In what could be seen as Black Wednesday for Microsoft, a judge late yesterday gave his final ruling that the giant be split into two - an applications company and an operating systems vendor.
As expected, the software giant has been given four months to draw up plans for the separation, but a number of immediate restrictions to its business practices have also been imposed.
Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates attacked the decision as "unreasonable" and "contradictory", and the company said it would immediately ask for a stay while it attempts to appeal.
The immediate impositions ordered by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson are designed to prevent what the court believes are predatory monopoly practices. Until the breakup plans have been approved the judge has told Microsoft to maintain all products and keep its current business structure to prevent it from making changes that would complicate the separation process.
Many of the immediate orders affect the way Microsoft does business with its OEMs. Among them were the "timely" disclosure of Windows application programming interfaces to OEMs and a requirement to give OEMs uniform licensing terms for the operating system. Microsoft must also allow OEMs to make changes to certain aspects of Windows and has been banned from making exclusive arrangements with such partners.
Microsoft has within 90 days to detail how it will meet these orders.
In a statement, Gates said: "This ruling is inconsistent with past decisions by the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court that support product improvement, it is unreasonable in its call to break up Microsoft and regulate software design, and it contradicts the reality that consumers see every day."
Many of the measures created by the Department of Justice, are designed to ultimately protect consumers, but one analyst company believes the results would be price hikes across the industry.
According to Zona Research, "A company that produces integrated operating systems and applications has an easier time developing and marketing inexpensive products due to the financial leverage. If Windows and Microsoft applications are separated, it is entirely possible that the cost of Microsoft products may rise significantly, which in turn may set a precedence for competitors' pricing as well."
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