All Windows - No Doors

When the Judge’s decision finally came, it hardly made a ripple, the BBC called to ask if the death sentence could be applied retrospectively in anti-trust cases and Sky News, unable to find a football angle, decided to pass.

Microsoft is free. Well almost free. The third judge in this long-running battle between the world’s most powerful government and the world’s most powerful software company approved a settlement deal between the two sides, which changes very little and leaves the cynics with a strong “Told-you-so argument”.

Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the judge appointed by the Court of Appeals was appointed to determine how Microsoft should be punished for violation of anti-trust legislation and illegally maintaining its monopoly over computer software operating systems. The company, anxious to cut a deal with the ‘Feds’ to avoid any court imposed remedies, agreed to new restrictions on its behaviour, uniform contract terms, the release of some Windows technical data to third-party developers and the removal of some programme elements and icons in the latest Service Pack update to Windows XP.

Of the seventeen US States that were also pursuing the company, nine have chosen to accept the settlement but the remaining eight may still appeal and are arguing that the settlement doesn’t open-up the competitive landscape and want Microsoft to reveal its code in a way that would allow other companies to write to the Windows API. If this sounds rather like the Open Source argument, (Sun’s Star Office for Windows) then it’s not too far from the truth. And so Microsoft, still reluctant to show the world the engine locked under the bonnet of its proprietary car, has been giving away enough detail for third-parties to change the suspension but little in the way of useful tuning information.

So does this momentous decision really make a difference where business and the consumer are concerned? Probably not. Certainly, companies like Microsoft will have to conduct themselves with more transparency and attention to anti-trust legislation in future but WorldCom and Enron have also changed the landscape where matters of corporate integrity are concerned.

The monopoly remains intact and as strong as ever, an unavoidable fact of life in a market dominated by Windows, leaving the European Commission to proceed with its own investigation, which had been on-hold until the US court had made its decision.

In my view however, Microsoft has emerged from the experience as a better company. It may dominate the market and will continue to do so but it has left many of its worst “Mr. Toad-like” characteristics behind. But this doesn’t mean that software won’t continue to be expensive and that the company won’t indirectly stifle competition as a consequence of sheer size. After all, even after a case that has lasted almost ten years can any smaller company seriously consider the effort and expense of competition in area in which Microsoft plays? I think not. The future remains unchanged and it’s a world of many windows and no doors.


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