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End of an era: Microsoft antitrust oversight ends

Nancy Gohring and Grant Gross | May 11, 2011
A U.S. court's antitrust oversight of Microsoft is ending after eight and a half years, with some observers questioning what the long fight accomplished.

The ruling had some "psychological" effects on the company, said David Mitchell Smith, an analyst with Gartner. "When you put a company under scrutiny and you handcuff them a bit in terms of what they can do, it changes their attitude and outlook and cramps their style," he said. "But fundamentally all the remedies that came out of it were pretty minor."

A lot has changed in the technology market since the ruling but not because of it, he said. "The whole tech landscape has changed and Microsoft is no longer the big threat that they were. I don't think what happened with the antitrust case is what did that," he said. Microsoft wouldn't have excelled in some of the new markets like social networking and mobile even if it hadn't lost the case, he said.

The ruling did lead to a major change inside Microsoft though, said Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC. "It had a profound impact on Microsoft in terms of product packaging plans," he said.

Over the years there have been many instances where Microsoft would have liked to integrate multiple products but it didn't for fear of rekindling antitrust concerns, he said. For instance, Microsoft ultimately integrated its Hyper-V hypervisor into other products. "But only after VMware drove the market cost down to zero for a hypervisor," he said. "Initially Microsoft had a stand-alone product which has seen little adoption."

In some cases, Microsoft was less ambitious or aggressive about going into emerging market opportunities because it struggled to figure out ways to go after them without running afoul of antitrust issues, he said. "There were a lot of technical decisions that percolated up into the legal department to make sure they could do what they were planning to without causing problems," he said.

Still, those internal decisions ultimately had little impact on the company's ability to be a leader in new markets, he said. "It's not so much that Microsoft missed an opportunity to become a competitor but it missed an opportunity to prevent others from being leaders," he said.

"I think it's fair to say Microsoft was on better behavior because of the outcome of the antitrust litigation," he said.

 

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