Microsoft Corp.'s Chairman and CEO Bill Gates says in a newspaper column that asking the company to take its Web browser out of Windows operating systems would "balkanize" -- or break up -- the operating system into various incompatible versions.
In a column published by the Wall Street Journal, Gates takes issue with the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) request to hold Microsoft in contempt of violating a 1995 consent decree, by requiring PC manufacturers to license and distribute its Internet Explorer as a condition of licensing Windows 95.
Installing Windows 95 does not prevent PC makers from also shipping a competing Web browser with their systems, Gates wrote in his column.
"PC manufacturers are free to differentiate their products from one another in many ways, including by adding their choice of software products -- but modifying Windows is not one of them," Gates wrote. "Without a uniform Windows installation, end users could not be sure of the performance of the integrated operating system, and Microsoft could not stand behind its product. Furthermore, Windows would become Balkanized, like the many incompatible versions of Unix."
As a result PC prices would rise since software developers and hardware manufacturers would have to develop and test their products for all the different versions of Windows, which in the process would also stifle innovation, he wrote.
"I doubt the New York Times would let a newsstand tear out the business section of the paper just because it wanted to sell more Wall Street Journals. Or that the Ford Motor Co. would let its dealers replace a Ford engine with a Toyota engine," Gates wrote, adding: " Microsoft has the right to preserve a consistent customer experience when using Windows."
His article comes on the same day by which Microsoft has to file a protective order to prevent the unsealing of sealed exhibits in the case.
At the heart of the litigation, expected to go on for many months, lies the question of whether Internet Explorer is a separate product, as the DOJ claims, or whether it represents a transformation of the browser into part of the operating system, as Microsoft claims. While Windows 95 has Internet access capabilities, the pending Windows 98 will fully integrate Internet Explorer.
Supporting browsing capabilities in Windows is a logical and incremental step in the evolution of the operating system, Gates also wrote. He added that Microsoft competitors are busy adding operating system-type features, such as printing documents and running applications, into their Web browsers.
"If our competitors can integrate an operating system into their browsers in the name of competition, why should Microsoft be forbidden to integrate browsing capabilities into its operating system?, " he wrote. "Enhancing Windows to support Internet standards more fully is not a frill -- it is critical for Windows to stay competitive. Telling Microsoft that we can't improve Windows is telling us we can't compete."
Gates also called the DOJ's request to hold Microsoft in contempt not in the interest of consumers and a move largely driven by the company's competitors: "In this instance, the interests of the consumer seem to be less important than the complaints of a handful of our competitors who want the government to help them compete -- by preventing Microsoft from enhancing its products. The Justice Department's position is akin to the government telling personal computer manufacturers that they can't include word processing, spreadsheet or e-mail capability in PCs because it would be unfair to typewriter, calculator and courier companies."
Gates' World Wide Web site can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/BillGates/. Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be contacted at +1-206-882-8080.