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Fred's Views

Microsoft Times Two

So the judge says split up Bill's kingdom!

Everyone knows I'm no Microsoft lover, so I should be happy, right? Actually, I am (with reservations). The decison, for me, was made quite some time ago when I walked into my favorite computer store on an August afternoon and saw Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95 sitting side by side on the first day of the operating system's release. It would be another six months or so before Corel would get Wordperfect (for Windows 95) to market and more than a year before the Lotus flagship product, 123 would appear in a 32 bit version from IBM. (To be fair, both Corel and IBM had problems as a result of their recent acquisitions of these products.) Still, it was obvious that Microsoft's Office had an unfair advantage because it came from the same company and minds as the operating system.

I actually don't have as much of a problem with Internet Explorer being bundled with Windows. It could, I think, be fairly argued to be just an enhancement of Windows, much like Microsoft's backup utility is an enhancement. The difference is, of course, that the backup utility is seriously compromised to the point that virtually nobody uses it, while Internet Explorer has been continuously improved to the point that it is at least as good as its major competition. (For web developers like me, IE is significantly better than Navigator because it displays web pages more accurately and predictably and because it offers VBscript.) Ironically, the part of IE I like least, is the attempted integration with the desktop. Since I don't have the luxury of full-time access to the web, I not only want to know if I'm dealing with a file on my computer or "out there somewhere" - I need to know.

If the operating portion of Microsoft's operations were spun off as a second company - a second company "at arm's length" from the other portion - some good things might happen.

The end result will probably be even more profits for the owners of the two Microsofts, but at least innovative and assertive competitors would have a chance to be seen and heard.

Absolutely crucial is the necessity that the two companies have no connection. That doesn't necessarily mean that Bill (and Steve, etc.) can't own a big piece of both, but it probably means that they have no operational control over one of them. There must be no sharing of code, trade secrets, etc., unless this same information is made available to all competitors.

Unfortunately, we're only half-way through the process (or less). Microsoft is already far larger and more entrenched now than it was two years ago. By the time the appeal process is completed, companies like Corel and IBM-Lotus may have ceased producing office suites. Netscape may also get out of the browser business if the new version 6 doesn't win converts (and fix some of the inconsistencies webmasters currently put up with).

Is it the government's role to protect consumers? Apparently we do need all the help we can get. After all, we put Microsoft at the top of the heap. First, we refused to buy clearly superior products because they lacked the three magical letters "IBM". Then, we decided that compatible data exchange wasn't enough. We must have total compatibility. Now we seem to be forcing everyone into the same "office suite" mode, for no valid reason, other than, perhaps, it saves training resources.

Microsoft didn't become the success it is simply by the hard work of Bill and his cohorts. Microsoft enjoyed a great deal of good luck and serendipitous good timing. Not that their aggressive marketing techniques haven't helped. Without government intervention, it seems most of us are little better than the proverbial lemmings. We fail to see the forest for the trees. We helped Microsoft gain its monopoly status just as surely as we are destroying the environment and aiding global warming. Unfortunately, governments seem only capable of responding to problems after they threaten to be disastrous. What we really need is a government that will lead.

Is a Microsoft breakup good for us? Like the man says, "It can't hoit!"

Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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