US attorney general Janet Reno may have called Microsoft a "robber baron", but it is surprisingly hard to find people in the know who believe that Judge Jackson's actions will create a healthier industry.
Simon Pollard, head of European Research for analyst firm AMR Research, says: "It satisfies none of the companies claiming to be injured. It has become almost a matter of principle."
Many of those in the business who care less about antitrust law than about making their systems work are not applauding the action taken against Microsoft. The fear is that the de facto standard created by the software giant's monopoly may not be perfect, but the alternative could be worse.
Steve Caunce, software marketing manager at Computacenter, the largest distributor of PCs to UK businesses, explains: "A non-standardised desktop infrastructure is not good news for the corporate customer. Microsoft is seen as the industry standard for many corporate customers. You could argue that this dominance on the desktop is unhealthy, but standardisation in this industry is seen as cost effective."
Nico MacDonald, founding partner of Ascendant, a consultancy that advises blue-chips and dotcoms on their internet strategies, continues: "If the operating system and the browser are developed by different companies, it will hold back the quality and the value of the applications we can design for the network. It's just pathetic."
Bert Boyd, senior analyst at Byline Research, adds: "Has Microsoft abused its power? Yes. Has Microsoft always behaved in the best interests of customers and competitors? Absolutely not. Is the breakup a good thing? No. It's difficult to see an outcome from all this that will be of real benefit to consumers, businesses or the computer industry."
In other words: Microsoft has broken the law, but the punishment is worse than the crime, and the Redmond giant may not be the only organisation feeling the impact into the short term. Oliver Roll, Microsoft's director of enterprise marketing, unsurprisingly agrees.
The measures taken against Microsoft are "extreme", he claims. "It's like being on trial for burglary and being convicted of murder. I'm disappointed and frustrated," he says.
Appealing against the verdict
In the next few weeks, Microsoft's frustration will quickly mutate into an appeal against the breakup. It is entitled to take this to the US Court of Appeal and eventually the Supreme Court - but even with a recommendation to expedite, the process looks set to last at least a year.
However, Microsoft's position is weakened by the fact that any appeal is unlikely to overturn the Judge's so-called Findings of Fact, which were published in November and concluded that Microsoft's monopoly had damaged consumers. The company will instead argue in its appeal that its punishment is disproportionate to its crime.
But it is not the potential breakup that is causing Microsoft its initial worry. According to Roll, the company is more concerned about changes it has to make to its business practices within 90 days, whatever the status of its appeal.
For three years, Microsoft cannot: stop other manufacturers from modifying start-up screens; withhold its technology, or release specifications to its own developers before external developers; interfere with the performance of competitive applications.
It also can't: charge different prices for pre-installing Windows among the top 20 PC manufacturers; raise the price of previous versions of Windows when a new version comes out; discourage companies which produce products to run on non-Microsoft operating systems; tie other products to Windows.
But it was the last item that was worrying Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, as he spoke to IT directors in London on Friday morning.
"The judgement as it is entered, calls for no enhancements to Windows in the internet area for three years," he complained. "On appeal, that's one key issue we'll pursue."
Roll continues: "Let's be absolutely clear. The remedies will hurt the people who use our software." Users will pay more for products, he claims, and it will lead to a 'Balkanising' of standards (when vendors deliberately build in proprietary extras to make their offerings attractive enough to buy). On this, MacDonald agrees.
Whether Microsoft's operating system and internet technologies are built by two different companies, or simply by two different groups who can't work closely together, he argues, his clients will suffer because it will make building internet-based applications harder.
"I've got high aspirations for the network society and they have been barely realised," he says. "The whole split between operating system and application is incredibly clumsy, but Microsoft's work integrating Internet Explorer with Windows has enabled new ways of working. Microsoft has been more innovative than anyone else. Shame on companies like Netscape for losing and being bad sports."
Mind the gap
While the appeal continues, says AMR's Pollard, rival technologies will not be able to fill the innovation gap. "Some close competitors will take it as an opportunity to launch rival products, but it will be a brave competitor which commits a lot of resources in the hope that Microsoft loses its appeal," he says.
On 22 June, Microsoft launches its Next Generation Windows Services, a technology roadmap that will inevitably bind the operating system closer to internet technology. Yet it is a plan that the company is unlikely to be able to implement itself.
Longer term though, competitors will fill the gap with their own technologies if Microsoft is blocked from doing so. Even if hindsight suggests that the US antitrust rules, rather than Microsoft, were at fault, customers might not notice the difference, says Boyd.
But he adds: "Customers have little reason to worry. Despite the hype, there is very little that Microsoft sells that is truly critical to the running of most businesses, and what there is can always be replaced by other vendors."
Agreement that we can all live quite happily without Microsoft also comes from an unlikely source: Ballmer. "No company that grew by its own devices has been broken up in American history - but you can shoot any company," he told his customers on Friday. "At the end of the day, the world can do without any single company."
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