Ovum ( on Microsoft

Microsoft and the DOJ

The court's decision to set aside the break-up penalty was an excellent move. It was a wise decision for several reasons, but the most important one was that a break up would have defeated the very purpose of anti-trust law. In all the hot (and at time rather 'religious') debate surrounding the penalty to be imposed on Microsoft it seems that the whole point of anti-trust legislation was in danger of being forgotten.

Anti-trust laws are designed to protect consumers, not offer a 'leg up' to one company's competitors: Breaking Microsoft would have done more to serve its rivals than its customers. Dividing Microsoft into two or more discrete entities would have inevitably increased the cost of the company's software, and this cost would have to be passed on to Microsoft's customers. This may well have the effect of making alternative solutions appear more attractive—but why should end-users be made to subsidize competition?

It is worth remembering that Microsoft is as entitled as any other business to compete. Microsoft is not 'cheating' by offering people the products that they want at a competitive price, and Microsoft wasn't 'in the dock' for doing so. Microsoft is not cheating by offering a product that includes a set of free add-ons—Indeed for a host of users (my Grandmother in particular), the presence of a suite of products with a (more or less) common look and feel has been a major factor in making the PC easier to use and affordable.

What Microsoft did wrong was to limit the choice of users, and restrict competition by actively seeking to prevent its customers from seeing, installing and using competing products. These actions were wrong, and it is in the interest of consumers that they be set right.

At a minimum Microsoft must be obliged to allow OEMs the freedom to customize the appearance of windows, and to install whatever additional software they choose. Microsoft's recent move to remove some of the restrictions it imposed on OEMs is a welcome one, but I believe that the DOJ is entitled to take further steps to ensure that Microsoft does not exploit its dominant position again—but only if their solution means that I, and other end users, really will have more freedom of choice.

About the Author

Gary Barnett is IT research director at Ovum Ltd., a United Kingdom-based consulting firm.