Daytime TV Justice

BOSTON(06/12/2000) - Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson thinks he's played Solomon by splitting Microsoft Corp. into an operating systems business and an applications business. But it seems more like Judge Judy to me. As I've argued in this space before, Microsoft's PC operating system monopoly is becoming less and less relevant as Linux, handhelds and server-centric computing make desktop issues so, you know, 20th century. Applications, however, are as modern as ever, and the court has just sanctioned the creation of a much more powerful monopoly.

If anything, Microsoft's PC operating system dominance has held back its applications group by forcing the company's developers to build products with Windows in mind. Now they'll be free to go after every other platform with equal zeal.

Look at Microsoft's one effort to go cross-platform: Microsoft Office on the Mac. Less than five years ago, there was real competition for productivity software on Apple Computer Inc.'s operating system. Now the platform is dominated by Word, Excel and even PowerPoint, which proves that the applications business won't be shackled by its Windows roots once its internal restrictions have been lifted.

IT managers who once hesitated to deploy Linux or Sun Solaris servers for certain applications will feel fine about doing so if they can run BackOffice, Internet Information Server, Office or other software from the new applications business. Any hope for competing software on these platforms won't stand a chance.

To be fair, there could be an upside to this for IT managers. And that's with SQL Server, which Jackson has lumped in with the applications business as, oddly enough, "middleware." Right now, you can get Microsoft's database only with its operating systems.

In the post-breakup world, the applications business would have every incentive to port its database to Solaris, Linux and even S/390. This move could vastly improve the performance and scalability of the database and give Oracle a serious cross-platform competitor while putting a downward pressure on prices.

That's about the only good news I can draw from this attempt at justice. But overall, it seems about as lightweight as any judgment you can get on daytime television.

Mark Hall is Computerworld's West Coast bureau chief. You can contact him at mark_hall@computerworld.com.

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