Antitrust Case Sways IT Plans

BOSTON (05/26/2000) - As Judge Jackson brings the Microsoft antitrust case to a close, users are increasingly uneasy about what it means for their Windows rollout plans. Take Kent Maxwell.

"I see this as a big issue. I have a feeling that support for the application and the operating system is going to be shorthanded," said Maxwell, information systems director at Perini America Inc.'s Green Bay, Wisconsin-based facility, which distributes paper manufacturing equipment. "I am definitely not proceeding into new products like Windows 2000 ... because I don't know where the support is going to be."

Maxwell isn't alone. In a Computerworld survey this month of 104 IT professionals in companies with at least 500 employees, 22% said the antitrust case was becoming a factor in their IT planning over the next two years.

It's still a small number, but it may represent a crack in the dam of user interest. Those who cited an impact on their planning said the case was injecting uncertainty into their IT decision-making and either delaying or making them cautious about purchases.

Mike Matheny, IT director at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. a restaurant and retail chain in Lebanon, Tennessee, said he has been thinking about using Windows systems, possibly as part of migration to Windows 2000, for some mission-critical applications that now run on Unix systems. But he is trying to gauge the trial's effect on Microsoft Corp.'s products and support.

"We hoped that we would be changing with [Windows] 2000," said Matheny. "I don't know if we made a hard decision or final decision, but I think [the case] is influencing us."

But most users - 76% of those surveyed - said the case wasn't a factor in their long-term planning.

"We're going to plan to stay with the Microsoft environment because we have too much invested in it," said Harold Creech, an information systems director at a Baltimore facility of medical supplies manufacturer Becton, Dickinson and Co.

"I don't think the government is going to do anything stupid that would cause us to change our plans," he said.

Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said he understands how the trial can raise questions in the minds of end users.

"Given the prominence of the case, it's natural for customers to want to know how it could potentially affect their business," said Murray. "We are going to do everything in our power to make sure that this case does not affect our product focus, product quality and service to customers, and we don't believe that it has."

However, many end users are concerned about the trial's impact on Microsoft. In the survey, 49% said the case was hurting the company's product and software development, while 33% said it was having no impact and 15% said it was helping development.

"The money that would be going to research and development is going to defend this case - that has to be making a difference," said Ray Yeager, senior vice president of information systems at Mutual of America Life Insurance Co.'s national telecommunications center in Boca Raton, Florida. But he said he sees no evidence of problems: "I really don't see any distraction yet," he said.

And Microsoft is also warning of problems. In court papers, it's predicting "chaos" and a mass exodus of employees if the breakup occurs.

Analysts say they don't believe that Microsoft's counterattack to the government's case will necessarily change end users' decisions.

"End users realize that Windows is always going to be there," said Tony Picardi, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts.

And Picardi said he believes that Windows will improve if the company is broken up and becomes cross-platformed and componentized.

But for many end users, the ultimate impact of this case remains unknown.

"We don't know a lot - it's all speculation," said Jim Easton, information systems director at Air Industries Corp. in Garden Grove, California. "No one knows the impact."

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