Microsoft, Kodak Near Settlement on Windows XP

Microsoft Corp. is expected to reach a settlement with Eastman Kodak in a dispute that concerns the manner in which digital photographs are handled by the software giant’s forthcoming Windows XP operating system.

In early July, representatives from Kodak accused Microsoft of effectively hijacking a new photo-transfer standard that the two companies had jointly developed for Windows XP.

According to Kodak, as recently as Windows XP Release Candidate 1, Microsoft made its own photo-transfer program, dubbed the “Scanner and Camera Wizard,” the default standard for digital photos – even in cases in which Kodak’s own software had been installed. In order to use any alternative software package, Kodak argued, users must manually open it whenever it’s required.

“We were being frozen out. Consumers were effectively being denied a choice of which photo software they could use," Kodak vice president Philip Gerskovich told the Wall Street Journal at the time.

Microsoft initially disputed Kodak’s account, however. According to Microsoft, the Scanner and Camera Wizard actually launches a pull-down menu which provides a listing of installed software programs that can be used to import digital photos. If installed, Kodak’s EasyShare software would be listed among the programs in such a list; a user could select it once and make it the default.

The Kodak-Microsoft flap primarily affects the way that Windows XP handles digital cameras, but some users have also expressed dissatisfaction with XP’s draconian control of photo imaging standards. According to some beta testers, Windows XP doesn’t let them choose which software applications they want to use to browse and edit digital photographic images.

Andrea Pennington, an amateur photographer who uses a software program called ACDSee from ACD Systems Ltd. to edit many of her digital photos, says that Windows XP RC1 launches its own photo editing tool whenever she double-clicks on a photo image – even though and in spite of the fact that she’s tried to associate ACDSee with most of the common Windows image file extensions. She claims that she experiences no such problem in Windows 2000.

“I couldn’t figure out a way to get it to launch ACDSee automatically,” she says. “Even when I specified that ACDSee [was to] use the file extensions that I save my photos as, it still opened up the Microsoft program. There doesn’t seem to be a way around it.”

More than anything else, the Microsoft-Kodak flap has helped to refocus the industry’s attention upon the software giant’s questionable business practices.

“It’s another case where they’ve emphatically shown that they’re not to be trusted. This is something that Kodak worked on with them in good faith and then was completely double-crossed,” contends a marketing manager with a major Silicon Valley-based Unix vendor. “It’s also a textbook case of how they restrict user preferences and choices.”

A representative with a Silicon Valley-based database and application vendor agrees: “If you can’t trust them with this, how can you trust them with something like Passport, which forces you to surrender all of your personal information to them?”

According to Dan Kusnetzky, director of worldwide server operating environments with IDC, such attention couldn’t have come at a worse time for Microsoft.

“My sense is that Microsoft is rushing very rapidly, as rapidly as it can, to get Windows XP and all of the things around it out and installed in as many places in the world as they can,” he says. “Microsoft has to get [XP] out there and deployed so rapidly that governmental bodies have no chance to look at it and wonder if it meets with regulations and laws, and standards bodies have no chance to look at the standards that they’re supporting, because once it’s out there and deployed, it’s too late.”

Unfortunately, for Microsoft, Kusnetzky says, Kodak took its case directly to the people. The photo processing giant recently launched an huge PR campaign and lobbying effort – bolstered in early July by a scathing article in the Wall Street Journal – which attracted the attention of influential U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D, N.Y.), among others. Schumer joined the ranks of several state attorneys general and a number of industry observers by calling in late July for an injunction to prevent Windows XP from shipping as planned in late October.

It was pressure from Schumer and from other industry watchers that Kusnetzky credits with occasioning Microsoft’s reversal-of-course. “The only way to get to Microsoft is not to talk quietly with them one on one, but to get a whole group of people yelling at them,” Kusnetzky says.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.


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