Settling Is the Only Answer for Microsoft

BOSTON (05/08/2000) - 'Think of all that we been throughAnd breakin' up is hard to do.'

- Neil Sadaka

At first glance, splitting Microsoft Corp. into two companies - one keeping the operating systems, the other keeping the applications - might seem an easy and equitable punishment for the company's anticompetitive practices.

After all, it was the supposed interactions between application programmers and operating system programmers (all that talk about "secret" or "hidden" APIs) that raised the hackles on so many independent software vendors.

What could stop the operating system company, for example, from adding new applications to the operating system? Windows 9x's WordPad could easily be bulked up into a full-fledged word processor. Adding spreadsheet features wouldn't be that difficult. Internet Explorer's Outlook Express mail and news reader would remain with the operating system group, so adding an e-mail engine to Windows 2000 wouldn't be a stretch. Nor would turning that search engine into a groupware server like Exchange be very hard to do. Where would the line be drawn?

Under the "split 'em up" scenario, what happens to worthy products such as Small Business Server - a bundle of server operating systems with the most widely used server-based applications (IIS, Exchange, SQL Server, etc.)?

Indeed, what happens to server-based applications (such as SQL Server), their clients and the middleware technologies (such as ODBC) that support them? What modern-day Solomon would know where the split should occur?

Even sillier was the now-rejected solution to split the company into "Baby Microsofts" - four or five companies all offering the same products - somewhat akin to what the Baby Bells created when AT&T was split. Unix is an example of an operating system sold by multiple independent vendors that comes in several not-quite-compatible flavors (Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, Linux and so on). That's not what people want to see.

So what's the answer? It may be too late, but this case desperately calls for an out-of-court settlement. Something that allows Microsoft to say "we didn't do anything wrong, and we won't do it again," while specifying those business practices Microsoft is no longer allowed to use.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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