents. This year, they considered it, even though it died in committee. Perhaps next year, the state will adopt it, putting the interests of the state and its residents above those of a wealthy campaign donor.
For Microsoft, the future lies in breaking the company into about five competing companies. In their few profitable businesses, they have just about saturated the market, so growing market share is not possible. Yet, their unprofitable businesses will fold if they have to stand on their own, while the profitable businesses are facing pressure from open competitors. The only solution (pay attention Softies, this may save your company) is to break each business into three to five competing companies with each of the companies getting ownership of the current state of existing technologies, then pair some of the profitable companies with some of the unprofitable companies.
This would mean that there would be three to five companies producing Windows operating systems, but it could also mean that some of them would produce a Windows built upon FreeBSD, for example. This would take time to accomplish, but some of the enduring bugs and security holes that come from decisions made during the early versions of NT could finally be retired from the product.
Most of all, though, the way forward for Microsoft is to adopt the way of openness. Patent foolishness and politicking can only go so far before they produce a backlash. Signing contracts that attempt to force suicide upon companies like Novell and Xandros is a self-limiting proposition. At the very least, the agreements force some fiscal costs upon them that their competitors do not have. More likely, a major patent action will lead to invalidation of the patents or to the nuclear option (companies like IBM using their extensive patent portfolios to enjoin distribution of Windows, SQL Server, and other key Microsoft products). If said restrictions exist for a couple of years, Microsoft is doomed, even if it means the end of Novell and Xandros as well.