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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Microsoft ruling: Was it a fair decision?
Judge Thomas Jackson has ruled that Microsoft be broken in two. It is two months since he decided that the software giant violated American anti-trust (competition) laws, and Wednesday's ruling is his remedy to end Microsoft's domination of the operating systems market.
So the battle is far from over. But is Judge Jackson's ruling a fair one? And more importantly, will it solve the problem it seeks to address? Should Microsoft keep fighting, or should it accept the ruling?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
If you're pro-Microsoft you haven't been in IT long enough. If people invested as much time and effort into learning and using alternatives, the world would be much further up the road. It makes me sick when Gates speaks to the cameras about "innovative" and "reliable". The same man who said the Internet wouldn't work, and who later wanted people to think of it as the "Microsoft network".
Of course the judge's verdict is a fair one. For too long Microsoft has had a monopoly on computer software. There are other operating systems and in a free world we should be able to choose which one we want. On the other hand, Microsoft wouldn't have got to this position if it's products were complete rubbish, so I think what will really happen is people will stick with Microsoft because it has been established and it works.
On balance I think that the separation of the two enterprises is a good thing.
The trouble with the present situation is that the operating system is being designed for the convenience of MS applications.
Microsoft are very good at designing products for ease of use but are showing complacency when it comes to robustness.
Microsoft would do well to clean up its act regarding the OS and concentrating on improving reliability rather than forging ahead too quickly with new features which only introduce more bugs.
Break up Microsoft ? Just because it is aggressive enough to stay in competition ? Is the USA supposed to be free ?
The break up will punish the consumers - although that is not the intention, but that is the effect. Why can't other players do what Microsoft does ?
I believe that Judge Jackson does not understand private business. Microsoft has simply developed a better product. It works.
All about jealousy? Punishing success? Surely you folks underestimate the seriousness of purpose the DOJ has displayed. (After all, it's the HEIGHT of insanity to attack big money in America, no matter who you are!) Microsoft's pattern of anti-competitive behaviour has been repeatedly exposed during the course of this trial. Don't be fooled by their bleating about 'protecting innovation.' And for those who credit Microsoft for bringing computing to the masses: If Microsoft hadn't, someone else would have. Don't mistake in implementation for the idea itself.
At 95% of the desktop OS market MS is an effective monopoly. Unlike several other monopolies in the computer industry (cisco/Intel) they openly and repeatedly used their market monopoly to prevent competition. Most of the people who tout MS's innovations never had the chance to use the originals. They have used legal advantage and government enforcement to get where they are today.
Microsoft isn't being broken up because it's a monopoly (which is not against US law anyway) or even because it abused its monopoly. Microsoft is being broken up because it convinced the court that it would never stop abusing its monopoly and that break-up was the only remedy to its behaviour. If Microsoft had just shown the court some willingness to change its ways it would have received a much lighter punishment. As it stands, it's my understanding that Microsoft still refuses to admit that it has ever done anything wrong.
Someone posted that Microsoft had introduced the standards that the computer industry had been crying out for. The point which is missed is that Microsoft makes those standards proprietary, meaning they only work with MS software. Standards should be open and free, such as the Kerberos standard Microsoft is attempting to embrace and extend, and then make proprietary!
As far as I know, Microsoft has never innovated anything else but new dirty tricks on IT-field. Many people don't see that they have been already brainwashed by getting used to Windows. Some people think now that the term "operating system" means "Windows" - they don't see that there's much more different computing environments than Windows.
It is not as if Microsoft are really going to suffer unduly as a result, but it does allow other company's a chance at in inroad into the market. I don't think any commercial body should be able to wield the power that Microsoft and others currently do.
No other company has done more to stifle competition and innovation in the software industry than Microsoft. If you think you run Microsoft software on your PC because it's the best there is, you're sadly gullible. The better alternatives will never arrive as long as Microsoft maintain their choking proprietary standards through the obvious monopoly. This can only harm the consumer.
Steven S, USA
It is indeed sad to see that the American justice system seeks to penalise success. Microsoft has been good for consumers and has made IT/ computers accessible to most common people. America should not allow a few biased and closed minds to dictate what is good for the consumer.
