Microsoft's loss means users gain

Microsoft's days of muscling its way into worldwide dominance are probably numbered, as a final ruling based on last week's preliminary findings will mean greater flexibility and choice for users.

The long-awaited finding in the antitrust case brought against the software giant by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) is likely to lead the company to modify the way it bundles and licenses products and the way it deals with competitors, according to Bruce McCabe, research director at Gartner Group.

Any final ruling or settlement would force Microsoft to unbundle Internet Explorer, according to McCabe and IDC Australia managing director Chris Fell.

"I suspect that what we'll see is that Internet Explorer will be compulsorily [unbundled] from the operating system which will open that market up completely and, of course, mean there will be all sorts of possibilities with regard to how users talk to each other via the Web," Fell said.

He added the result of separating Internet Explorer from the operating system would be to harm Microsoft's ability to "muscle its way" into the internet access device market on the basis of its dominance in the PC operating system space.

"Consumers in a generic sense will probably have a much greater choice than they would otherwise have done," he said.

However, in terms of consumers who already use Windows, "it's really quite hard to imagine somebody coming up with an entirely different operating system that would be sufficiently compatible with Windows in a networked environment."

McCabe claimed that in the short term to medium term, there will be "zero implications" for users.

He emphasised that the findings of fact of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that Microsoft has a monopoly in the operating system market, and furthermore that the monopoly has hurt consumers, does not have any bearing on Microsoft's current product strategy, licensing terms and conditions, or support.

In his findings of fact delivered last Friday, Jackson said the US government should prepare remedies that may range from a forced change in Microsoft's business practices to splitting up the company's operating systems and applications group.

But while the findings indicate that Jackson favours the plaintiffs' case, it is not a legal ruling on whether the vendor is guilty of illegal and anticompetitive practices.

That ruling is expected to be handed down next year.

Fell said: "I think what we can conclude is that this is a much bigger slap on the wrist [for Microsoft] than anybody expected, including the prosecution by the way, who seem quite remarkably delighted by their success."

Microsoft Australia managing director Paul Houghton said: "We're disappointed, but we recognise this as being one step in a long legal process. We would like to resolve the situation, however we have some very core principles -- namely the right to innovate with our technology -- that we will stand by.

"We feel we've been very ethical in the way we've done business and were competing very hard in the market place in terms of the core right to innovate.

"Clearly we don't want to be in a position where, from a legal or government standpoint, we do not have capability to do that as a business."

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