In blocking Windows Phone access to YouTube, Google delivers rough justice

Google can't be trusted because it blocks access to APIs, says top Microsoft lawyer, ignoring 30 years of Microsoft's own mischief

Ted Samson's Tech Watch article yesterday about the latest public Microsoft/Google spat left me seeing red. In a nutshell, Microsoft's VP and deputy general counsel Dave Heiner, quoting an earlier European Commission complaint, says Google should open up its YouTube API so Microsoft can use it in a Windows Phone YouTube app:

In 2010 and again more recently, Google blocked Microsoft's new Windows Phones from operating properly with YouTube. Google has enabled its own Android phones to access YouTube so that users can search for video categories, find favorites, see ratings, and so forth in the rich user interfaces offered by those phones. It's done the same thing for the iPhones offered by Apple, which doesn't offer a competing search service.

Unfortunately, Google has refused to allow Microsoft's new Windows Phones to access this YouTube metadata in the same way that Android phones and iPhones do. As a result, Microsoft's YouTube 'app' on Windows Phones is basically just a browser displaying YouTube's mobile Web site, without the rich functionality offered on competing phones. Microsoft is ready to release a high-quality YouTube app for Windows Phone. We just need permission to access YouTube in the way that other phones already do, permission Google has refused to provide.

Despite government scrutiny, Google continues to block Microsoft from offering its customers proper access to YouTube.

Google responded by saying that Microsoft could build an HTML5-based Windows Phone app that has access to all of the mentioned features, through the YouTube HTML5 API. As far as I'm concerned, that dodges the heart of the matter.

The simple fact is that Microsoft invented -- or at least perfected -- the "API as competitive bludgeon" approach. What we're seeing now is Microsoft's comeuppance for decades of fighting this same dirty little war. And it's not just historical. Microsoft continues to use API blocking as a blunt weapon to this day. The company deserves to be hoisted with its own petard.

While making allowance for creative license inherent in any attorney defending his client, I'm still struck by Heiner's apparent obliviousness to Microsoft's long, sordid history with API blocking and its ugly stepsister, obfuscation.

I won't bring up the old (and largely discredited) DOS 2.0-era cry, "DOS ain't done 'til Lotus won't run." Nor will I dwell on the "Chinese wall" -- a phrase that's still hotly contested -- that refers to Microsoft's claimed separation of the Windows and Office development efforts, specifically to avoid anticompetitive flimflammery with Windows APIs. The situation's far more nuanced these days.

Allow me to don Mr. Peabody's natty red bow-tie and have you set the WABAC machine to 1991. Jim Allchin sent off a series of memos to Brad Silverberg, Bill Gates, and others that not only admonished the Windows team to keep the Windows APIs proprietary, but actively encouraged use of the APIs to break competitive products, including, notably, DR-DOS.

Now set the machine for 1992. Andrew Schulman, David Maxey, and Matt Pietrek released their voluminous "Undocumented Windows" tome, which covered hidden and obfuscated (and, well, undocumented) Windows 3.0 and 3.1 APIs. It ran 656 pages. Following in the esteemed footsteps of Charles Petzold and his seminal "Programming Windows," a small band of very tenacious programmers managed to shed light on Microsoft's top-secret APIs.

On to 1995. Microsoft changed its API in Windows 95, breaking WordPerfect in the process. WordPerfect (owned by Novell) brought a lawsuit against Microsoft claiming that Microsoft not only broke the old API calls, it hoarded undocumented calls and interfaces, allowing them to be used by Office but not by WordPerfect. Robert Frankenberg, former CEO of Novell, put it this way:

Our key competitor, Microsoft, could control our ability to put product out the door and did so. And that meant that it was impossible for us to fulfill our promises to customers, it was impossible for us to derive significant value, and it made much more sense for us to sell product and pursue other opportunities.

Novell filed the lawsuit in 2004. It lost: The suit was dismissed in July 2012.

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