The news that the US
Department of Justice (DoJ) would like to rend Microsoft
asunder will come as no surprise to readers of this magazine.
So foregone was the likely outcome of the action against
Microsoft for it various monopolistic practises that I've
generally been saving this valuable space to review other
issues for the past couple of years.
The wonder of the
spilt is that instead of being a single monopoly, the action
of separating Microsoft into an operating systems business and
an applications business is that the world ends up with TWO
monopolies! MS has around 90% of the Intel platform for OS,
and about the same for Office applications. Let me remind the
youngsters out there that back in the dark days of the 60s and
70s, the UK defined a monopoly as a company with more than 20%
of a marketplace, and decided that this sort of influence was
sufficient to jeopardise the interests of consumers.
especially Bill G., are going through the motions of outrage
and despair at this terrible unfairness, but I have a
suspicion that they are chuckling to themselves because there
is every cause to believe that the two part Microsoft will be
even more successful than the old monolithic structure, which
was showing some real signs of running out ideas and steam.
Let's review the state of play:
The Windows OS is
being increasingly seriously threatened by Unix - a
"freed up" OS business could easily join in with the
Linux market and offer its own Linux distribution. If MS tried
that at present, everyone would scream foul - but if they
tried it on after the split, then the DoJ would find it a
great deal more difficult to raise objections. MS has vastly
more experience and infrastructure to support OEM
installations of the OS than anyone else.
The stumbling block is
mostly internal subjectivity. For MS to admit that Unix was a
viable alternative to Windows is presently heresy - in the
post-split era, all sorts of scared cows can be quietly
slaughtered, and a dose of objectivity be taken by all the
Windows maniacs who implants refuse to shut down without a
good thump round the ear. Stories have emerged over recent
times of NT developer meetings where heretics were
increasingly inclined to suggest that NT had been a jolly good
wheeze to distract attention and markets from Unix, but was
now seriously near the end of the road. The Windows Millennium
edition is a tacit acknowledgement of the fundamental good
sense of the unity of the world of OS's that Unix has always
preached, albeit imperfectly at times.
to capture the mobile PDA and cell phone OS business with its
dreadful Windows CE has only been useful as a reminder which
companies are such sheep as to persist in the belief that MS
could do no wrong. Most ended up with egg on their faces with
over priced, under powered and unexciting CE systems, while
Palm, Psion and even ROM-based Linux from people such as Lineo
won the practical applications war without breaking sweat.
One question arises: has Microsoft been nice enough to
the customers? The general feeling in the trade towards
Microsoft is one of pure animosity for the way that MS has
exercised its monopoly to slap the manufacturers into line.
However, OEMs are a pragmatic lot, and this is the devil they
know. Hardware OEMs have shown themselves to be world-class
masochists over the years, so they are unlikely to change
anything in a hurry.
On the application software front MS Office is a
behemoth of a product that consumes much disk space and
memory, and is thus much loved by hardware OEMs because no
user can possibly have enough memory or MHz to make it all fly
fast enough to satisfy the speed freaks.
Poor old Geoworks proudly produced a WIMP environment
and suite of applications that boasted that it required
precious little hardware to run effectively. Strangely, the
hardware industry found this proposition…
your PC THE INCREDIBLY EASY WAY with our easy to use,
graphical desktop software for computers with as little as a
286 processor, 640K RAM and 10MB of free hard disk space!”
…was less attractive than the news on the MS Office
box that 4Gbyte of RAM and a 999Gbyte hard drive would come in
handy. I wonder why..? Anyway, you will be interested to learn
that Geoworks has been reborn at: http://www.newdealinc.com/
And whilst it’s fun to relish the discomfort at
Microsoft, it’s a well to remember that the arch
protagonists at Sun, Oracle and Netscape were only bitching
because they wanted the monopoly instead. Indeed, it’s good
of Oracle to remind us all (and the DoJ) in their present
commercials that they hold 90% of the serious SQL database
market. This arises, ironically, a self inflicted wound on the
part of Microsoft who doubtless could have owned that too if
only they were willing to port their applications outside the
relatively weak Windows server environment to industrial
strength Unix platforms.
Once again, the splits will provide the opportunity for
Microsoft to unleash the many internal developers who are
eager to get Office for Unix on the streets before Sun’s
effort to give away Star Office distracts too many people. The
bit you lot should be depressed about as Brits is just how
little the UK (or even Europe) has to do with the motive
forces in this industry.
We are merely spectators, so does it really matter
whose monopoly it is anyway?