Mac Scope

Rooting for Microsoft?

Stephen Van Esch - 2003.09.17

Grind you teeth, readers, because I'm going to be asking you to do something you likely haven't had to do since Microsoft gave Apple a financial hand in 1997.

That's right, it's time to root for Microsoft.

Now this is usually a counterintuitive stance for most Mac users. Microsoft is considered (even by some levelheaded writers) to be a company hell-bent on making computing mediocrity the gold standard. Laughing all the way to the bank, Microsoft rips off competitors, releases buggy software, and generally makes computer users miserable.

To add insult to injury, Microsoft will calmly state that it "innovates" and has the best interest of the consumer in mind.

Pass the bong, please.

But in the Eolas patent case, which cuts right to the heart of modern Web, I'm in Microsoft's corner. If the ruling stands, and you're a Web developer who uses a plug-in on your website, you could be in for a serious headache. Workarounds must be found and implemented if your website uses plug-ins to display content within a browser.

Those who aren't Web developers will also be affected if this verdict stands. It's completely normal for users to expect a seamless multimedia experience. With this patent, though, that experience may turn into something annoying - at the very least. While the case is directed against Microsoft, other browser makers (including Apple) will definitely be caught in the fallout.

This case highlights one thing in particular: The patent system is a complete shambles. Overworked and understaffed, questionable patents are approved with alarming regularity.

Companies are continuously looking for an advantage, and some seem to be taking advantage of the patent office's problems. Please note that both Microsoft (which has patented stylesheets) and Apple (which patented themes) have abused the patent system.

Eolas is clearly looking for a good payout for technology that is widely used. Do they have a case? That really depends on whom you ask. Those who believe that patent is too broad will argue that the patent should never have been issued. For those who believe that the underdog deserves his dues, the case is an example of someone getting something for their hard work.

I personally find myself in the same corner as a software monopolist that creates inferior products. If this ruling stands, there's a chance that ordinary users and web designers will be seriously harmed. It's not often that I find myself in this position, but I'm willing to bite the bullet and root for Microsoft in this case.

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Stephen Van Esch is the founder and president of the E-learning Foundry, an online training resource for Mac users. Steve loves the Mac and is doubly bilingual, since he's also fluent in Windows and French.

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