I find it very interesting that most people in the IT industry think that breaking up MS is a good thing. The only IT people who disagree are those who have only used MS programs and don't know what quality software is like.
Everyone has been talking about what is best for the consumer but what about the IT field? I already have to know four operating systems to do my job. I cannot think of one good reason why there needs to be several more. Without standardisation the IT field will be chaos.
I think it is a sad day for consumers. Microsoft is the best. The ruling, if it takes effect, will give more power to Sun and Oracle, making them the new monopolists.
Microsoft is a metaphor for the USA. It is so big and powerful it thinks it can get away with all sorts of dubious activities, making up its own rules as it goes along. It's about time something was done.
Harry Knapp, Germany
There are better offerings than Microsoft Office. There are more robust offerings than Windows. Once the stranglehold is released, it will help convert these into market-leading products.
Anytime the government intervenes on the "behalf of the people" my hypocrisy radar starts overreacting. Give me a break - the politicians and their cronies will be raking in the big bucks if MS doesn't win on appeal. Get them, Big Bil!
All the individuals who keep using the break-up of AT&T as an example for breaking up Microsoft need to go back and reread their history books. The federal government created AT&T with its regulation of the phone industry and when it became impossible to control they then used every means possible, legal and illegal, to break it up.
If a company grows as big as Microsoft (whether by its own merit or not), it is a monopoly. To believe that Microsoft will not misuse its market power goes against all common sense about human nature.
Microsoft broke the law. It's that simple. Why should MS be above the law? If they truly are innocent, then higher courts will see Justice is done.
Kirk Keho, Canada
What is there that would stop Microsoft setting up an overseas company and moving off-shore, to say, Canada?
It's unfair. Look what happened to AT&T: It was divided as well but since then it's grown more and more every day. And that's what is going to happen: You will have two companies which will both grow and be a market leader. And what will happen then? Will this companies been divided again and again? The market can react on those problems and regulate them by its own. And that's the best for the consumer: the best products.
Love them or hate them, MS have given us precisely that - but now people complain about the "software monoculture". Unfortunately, while the statement that UK laws are less draconian may be made with some justification, innovation and research are not encouraged, and I doubt whether Microsoft would have lasted a year had they been based in the UK.
N Bannister, UK
I think MS should swallow the judgement and get on with it. We all know they are guilty of producing some marvellous software which is usually flawed. Open standards between the os and apps will allow other companies to finally compete on a level playing field.
Thank god someone has seen sense and opened the doors to allow more competition in a market that clearly needs this. Microsoft have such a hold over the market that no one really knows if what they are spending their money on is really worth it. Let's just hope and pray that Bill Gates and Co. do not win their appeal.
Yet another example of miscarried justice which will deprive millions of more people from the benefits of computer literacy made possible by Microsoft. By punishing a company for having the foresight of making the internet universally available to the masses the US Justice dept is giving a message to future entrepreneurs to establish their companies in countries where they have the freedom to be inventive and the incentive to be one ahead of their competitors.
Richard Cairns, Finland
If Microsoft is so clever, why did it not get to a windows environment before Apple and to Internet before Netscape. On each occasion it took a winning idea, made it look like its own, developed an incompatible platform and then imposed it as the market standard. And with the odd "blue screen of death" and "opération non conforme" (sorry I'm in France) rebooting my PC several times a day gives me time to go and get the odd coffee.
Paul Williams, UK
I totally disagree with the two way split. Bill Gates and his company have revolutionised the way we live today. With his operating systems, it makes it so much easier to learn, especially for new users. Those of you who don't like windows or internet explorer have obviously had the opportunity to experience other types of operating systems, and probably use them anyway. So for us humble users who continue to learn, Microsoft has done a fine job.
If Bill Gates really wants people to believe his claims this will hold back innovation, perhaps he should show them something created by Microsoft that is genuinely innovative and reliable. Their practices of building so called "interoperability" is really just another example of Microsoft cutting everyone else out of the equation by developing closed standards which people have little choice but to use.
Rick Lemus, California, USA
Microsoft should fight this decision. The ruling is a big blow to free speech, enterprise and innovation. It reeks of vendetta.
