Watchdogs barking up the wrong tree

Watchdogs barking up the wrong tree

Regulators’ obsession with unbundling has made them blind to more pressing concerns affecting software users

BT’s broadband division, BT Wholesale, wants regulator Ofcom to force internet service providers (ISPs) to quote average broadband speeds rather than the theoretical maximum rate available. Given that most domestic customers that have been promised “up to 8Mbit/s” will be lucky to get much more than half this in practice, it seems like a reasonable suggestion.

After all, IT vendors have been here before with tedious regularity. This is an industry that likes to play the numbers game: big numbers, even if they are clearly misleading, always generate big sales. Think of the impossible numbers quoted by printer manufacturers for output speeds and number of pages you can print before the ink runs out, and you understand how long this has been going on.

In fact, I would like Ofcom to go further and force ISPs to declare how often they suffer breakdowns in critical services such as email and web access, and how quickly these are resolved. Given my own experience with BT as a telephone company, I would like the company to provide an estimate of how often the line will be dead every year, and how long it will take them each time to fix it ­ in my case, several times and several weeks, respectively.

It could be that BT really is trying to protect consumer rights and improve the lives of online humanity. It could also be the case that it is just trying to boost its own DSL sales. It has every right to do so, of course - ­ just make sure you keep your eye
on the ball as a customer.

But I fear that the antitrust terriers in the US and Europe, nipping at Microsoft’s heels again in anticipation of Windows 7, took their eyes off the ball a long time ago. All their concern over the possibility that Microsoft might somehow be regarded as a monopoly seems so last century.

It strikes me that Microsoft moved on from this debacle even before the first lawyer’s notice arrived, shifting its focus on to new ways of crushing all competition in the market. Again it has every right to do so: the ultimate aim of every business is, after all, to maximise its share of the market.

But consider the number of people struggling with Data Execution Prevention (DEP) in Windows Vista. Judging by help forum anecdotes, a whole host of Adobe Acrobat Professional 8 users ­ - myself included ­ - cannot find a way of stopping DEP from closing Acrobat within seconds of it launching. Why is it doing it? And more importantly, why can’t we stop it from doing it?

If I was a suspicious man, I would begin to wonder if this is where the antitrust terriers should start looking. Forget about unbundling media player and Internet Explorer ­ - they need to look at how difficult it is to get third-party software to run under Vista these days.

Even logged in as Administrator, I have to hurdle one nag screen after another, nag, nag, nag, throughout the day, apparently because I have the audacity to keep running applications from developers other than Microsoft. Vista keeps telling me that my computer is susceptible to viruses because it doesn’t recognise Sophos anti-virus. I have to force this to run at every boot-up, otherwise it gets suspended by a conscientious Vista worried that it might be an unauthorised program.

IT buyers in the past used to run into major headaches if they tried to get products from different vendors to work together. If you thought that those days were behind us, you’ve been sadly misled.