Users largely sceptical of plan to split Microsoft

For a variety of reasons, end users are largely sceptical of the US government's plan to split Microsoft in two.

Many end users said recently that they doubt that the government's proposed breakup would have much impact on the industry or their product decisions. But they worry that a breakup could lead to integration problems and possibly hurt Microsoft's product development.

Rob McKeon, manager technical operations, Zurich Financial Services, said: "I just don't see the rationale behind a breakup of Microsoft. There is tight link between operating systems and Microsoft application products. A break up may affect that."

A systems support and software support manager of an oilfield company, who requested anonymity, said: "If it is broken up, it gives others a chance, but it still would be dominant even if it was split up. They should break Microsoft into further chunks, as while Microsoft is large it is not the leader in IT innovation. Microsoft will drag it on and fight."

However, Patrick Teh, CIO of Hoyts Cinema Group, said he was on Microsoft's side. "As a consumer, I haven't really seen any direct malice coming out of the company. As one company, it can work together and come up with tightly integrated systems. It will be different if separated."

Other users saw no benefit in a breakup of the company's talents.

"The two need to be closely linked, I just don't think breaking them up is the best solution. They should let market forces lead the way. As Microsoft becomes less innovative others will go past them," said an IT manager of a multinational manufacturing company, who also asked not to be named.

Dr Glen Hickey, chief general manager corporate services, Adelaide Bank Ltd, said: "Consumers will only benefit if the two halves compete against each other. Microsoft is a very innovative company with a wealth of talent, and the industry will benefit [if this talent] competes. This is obviously a theoretical process with a long way to go - before any changes hit the streets."

An executive general manager of IS at an insurance company said it will probably make Microsoft stronger as two organisations rather than one. "It's not clear to me that it would benefit the consumers."

Some users in the US, such as Ashok Bakhshi, manager of application systems at Schindler Elevator, said a court-ordered breakup may be largely irrelevant in the face of an industry shifting to Internet technologies.

"If they had done this five or six years ago, maybe it would have made a difference, but right now Microsoft is not a leader in the new age in any way," Bakhshi said.

There are other reasons why Bakhshi is sceptical about the breakup's impact on information technology departments. Even if users are forgoing best-of-breed software in some cases to use Microsoft products, it's a trade-off worth making, he argued.

"I believe that it doesn't have to be best-of-breed in everything; a lot of times, simplicity and integration is more powerful then best-of-breed," he said.

Other end users see two dominant, powerful companies being created, but not necessarily new competition.

"I think the remedy is going to produce two big gorillas instead of one big gorilla," said Michael Redman, information systems director at Nicholson Manufacturing, which makes a variety of products.

"It isn't clear to me that splitting the company into two pieces is going to change much as far as competition is concerned. Half of a very big company is still a very big company," Redman said.

The government recently filed its remedy plan in the US District Court in Washington in the Microsoft antitrust case. The plan seeks to separate Microsoft's operating systems from the applications, which include Office, servers and developer tools.

The plan also calls for a host of interim remedies, including requiring Microsoft to share application programming interfaces with third-party developers as soon as they are used internally.

Microsoft will file its response on May 10. A hearing is set for May 24. Appeals may delay any final conclusion in this for anywhere from one year to several years, less if the case is sent directly to the Supreme Court.

Any breakup, if it were to happen, is many years away. But users are already mulling the potential impact.

Andy Balazs, vice president of information systems and services at Medical Mutual of Ohio, said he doubts a breakup will make his job easier.

"I just don't see where I'm better served in having one more salesman in my office and having one more company to deal with," Balazs said. "I don't see where it makes my job as an IT buyer any easier."

Balazs doesn't rule out the possibility that a split-up could improve competition, but that doesn't necessarily bring new benefits to IT managers, he said.

"My cost of conversion is way higher then the benefit of conversion," said Balazs. "If you start out as a full Microsoft shop, you probably wouldn't spend the money to convert."

A breakup isn't going to change the pace of innovation in the high-tech industry, argued Nancy Bauschinger, IS director at RIS Insurance.

"Innovation is going to happen in this world, because we're all driven by curiosity. It's going to happen no matter what," Bauschinger said. "Microsoft is not driving innovation in the world of technology."

Enrique Crespo, global messaging manager at Ingersoll-Rand, said he supports the idea of separating Microsoft applications from the operating systems and believes it will spur competition. But before that happens, end users aren't going to have it easy, he said.

"I can tell you categorically that we, the user community, are going to suffer in the first few years," Crespo said. Integration issues will be the key problem, he said.

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