The purpose of Judge Jackson's ruling is to ensure competition. The ruling was taken in accordance with US anti-trust laws and with the interests of consumers in mind. Microsoft has the right to appeal and is exercising that right. Competition is the spur to quality, efficiency and innovation, but Microsoft is rapidly becoming obsolete in the computer world.
Why don't Microsoft move their corporate headquarters to a less restrictive country, say Communist China?
Surly, that way they would simply sell a product in the US and not be tied by US imposed restrictive practices.
Dominic Currin, Spain
A very happy day for us programmers. Microsoft software easily impresses non-programmers but from a technical/ innovation point of view, it is appalling. Let's look forward to a future where new competitors are not crushed by Microsoft's now proven illegal business practices.
Little has been said about the competition fostered by Microsoft. With Windows 98 I can plug literally thousands of different peripherals from hundreds of manufactures into my computer. The cost of these accessories is a fraction of the cost of similar products in proprietary systems.
The cost of software in proprietary systems has remained the same for the last ten years, while the adjusted cost for Microsoft software has fallen 60% (according to a recent news article). And my PC at work has never crashed in a year of use, while my new Unix workstation does.
Simon Fraser, Austria
This is a foolish verdict. The competition hasn't been up to it, and Microsoft have done better than anyone else. Now they are being punished, with no benefit to the consumer. The Windows source codes will have to be released to the competition, and we will end up with a multitude of different systems, and mind-numbing problems with applications and device compatibility. I just hope the appeal is successful and then we can all go back to cyber life as we know and love it.
The break-up of Microsoft will, over time, result in two of the biggest companies in the world. Microsoft, in both the operating system, and Office software worlds, is trusted and intuitive.
This is not to say that some action was not needed, but the problem has not been solved by this solution. How this will help companies such as Netscape is questionable. The result seems to be more of a PR stunt to create a level of confidence in the US justice system over large corporations.
Microsoft should not to move to the UK, Canada, or continental Europe. Microsoft would not even exist in those places with quasi-socialist economic systems and an innovation-crushing culture and regulatory system.
Edward Hardman, UK
It is outrageous that Microsoft should be split up. It is by using its vast experience, expertise, knowledge and size that Microsoft has been able to provide such powerful and reliable products. Splitting up Microsoft would disable this knowledge to be shared between the company producing the Windows operating system and the company producing other Microsoft products.
Those who have followed the Microsoft case from the beginning and are impartial, all agree that MS has been and continues to be a hindrance to software development the world over. MS's unethical business practices has made sure that the consumers don't get a stable and reasonably priced operating system. I've used computers for the last 20 years and I am yet to find a single MS product that lives up to the hype and is dependable. Once MS loses its criminal hold you'll see the pouring forth of innovation from every part of the world.
Peter Gwokto-Pa'Festo, Canada
At last! Finally the average man on the street will realise how he has been duped so long! Microsoft has held computing back years with its badly produced efforts. Computers to the common man? That's the extent of their tactics - people aren't even aware of the many (better) alternatives!
What point is there in building up a big successful business if the moment you manage to do it, the company you sweated blood to build is ripped out of your hands by the government, shredded and cast adrift.
Tony White, UK
Microsoft is being punished for its success. What else do we expect in this age of envy? While the company certainly has indulged in predatory practices in terms of putting leverage on other companies, it would have been quite simple to punish it for those rather than insisting it give the fruits of its own research and development free to other companies.
I absolutely agree with the judge that Microsoft violated the anti-trust laws in many ways, but splitting up the company is not a solution. Computer programming is creative work like a painting by an artist. Splitting up the company is the same as ordering two people to finish one painting. The best solution is to set up an international body to define what an operating system is etc. In this way Microsoft will have to come up with a correct version of Windows to comply with all expected specifications and there's plenty of open space for any other software companies as well.
And about time too. It has been known for a long time that Microsoft told PC manufacturers to bundle Windows or get cut off. This is illegal.
Will it make much difference? Perhaps.
Everyone is quick to knock Microsoft but I'll bet 99% of those e-mailing their comments will be using a Windows operating system. Yes, Gates and Microsoft tried to strangle the market, but they also brought simple, user-friendly computing to entire world. The company should be left as it is (with possibly a few marketing restrictions).
