Monday, March 29, 2004

Microsoft vs the EU

I used to be very critical of Microsoft on this site, and followed the US antitrust trial against them with great interest. I have not commented on their current problems with EU antitrust authorities because, frankly, the whole thing has the air of yesterday's battle about it.

Let's review the outlines of the case against MSFT.
1) It has a monopoly on desktop operating systems
2) It was using illegal tactics to maintain that monopoly
3) It was using that monopoly to build monopolies in new and emerging areas, such as the web browser

Here are my thoughts now:
1) True
2) Quite possibly
3) OK -- but so what?

It's worth looking at what's happened to the Web since the case was first launched. While it is true that the browser market has gone from a split between Netscape and I.E. to 100% I.E., and this may have harmed consumers by reducing the incentive for new browser improvements, Microsoft does not "control the web" any more today than it did in '98. In fact, IIS (Microsoft's web server) has been losing share to Apache (the open source Lintel web server) decisively for about a year now -- where previously they were both gaining share for older, Unix servers. The concern that Microsoft would take over the server, either through client-server integration via NT (the original UNIX killer) or browser-server integration via IIS, has simply not happened. It is not clear to me what benefit Microsoft gains from IE's dominance -- google and Yahoo! are as common start pages as MSN.

Secondly, while Linux cannot seriously be considered a contender for desktop operating systems, it has certain proved a partial substitute by putting price pressure on Microsoft. Governments and companies that threaten GNU/Linux migration can get deep discounts from Redmond.

Thirdly, internet innovation has happened in other parts of the desktop, outside of the browser, via web services applications like Watson, massively multiplayer online games (with their custom clients), IM, videoconferencing, P2P etc. There are lots of internet goodies out there, and while it is impossible to compare what we have now to what we might have had if the antitrust suit never happened, the present does not seem so bad.

The pre-internet client: Windows/Office, continues to be pretty stagnant and, as such, provides stiff competition to new versions of itself. Whether WMV becomes dominant, or some flavor of Quicktime or Real, does not seem important to the future of computing.

Or maybe I've just become complacent.


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