Users Greet Antitrust Decision with a Yawn
- By Scott Bekker
While a federal appeals court’s decision to vacate Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s ordered break up of Microsoft Corp. may have surprised some industry watchers, many IT managers say that they saw it coming.
"Total lack of surprise," says Dave Oberholzer, manager of data services for a New York-based risk-analysis company.
"I was only surprised that it was a unanimous decision, but I expected the appellate court to come back with this decision," echoes Andrew Baker, an IT manager with insurance company and financial services organization American Int’l Group Inc. (AIG, New York, N.Y.).
Surprisingly enough, a lot of IT administrators acknowledge that they’re largely indifferent to the eventual outcome of the Microsoft trial – even if it results in the fracturing of the software giant into competing operating system and application software divisions.
"I'm largely indifferent to the ruling," confirms Dusty Hoffpauir, manager of advanced Web hosting special projects with Verio Inc. "There is nothing yet to say how it is going to affect Microsoft and how in turn that will affect the companies that rely on Microsoft's products."
An IT manager with a media company based in the Northeast takes a decidedly more pessimistic view of any proposed break-up remedy.
"Personally, I'm indifferent," he says. "I believe Microsoft's marketing strategies are monopolistic and will continue to be so no matter how the courts rule. They'll just play things closer to the defined line, if ever and whenever it's defined."
This same IT manager acknowledges that he flirted briefly with the idea of making a platform switch when Jackson’s break-up order was first announced in June 2000, but was ultimately forced to reject such a move in view of his organization’s overwhelming dependency on Microsoft products.
"Microsoft's OS and application software programs are so deeply entrenched here that we can't move elsewhere," he says. "Corporate has entered into Select licensing arrangements and suggested software standards that virtually force the use of Microsoft products because of pure economics."
Some IT folk seem resigned to the belief that Microsoft will continue to exploit its dominant market position for its own benefit – regardless of the court’s imposition of structural or behavioral remedies.
"I personally do not believe that Microsoft, as they exist today, has any interest in operating in the best interest of competition or openness," says Oberholzer. "It will take a long time [for Microsoft] to implement anything that the government tells it to. Historically speaking, [Microsoft] will also implement it as they, themselves, determine [what] the ruling ‘really meant’ and fight the interpretation out in court."
Putting allegations of bullying aside, however, some IT managers claim that Judge Jackson’s break-up remedy was excessive simply because it left them without a suitable or compelling alternative at the enterprise level.
"A company as large as ours can't chance going with some maverick start-up as much as some might like," says another IT administrator. "We need to know we're with a company that will be around."
In the end, opines AIG’s Baker, the Justice Department’s lawsuit was misguided because it failed to effectively target Microsoft’s most troubling and harmful practices –such as, for example, trapping OEMs in "oppressive" licensing schemes. Instead, Baker suggests, the Justice Department attempted to punish Microsoft for actions that were actually of nominal benefit to consumers.
"It is easier to prove that [consumers] weren't hurt because the widespread use of [Microsoft’s] Win32 APIs moved us away from old ‘printer driver for every app’ issues we had to contend with back in DOS," he suggests. "Most consumers see the ubiquity of Windows as a good thing, but it was the OEM licensing that should have been attacked, not the bundled OS features." Stephen Swoyer
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Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.