Microsoft's defeat in the first round of its battle with the Department of Justice (DoJ) means nothing at all in the short term. But over the coming months and years, the outcome of the antitrust case could change the market conditions immeasurably - and not necessarily for the better.
One so-called industry expert I heard talking about the case said the ruling that Microsoft had acted uncompetitively was a bit like having the school bully thrown out of the playground. I have a different view: to me it's comparable to all the rest of the kids kicking out their classmate who has got too smart, too popular and too rich for them to bear. They're picking on the geeky kid who's so clever that even the teachers want to see him struggle in the mire.
What if Microsoft is castigated, fined, sent into the corner and broken up into pieces? Will it mean more innovation and better products? Somehow, I doubt it.
If the Windows and Office parts are put asunder, it won't help its integration and compatibility in the future. And will people suddenly adopt other application suites because Microsoft is no longer 'Microsoft'?
Meanwhile, we must assume Microsoft will be forced to make the Windows source code available so other vendors can develop their own versions.
This is a great idea, isn't it? Look how many versions of Unix we have and the fuss that has been made about Linux. But do we have a real standard yet?
So that will mean more compatibility issues and no doubt an industry standards body of some kind. More politics, more rivalries, more chaos.
In the end, the beginning/b>
In the end, the successful application vendors and successful operating system vendors will start to work together more closely and use their combined influence to dictate the direction the whole business moves in again. We'll be back to square one.
In one sense the confusion, fear and panic all this causes among users will benefit the industry. Users will need help to move away from a Microsoft-only policy and into a mixed environment of proprietary and largely incompatible versions of desktop operating systems and applications. Sounds great, doesn't it? At least there will be plenty of integration work to do.
In IT, a standard can be enforced only through competition. Beating up the winner is not going to change the result of the game. If the DoJ breaks up Microsoft, it's the user who will bear the cost. And Microsoft will probably still win and end up on personal digital assistants, Wireless Application Protocol phones, set-top boxes and inside ordinary household appliances.
The question about Microsoft being broken up or prevented from competing unfairly is not about ethics, morals or justice, it's about the degree of complexity and chaos we want to create.
It's also about money. Someone is going to make a lot of money out of IT over the next 50 years.
US vendors that have seen Microsoft make billions over the last 10 years just want to make sure they get their share.
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