Will Microsoft's breakup affect me?

How to assess whether the breakup of Microsoft will have a serious impact on an IT department's desktop strategy

How to assess whether the breakup of Microsoft will have a serious impact on an IT department's desktop strategy

I am the IT director in a large organisation that has for a long time been a Microsoft "shop". I have been following recent developments in the US Department of Justice case with a mixture of interest and apprehension. What impact, if any, will the break-up of Microsoft have on my work and my department? Should I be reconsidering any aspect of my desktop strategy as a result of the case?

The solution

Risk of change is fairly small

Martin Mathieson

I think the answer is no, this should probably not influence your desktop strategy. I would suggest that Microsoft has done more to bring a set of common standards to the desktop market than any other software company has come close to.

It is a standard that Microsoft has imposed on the IT industry rather than one arrived at through consensus. It is also clear Microsoft has gained enormous financial advantage from the way it has operated, but there is no other software company that can offer such a range of products which integrate relatively effortlessly to a huge number of software products from so many other sources.

There is a small risk that splitting Microsoft into two may slow down the release programme for new and enhanced products for a while. But whoever ends up controlling the two businesses will inevitably continue to work together closely for their mutual benefit. I doubt the join between the two will be visible for long.

Microsoft products will remain tops

Roger Marshall

Now that Judge Jackson has said what kind of break-up he wants we can all start planning for the future. One thing is certain: the coercive behaviour the company has been accused of using to maintain its position will no longer be possible. If Microsoft continues to dominate, whether as one company or two, it will be through continuing to provide the products that the market wants.

Those products, or at least the main ones, will retain an overwhelming share of the market for a long time. How can we be so sure? Because our users will not stand for the upheaval involved in drastically changing their desktops. Listen to people swapping experiences of using Microsoft products. Like discussing the story in a soap opera, it doesn't work unless you both see the same thing on your screens.

Once Microsoft is free from the Department of Justice (DoJ), it can be expected to defend its intellectual property even more vigorously than in the past, so competitors will not be able simply to clone the products. Whether one company or two, Microsoft will continue to have the resources to invest in research and development and to develop products that will maintain its position in future markets.

Experience from previous break-ups indicates that the two companies separately may do better than one monolith would have done. Reconsider your desktop strategy before embarking on the next upgrade, but while doing so don't spend too long on the impact of the DoJ case.

Review objectives regularly

Roger Rawlinson,
Head of e-business technologies, NCC Group

It is not clear whether Microsoft will be split and the earliest time for this to be resolved is next year. You are correct to identify this as an issue in your desktop strategy. However, you should review the position with regard to your organisation's business objectives on a regular basis. Alternatives should consistently be considered, and their benefits examined in the light of facilitating these objectives.

Without knowing the detail of your position it is hard to comment on specifics, but the reality for the desktop is that Microsoft dominates and there is no obvious challenger for many environments. Even if Microsoft was split into two, MS Office products will still be produced to run on Windows (but there may be more choice of applications in the long term).

A bigger issue may be the role of application services providers and delivery of applications over the Internet. Look at how your facilities are delivered to your users and see if this is a conduit that needs to be explored.

Break-up won't generate change

Andrew Davies
Visiting professor in information systems, Cranfield School of Management

This is a difficult question to answer because, while the judge has ordered a break-up of Microsoft into two parts, one for operating systems and one for applications such as Word, there will be an appeal. I quote The Times - "The appeals process could mean that any break-up may not happen for two years". There may be some restrictions on Microsoft operations in the meantime, but this has not been decided.

There is much debate as to whether these changes will result in a strengthening or weakening of the overall Microsoft position, what impact the continuing uncertainty will have on Microsoft and its people and what effect they will have on users of Microsoft products.

I suggest that your work and your department have already been significantly impacted by the actions of the monolithic Microsoft and that a break-up is unlikely to generate extra change. Such change is more likely to come from future technology developments, which may benefit or harm Microsoft and the derivative organisations that emerge from any break-up. So I summarise with a three-word suggestion - "wait and see".

Quality and variety, but two giants

Dan Remenyi

If Microsoft is split it will probably boost the share prices of the companies that are created and this will increase the quality and the variety of the products available in the market. Small companies are often much more imaginative and closer to the market than giants. I guess the only problem is that if Microsoft is split in two, we will have two enormous giants to do business with.

Keep in touch with jungle drums

David Roberts
executive director, tif

I have been surprised at the apparent lack of concern among users over the possible break-up of Microsoft. However, what is abundantly clear is that Microsoft is the most important supplier to medium and large corporate IT functions. And it is Windows 2000 that is the most important product.

There appears to be an assumption that it is business as usual and will continue to be business as usual even after the operating environment and applications divorce. Quite which side gets what elements of the family jewels might take some time to decide and a little longer to implement.

At present the consequences jury is out. Larger businesses are not losing any sleep. Strategies are intact but may be marked with an extra dotted line in the general direction of Seattle. Clearly it is not a subject to be ignored so spending a little time keeping in touch with the jungle drums is going to be the best investment.

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