Windows of the Future – More or Less?

Call me brainwashed, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Microsoft. The big, bad monopoly is universally trashed on the internet, but at least they make no attempt to hide their shareholder-centric mentality, unlike some other companies…

What especially pains me is the treatment they’ve received from the European Commission. Microsoft has been hit by numerous legal actions, which have resulted in hefty fines and product changes. You can reference the Windows Media Player proceedings, which resulted in ‘N’ versions of Windows XP, which do not include Windows Media Player. Very recently, the EC announced a preliminary ruling that bundling Internet Explorer with Windows is considered unlawful. The ruling comes as a direct result of a complaint filed bythe makers of the Opera browser, which is based in Norway. If the Windows Media Player case is anything to go by, Microsoft will be forced to strip Internet Explorer from Windows and pay a large fine.

I believe this is in stark contrast to what consumers actually want. Early previews of Windows 7 have noted its polish and improvements over Vista; however, one of the predominant negatives has been the removal of several previously integrated applications, such as an email client, calendar and photo gallery software. I would spectulate that, in addition to being able to reduce the size of the Windows code base and be selective with partners, it foreshadowed the inevitable lawsuits that would have come from the EU, targeting email, instant messaging, and photo gallery anti-competitiveness.

So, while the EC is busy getting Microsoft to release a kernel-only version of Windows, reviewers, who are supposed to have the user in mind, are fidgeting about the removal of more and more services from the operating system. Instead of protecting the customer as the EC proclaims it is doing, it is becoming but a sounding board for European companies. Note that Apple was not targeted for the inclusion of Safari in its OS X operating system. So much for actual justice.

I await the EC’s future findings into the unlawfulness of including tires, a windshield, and seats with the purchase of a passenger vehicle.

Conservative Minority Government

Enough results are in that the CBC has predicted a minority Conservative government led by Stephen Harper in Canada. This is great news; the previously dysfunctional parliament can now be re-organized into something that can effectively lead the country.

Oh wait…

I predict Michael Ignatieff will become the new Liberal leader, parliament will be as dysfunctional as before and in two years, we’ll have another election.

Possible $40-50 Billion for the Big Three Auto Makers

I felt a little switch go off in the back of my mind as I read the title of this article this morning: “Big Three Auto Makers Seek More Help From Washington“. The article goes into detail about the $25 billion government backed loan package the three American vehicle manufacturers are to receive and the expectation that this will soon balloon to $40 to $50 billion. Notwithstanding the huge amount of money this represents, it also reminds me of the phrase ‘do as we say, not as we do’.

You see a few short weeks ago, a U.S. trade official confirmed that they would be investigating the funding provided to Bombardier by the Canadian and British governments to develop and build the C-series commercial aircraft. The WTO has regulations that prevent companies from receiving undue competitive advantages from government sources. It is also important to point out that receiving funding or tax incentives from federal, provincial/state or municipal governments is certainly not illegal. However, it must be proved that these incentives are given with the expectation of some return. In the case of Bombardier, that would come in the form of design centres and production/assembly facilities, which in turn produce jobs and revenues for the area.

The bail-out of the big three car makers in the U.S. is more about restoring their competitive advantage in the global marketplace than anything else. After several quarters of huge losses, GM, Chrysler and Ford are all feeling the strain of little resources to design and produce the next generation of vehicles. But the position they’re in is mostly of their own design, ramming bigger and more fuel hungry engines into their vehicles while the Japanese and Korean makers have focused on efficiency. When the tide turned, it was that bad business decision that crippled them. To bail them out for the wrong business decision seems absolutely wrong, and certainly on a different scale altogether compared to Bombardier’s funding, which actually creates a net positive effect on regional revenues and jobs, as opposed to simply keeping the status quo in the case of the big three bailout. Furthermore, the aid package is designed to allow the three car makers to increase research and development funding for creating more fuel efficient vehicles, in order to better compete. Now tell me that isn’t a textbook case that the WTO should be investigating.

But the situation isn’t that black and white. With the economy already in a precarious state, the last thing the U.S. government would want is a very, very large part of the manufacturing industry imploding, which is exactly what would happen if either of the big three were to go belly up. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s simply laughable to be pointing fingers at others when your own backyard is in disarray.

I normally like to stay away from geo-political issues, but this topic has a healthy serving of business and economics as well so I thought it appropriate.