Something Fishy at Barnes and Nobles

Wednesday, July 19, 2006





Last year I was hired to run 28 public access Linux stations at a public library and adjacent community center in Takoma Park, Maryland. When I was hired for the job, my supervisor told me, "You need to know OpenOffice.org inside and out before your first day on the job."

I'm a free software enthusiast, so that sounded like a learning task I would relish doing. So the weekend before my job started I drove over to Barnes and Nobles to buy one or two books about OpenOffice.org

Barnes and Nobles sells computer books, right? They sell a lot of computer books, right?

I walk into the store and find the computer book section and start scanning the shelves for OpenOffice.org books. Hmmm, out of the hundreds and hundreds of computer books stocked by Barnes and Nobles, I could not find a single book about OpenOffice.org

"Well, that's kind of strange," I thought to myself. Version 2.0 of OpenOffice has been getting a lot of buzz in the press and on blogs. Why would Barnes and Nobles stock zero books on OpenOffice.org?

Why, indeed?

Fast forward a few months. I'm visiting the blog of the most talented book author on OpenOffice.org, Solveig Haugland. Solveig is blogging that Barnes and Nobles is refusing to carry her OpenOffice.org book, claiming there is a soft market. (See the July 13, 2006 blog posting.)

Right, there's a soft market for free office suite software that coincidentally competes against Microsoft Office? Hush money. You ever heard of it? Payola? Kickbacks?

The stink of Microsoft's anticompetitive tactics is too strong in this situation. Last year I thought it was bizarre that Barnes and Nobles carried no OpenOffice.org books. Now I know it's not bizarre -- it's planned. They don't carry OpenOffice.org books today, they won't carry OpenOffice.org books tomorrow, not next year nor any year that Microsoft pays them not to.

If you don't think that Microsoft would resort to such tactics, you need to brush up a bit on your history. At a conference on Microsoft's anticompetitive behaviors, a reporter from a newspaper in Wisconsin described how Bill Gates had called the editorial board of the newspaper to tell them to "deal with" a reporter whose articles he didn't like.

Never in the history of that newspaper had any corporation ever called the editorial board to tell them what to do. Until Microsoft tried exerting its anticompetitive muscle.

The litany of underhanded tactics by Microsoft goes on and on and on.
If it weren't such a serious matter, it would almost be comical.

The antitrust judge in the Microsoft case needs to subpoena all correspondence between Barnes and Nobles and Microsoft. The odor from this is too strong to suppose that nothing is causing the stink.

All correspondence between Barnes and Nobles and book publishers, relating to OpenOffice.org books, also needs to be subpoenaed. If there is bullying going on, we need to get to bottom of it.

The appropriate Congressional committee needs to holding hearings on this, too.