Home Applications Should Antitrust Issues Force Microsoft to Support VMware’s Virtual Machine Format in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2?

Should Antitrust Issues Force Microsoft to Support VMware’s Virtual Machine Format in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2?

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With the upcoming release of Windows Server 2008 R2 and the amazing Windows 7, Microsoft has added native support in both operating systems for their virtual hard drive (VHD) file format. 

 
What Microsoft has done is actually very cool.  Now instead of being forced to download a third party tool and/or launch a Virtual PC, Virtual Server, or Hyper-V session in order to access a virtual hard drive, Microsoft has embedded the ability to do it directly inside the Windows Disk Management tool.  Not only can you mount a virtual hard drive, but you can boot from one as well.  Again, this is very cool stuff and I foresee it being very useful and possibly game changing for many reasons, one of them being the ease of backups. 
 
The following screen shot shows the VHD enhancements to the Windows Disk Management tool:
 
 
 
Although, as I was testing the new VHD support, I could not help but think … could this be seen as an antitrust issue?   As Microsoft is locked in a battle with VMware for virtualization market share, could embedding their own virtual drive format be seen as using their overwhelming share of the desktop and server OS market to their advantage?  I quickly found a possible parallel and asked myself… is this the same as when they embedded "search" in the Internet Explorer browser which caused Google to go and whine and complain to the Justice Department?  This result of which was to force Microsoft to create an “open” search so competitors, such as Google, would have the same ability to embed their tools into the Microsoft browser and OS. 
 
Keeping with this thought process, one has to ask…..will Microsoft be forced to create an “open” virtual file format feature so VMware can embed their own proprietary virtual hard drive (VMDK) support in to Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2 in order for users to natively mount a VMware created virtual hard drive file?   I think this is a good question and worth examining in a bit more detail.
 
First off, I’m not an antitrust lawyer and/or I’m not even close to being versed in the law, nor have I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express lately, but I thought it would be interesting to do a simple exercise in similarities and then throw this out for your thoughts and opinions. 
 
The Microsoft antitrust issues have their roots in the Internet Explorer (IE) / Netscape battle in the late 90’s when Microsoft used its overwhelming OS market share to displace Netscape as the prominent browser by embedding IE in every copy of Windows.  This meant that when a user bought a new PC or installed Windows for the first time, they already had a browser that was “good enough”.  They no longer were forced to obtain a copy of Netscape’s browser and install it, which at that time most users did not know how to do.  By making IE  just “there” and “free”,  Microsoft  was able to take Netscape’s market share away overnight and in return go on to rule to the Browser Wars.
 
By the time Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7, they found themselves in another battle for Internet market share.  However this time it was not with the browser but in “search” and one of the new and powerful features found in IE7 was embedded search.  Microsoft had added MSN Search to the top right of the IE window and due to the antitrust restrictions levied upon them by many governments around the world, Microsoft was forced to open the search bar to every search provider.  This allowed their competitors to embed their own search engines as the default and thus allowing the end-user to choose which search company they wanted to appear in the Microsoft browser. 
 
The following screen shot shows the Microsoft open search:
 
  
Now that brings me to today and Microsoft is yet again in another battle for market share, but this time it is not related to the  Internet Explorer but to the up and coming virtualization field.  This time Microsoft has chosen to embed their VHD format in Windows which allows users to mount and/or boot their virtual hard drives which are made with Microsoft’s virtualization solutions:  Hyper-V, Virtual PC, and Virtual Server.  So I ask you… should VMware and other virtualization venders with their own virtual file formats have access to embed these formats in Windows?
 
My view is not so simple.  I’ve always been a huge fan of what Microsoft has done and I feel Microsoft has never been a monopoly but has been a standard setter.   Those of us old enough to remember the days before Windows will understand.  Those of you who are not do not remember when the world was much more difficult.  Some applications would run on one version of DOS but not another and software venders had to choose which OS to write and support or incur the giant cost of writing for and supporting them all.  Not to mention the large amount of “computers” that in no way communicated with each other and/or shared a common OS.  For example:   Atari, Commodore, TI, Sinclair, Osborne and Apple, just to name a few.  
 
I think out of this world of little or no standards came, “The Standard” and that was Windows.  As a result, with thousands of applications available today, we have Windows to thank for the computer revolution we have lived through over the past 30 years.   Microsoft is NOT a monopoly but a standard, and I for one am damn glad! 
 
Yes it can be argued that Microsoft has used their “standard” to put others out of business and to push the industry in the direction they want it to go.  I’m not condoning this practice but at the same time is it really fair to Microsoft, their share holders and all of their happy customers to hold them back while propping up their competitors?  Or is it needed for healthy competition that furthers the computer industry as a whole?  Now that is a good question, but not the one I really want to ask.  What I want to know is: should VMware be allowed to embed VMDK support in Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2?
 
If your answer is yes, then I would have to ask… at what point does Microsoft stop innovating and adding “killer” features in to their OS in order to keep it their OS?   Should the other companies such as VMware be forced to pay for such work?  I mean, should Microsoft be forced to pay for their employee’s time in order to plan, code, and test features that help their competition when that competition has a large lead over Microsoft?   I would also ask you should Microsoft have been forced to create an open TCP/IP stack vs. embedding it into Windows 95?   There are many examples in the Microsoft OS as well as in competitor’s products.  For example, Apple and open-source Linux fail to support key Microsoft technologies that are widely used as these companies want to force their customer base into using their preferred technologies.  In fact, I would have to argue that as I type this article out on my MacBook Air (running Windows 7 mind you) that nobody forced me to buy a Microsoft product, especially given all of the alternatives on the market.  
 
The real question is an antitrust suit against Microsoft even valid or is it just picking an old scab as it has become popular to pick on Microsoft?   Even though I bring up this question, I would have to say NO; Microsoft has every right to add whatever features they want to Windows without the need to add native support for others. 
 
At the end of the day, I think this sort exercise just shows you how ridiculous it is to punish a company that is trying to compete against others who currently have a greater market. Heck, maybe we should just get back to a FREE market and our prosperity will come back too. 
 
That is my opinion… now I want to know yours…
 
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Douglas Brown Douglas Brown, DABCC Founder and President, CTP, Microsoft MVP, and VMware vExpert, has more than 17 years of experience in virtualization, cloud, and server based computing. Prior to DABCC, Doug worked at Citrix as a Senior Systems Engineer where he developed the leading Citrix deployment system, “Methodology in a Box,” which has more than a million users. Doug is a notable industry speaker and has also been an accomplished author for the past 17 years. Douglas Brown, DABCC Founder and President, CTP, Microsoft MVP, and VMware vExpert, has more than 17 years of experience in virtualization, cloud, and server based computing. Prior to DABCC, Doug worked at Citrix as a Senior Systems Engineer where he developed the leading Citrix deployment system, “Methodology in a Box,” which has more than a million users. Doug is a notable industry speaker and has also been an accomplished author for the past 17 years.

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