Microsoft developed an operating system that works, is user friendly and available to the standard household. They then developed software that works very well on their operating system. They then offered discounts for using their system/software. Other companies can't/won't develop a system that works and is user friendly and can't/won't develop software that runs on that system. Being competitive is making as good or better product than someone else and selling it at or below their price.
To break is very easy and takes no time, To build is very difficult and takes ages....
As a long time user of computers, I feel many of Bill Gates's 'innovations' have stifled choice and flexibility about how one uses a PC. New users on the other hand have benefited from an operating system that is very easy to use. Another downside of Microsoft 'innovation' has been the hasty introduction of poorly thought-out ideas leading to gaping security holes.
I really think the planned Microsoft break-up is good for the consumer and in the long term good for Microsoft as it will force them to reappraise what consumers really want.
Steve Crosby, UK
Microsoft has manipulated and continues to manipulate the software market for its own excessive gain. The most innovative idea of the last decade, the web, came from Tim Berners Lee with support from the likes of Netscape and Sun. Microsoft's response was to seek to re- dominate the market by any means, is this innovation?
It will encourage faster development and increase competition within the computer industry. Look what happened to the telephone industry in the USA when Bell was split up.
Microsoft say the verdict is bad for consumers, yet they do all they can to ensure consumers have no choice other than their products. How can this be good for the consumer? With choice and competition comes innovation. Microsoft rarely innovate, instead they buy smaller companies and their technologies.
I have worked in computing for 10 years and have been amazed at the underhand tactics Microsoft have employed to stifle competition. Unless you actually work with/install and configure the Software products from MS and other vendors its very easy to be duped by the MS propaganda. Nearly all of my IT colleagues agree that MS should be broken up.
John S, UK
Russell Napier, United Kingdom
Let the humanity pray for a few more of Bill Gates who could defeat the inefficient, incapable, exploiters robbing the innocent users by their inferior products and stand upright against victimisation and that too in the name of Law.
M Stroud, UK
It is common knowledge among seasoned software developers that Microsoft/ Bill Gates has done more to stifle innovation in computer software than any other company/ person in history. I think the ruling was a good one but it may be too late to make any real difference.
Microsoft has had several chances to cease their anti-competitive behaviour. This ruling is a message that no company, no matter how large or arrogant, is above the law.
Breaking up Microsoft will damage the computer industry. There is sense in their case that developing Windows & the Microsoft Office & browser applications hand in hand is necessary to achieve the levels of interoperability we now have. Yes, they have behaved badly and should have some restrictions placed on their distribution activities, but breaking up the company will harm consumers. The judge has been duped by Netscape.
It is sad to see a company which has done more work
in bringing computing to the common man than any other
company being torn up this way.
Bill Gates is right when he states that Microsoft could be gone tomorrow. This may yet happen and politicians may be responsible for the destruction
of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Microsoft's actions are so small compared
to the consequences of this judgement.
This case reminds me of the story of the greedy farmer who slays his gold-egg laying goose.
Thomas A Johnson, Togo
While Microsoft has in the past definitely been exhibiting monopolistic tendencies, any company in its place would have done the same, if not worse. People will do well to remember that if Microsoft is indeed broken up, the US Government may well turn on some other companies which are currently basking in the "I-told-you-so" glory such as Sun, Cisco and the like. I'd prefer a more level-headed approach rather than a break-up as we could well be in more of the same from not one but two or more Microsofts.
Bill Gates and Microsoft have done so much to bring the computer into the hands of the ordinary person and out of the programmers' specialist domain. They should be rewarded and not punished. I would advise Gates to move Microsoft lock, stock, and barrel out of the USA and domicile this great company in the UK where our laws are less draconian. The benefits to them and the UK economy would be fantastic.
A sad day for consumers, a sad day for clever people. Let Microsoft continue to provide quality software to the marketplace.
Just because they are the best does not mean they are anti-competition. Some people do not like the success of others. This is what this is about. I hope Microsoft fight it to the bitter end.
08 Jun 00 | Business
Microsoft fights break-up
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