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Microsoft Offers Rivals Free Technical Support

Posted by iMark - 2006-03-27

Microsoft has offered to give unlimited, free technical support to rival software companies in the European Union as part of its compliance with mandates drawn up by the European Commission.
Previously, Microsoft had offered 500 hours of support, but the commission was less than enthusiastic about the plan.

The offer comes just a week before a scheduled hearing at the commission about whether Microsoft is complying with the antitrust ruling handed down in March 2004.

That decision required Microsoft to disclose information about Windows so competitors can build systems that work as well with the operating system as Microsoft's own software does.

Tricky Balance

The challenge for Microsoft is that the company must abide by the letter of the law for what the EU has mandated, while at the same time holding on to at least some of its proprietary technology.

"They're trying to find ways to strike that balance so that it makes sense for them as a business, while also appeasing the authorities," said Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans.

It is likely that the EU will begin to see additional offers from Microsoft, he added, which shows that the company is trying to comply while not giving away more than it wants.

"Microsoft will smooth over the rough edges there with lots of little offers like this," Kleynhans added.

New Tactic

Giving information to its rivals in the EU is not a new development for Microsoft, which had previously released all the documentation necessary for developers to create products that interoperate with Microsoft servers.

However, the amount of paperwork made available to competitors actually proved too daunting for many developers.

"Microsoft just dumped a ton of documentation and said, 'Here, that's everything you need,'" said Kleynhans. "It overwhelmed everyone, and they couldn't make sense of what they were looking at."

The offer of free support is designed to ease that sense of drowning in Microsoft documentation and give rivals more clarity in their development processes.

Kleynhans noted that, although Microsoft will have the ability to control information through its support -- much like a chef might give out a recipe with one ingredient missing -- it is unlikely Microsoft will use that advantage.

"The risks are too high for them to restrict information," he said. "The support should actually really help in the way it's supposed to."

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