MS breakup proposal not popular with IT managers

The government's expected breakup recommendation for Microsoft isn't finding strong support among information technology managers, even those who agree that Microsoft broke the law.

"I think that what Microsoft did was predatory and I think it was wrong and I think they should be punished, but I think the scale on which this is being carried out is overkill," said William Steinmetz, an IT director who implements enterprise resource planning systems at Lear, an automotive interior manufacturer in Southfield, Michigan.

"It's too much. It's way beyond what was needed," Steinmetz said. "I just think Microsoft should have been whacked, and whacked hard, and (then) move on. I'm not sure it's worth carving up the company."

A Computerworld US poll of 132 IT professionals, conducted shortly after antitrust trial judge Thomas Penfield Jackson released his ruling earlier this month, found that less than 20 percent supported a breakup proposal. About half favoured a punitive remedy other than a breakup.

Jackson ruled that Microsoft used predatory and anticompetitive practices to maintain its monopoly in PC operating systems. The judge is now considering remedies in the case, and the government and 19 states involved in the case have until the end of this week to submit a proposal. The leading plan, according to various published reports, calls for splitting Microsoft's applications from its operating systems and creating two or possibly three companies.

But negotiations are continuing between the states and the US Department of Justice over the right approach.

"We're striving to reach consensus and agreement among the states and federal government so we can be on the same page when we present our proposal," said Richard Blumenthal, attorney general for the state of Connecticut.

The judge is not obligated to accept the remedy recommendation from the government. Microsoft has vowed to appeal and has termed a potential breakup as a "regulatory death sentence" for the company.

Al Koepke, an information systems manager at Harper Leather Goods, said he believes a decision to separate the applications from the operating system will raise interoperability issues.

"Basically, I think it will be bad for the industry," Koepke said. "It may mean longer delays before the applications work as smoothly (with the operating system) as they are doing now."

"I don't agree with the breakup. I don't agree with some of Microsoft's practices, but I think the government is going a little bit overboard," said Tom Pancsofar, an information systems manager at the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad in Bangor, Maine. "I know they are worried about a monopoly, but we have monopolies everywhere."

Any breakup plan that calls for separating the operating system from the applications may get the support of Microsoft's critics, such as the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), which has backed a structural, or breakup, plan.

The applications and operating system "are twin monopolies that reinforce one another," said Ken Wasch, SIIA's president. "So we think that (a breakup) is really positive."

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