PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Doing the splits
July 2000

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.

Microsoft, and 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:

Monopoly One:

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.

Microsoft's inability 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.

Monopoly Two:

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…

“Empower 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:

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?