Users Assess Verdict

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Investors may have suffered anxiety attacks last week when Microsoft Corp. was found guilty of antitrust violations, but IT professionals who depend on the software giant's products are not panicking.

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's harsh ruling will likely lead to severe penalties, including a possible breakup of the company. However, IT managers say they are staying the course with Microsoft while they keep an eye on the penalty phase of the trial, which could be concluded as early as next month.

"We will not make our technology decisions based on religion or politics," says David Poole, corporate network administrator for Agra Earth and Environmental, an environmental consulting company in Seattle. "Whatever happens in court will not influence the technology we deploy."

Poole, whose network includes Microsoft and Novell products, says only a breakup of Microsoft will bring an appropriate end to the case. "Break Microsoft into three or four clones and let them go at it," he says. "We'll get more stable systems with fewer bugs for less cost."

Lesser remedies are unlikely to have the desired impact, he says. "Have you ever read the Halloween Documents? Microsoft doesn't play fair," he says. These documents were confidential Microsoft memos on the threat of open source software and Linux that found their way onto the Internet in 1998.

But others say a breakup is too harsh a penalty.

"The ruling is correct, but maybe not good for end users. A breakup would end up costing us dollars," says Ronald Shoults, information technology secretary for The Salvation Army in Des Plaines, Illinois. "It would be hard for everybody in IT. There need to be rules of conduct and monitoring. It's the only action that is prudent."

A central theme in the Department of Justice's case has been that Microsoft's tactics harmed consumers. But Shoults says he hasn't been hurt by Microsoft's actions.

"Where Microsoft has made it difficult is in getting equipment preloaded with our browser of choice, but now that is a nonissue," he says. "This case now seems to be about sending a message to Microsoft."

One industry analyst agrees that IT organizations are wise to take the ruling in stride.

"There is no reason to panic," says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Gartner Group in Stamford, Connecticut. "If you've been comfortable with Microsoft until now, you should continue to feel that way."

But comfort levels may be shifting for some customers.

"My big fear is that the attorneys are excited about problems that don't matter to us in IT," says Greg Scott, IS manager for Oregon State University College of Business. "They will kill the golden goose."

Scott says Microsoft delivers what he needs - an integrated package of operating system software and applications that give him 90 percent of his needed functionality out of the box, plus a set of development tools that let him customize the other 10 percent. "I'm afraid the DOJ will screw that up," he says.

He's not the only one. Thousands of users are deeply committed to the Microsoft product suite and would likely feel pressure if the company suffers harsh penalties.

"In a break-up scenario, the impact is almost always adversely felt by the user," says Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Prices go up, quality goes down and confusion rises as users wonder what vendor to choose."

Enderle says the good thing is that over the long term, those effects will dissipate. But some users worry about the long-term implications of government intervention in the IT industry.

"If the government does this to Microsoft, who will be next to come under scrutiny?" asks Chuck Yoke, manager of information systems for Tecomac, a software developer in Englewood, Colorado. "Is it Cisco in networking, Lucent with the PBX?"

Additionally, Yoke thinks most of the issues in the case will be moot in three years.

"The number of applications you actually own will be small and you will rent, lease or use applications that live on the Internet," he predicts.

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