No wonder the company put up with John Malone's shenanigans earlier this year when the TCI chief made Microsoft sweat before signing a deal that would make Windows CE the operating system for 5 million of the cable system's TV set-top boxes. What made this interesting was that Malone had signed a similar deal with Sun to use its PersonalJava software just a day earlier.
But then again, this is Microsoft--and its definition of coopetition may be markedly different from from the original concept propagated by former Novell CEO Ray Noorda.
In our special report on convergence, Microsoft's Steve Guggenheimer told our reporters recently: "This space is not simple. You should not try to come up with a simple message, because it is a space where people do compete and cooperate."
Then, the product manager for Microsoft's digital television group added: "There's software involved and services, and most players provide a little bit of each. We provide the software."
In classic Redmondian philosophy, coopetition is valid as long as the software engine driving the convergence train is Windows. It seems to be saying that competition is good as long as everyone cooperates with Windows CE. How typical of Microsoft to want to have its cake and eat it too.
The ongoing Microsoft-DOJ trial--and the related documents and depositions--provide a peek into how Redmond deals with its partners in its version of coopetition. You've read the accounts: how Microsoft "persuaded" Intel--its partner in the Wintel juggernaut--to give up on the NSP multimedia initiative. Or how it tried to "persuade" Apple to abandon its QuickTime multimedia technology.
Only time will tell whether these kinds of actions crossed the boundary of legal business. What is clear is that whether it's cooperation or competition, Microsoft "partners" in the convergence space better get use to the Microsoft mantra of "Windows everywhere."
For proof positive on how everything is right if it has Windows behind it, compare and contrast Microsoft's views on WebTV before and after last year's acquisition of the set-top box company. In 1996, when WebTV was just beginning to enter the consciousness of the nerd world, Microsoft executive Craig Mundie's public view was how the product fell short of being a convergence product because it didn't fully integrate the television broadcast with features and functionality of a personal computer.
Of course, the unspoken message probably was that it did not run on Windows and therefore was not PC-centric enough. But now that Microsoft WebTV has adopted Windows CE, all is well.
Malone may have delighted in getting Bill Gates's goat by playing him against Sun over TCI's boxes, but Microsoft's mere presence in this market means that convergence might as well be defined as collision. The question is whether the software giant from Washington state can succeed in throwing its weight around in this business the way it has in the PC industry.
As Universal Studios' Jay Samit puts it in our convergence report: "This is a world where telco, media, software, and hardware manufacturers are all 800-pound gorillas in their own forest, and suddenly they're all thrown together."
Go to: Tuning in: View to a kill