IT Week Opinion – Operating Systems
Microsofts dreary court saga drags on


The EUs prosecution of the software giant has little to do with the real
world of corporate IT, argues Martin Veitch.

IT Week Opinion – Operating Systems

The poor are always with us, and so are Microsoft “monopoly abuse”
trials. The mountains may fall into the sea and the world stop spinning
on its axis but someone, somewhere will be investigating whether
Microsoft put one of its icons on a desktop when it should have let
someone else put their own icons there instead. Regulatory inquiries
into the near-monopoly businesses of IBM and AT&T also took years but at
least they are safely locked away in the past, alongside Crossroads
, rationing and smallpox. For the IT director faced with real business and
technical issues, the only positive outcome from any prosecution would
be an enforced price-cut on Microsoft software.

Revealing more
source code may be nice but, pace discussion-board conspiracy
theorists,Microsoft has shown enough of its hand over the years to
foster the most successful independent software vendor community ever.
Blocking the preinstallation of components such as media players may
appease guardians of business conduct ethics just forgive the rest of us
for not giving a damn.

The fine imposed by the EU on Microsoft is
a huge sum although it represents just one percent of the companys cash
reserves. Poor old Bill must feel as if he has been slapped by a
feather, but to avoid setting any precedent it is highly unlikely that
Microsoft will be coughing up the shrapnel from its pockets anytime
soon. The moment the EU puffed out its chest and made its demands it was
certain that Microsoft would appeal.

Nobody disputes the rights
of regulators to soften the sharp edges of capitalism but what needs to
be acknowledged somewhere is that Microsoft has been a force for the
good in IT.Nobody has developed a software stack that is as integrated
as Windows and its complementary applications.Nobody has managed such an
appealing miscegenation of server and client software.

Nobody has
worked as hard on usability or been as willing to tolerate such low
fees.Microsoft succeeded because it built a pretty good mousetrap and
understood the needs of buyers at a time when low-tech, high-price and
lock-in were the only alternatives.

It wasnt Microsofts fault
that firms like IBM, DEC, Lotus and Ashton-Tate were so stuck in their
ways that they lost chunks of their markets. The bottom line is that
Windows was better than DOS and cheaper than Macintosh; NT got developer
backing that Net- Ware and OS/2 could never manage.

Word was
better than WordPerfect, Excel was better than 1-2-3, and Access better
than dBase. Game, set and match to Microsoft and if you dont like it,
buy the other guys product.

Sure,Microsoft probably did not
always play straight over interoperability with third-party software.
But that wasnt its unique selling point and it didnt strangle
competition, otherwise regulatory fines should run into 10 or 11 figures.

Markets have a freewheeling way of working themselves out. Business karma
dictates that if you lose sight of what your customers want, sooner or
later you get a bloody nose. Linux and open source may be about to give
Microsoft just that but it should be buyers spending that dictates any
rough justice to be meted out, not regulators. []