By nature I'm not one for governmental interference in the ways of business (see my recent article on a similar topic). However, the Department of Justices case for breaking up Microsoft into two distinct entities is both valid and necessary. In this particular situation, one organization has too much influence when it comes to determining what piece of software you can and cannot run on your computer. Here are just a few examples to prove this point.
The first and most clear reason is the inclusion of their browswer, Internet Explorer, with every copy of the operating system that Microsoft sells as well as other applications such as Office 2000. What possible reason could exist for inclusion of this application in a suite of programs such as Office 2000 other than to prevent other browser makers from gaining market share? The inclusion or removal of this application should in no way effect the performance of any other application.
What Microsoft has done in this regard is put pieces of operating system code into the code of its browser such that the only way to get the code is to install the browser. Some people use the analogy that when you buy a car you can the replace the factory installed radio, cd player and speakers with whatever brand you want and that the same situation exists for browsers. You do not have to use Internet Explorer if you do not want to. You can always go get a copy of Netscape or Opera instead.
This logic would be true except for one glaring oversight. When you remove the factory installed radio, everthing comes out. You don't have pieces of it still attached to your car. The same can't be said of Microsoft's browser. Once it's installed, it becomes a permanent piece of your operating system. No amount of uninstalling can remove every last vestige of it short of reformatting your hard drive and reinstalling the operating system.
Another reason for the proposed breakup is that because Microsoft so dominates the desktop operating system market, they can choose which products are allowed to operate with their software. For example, let's say that a company has come up with a new program that will allow you to view video images full-screen without loss of clarity. This would be a huge improvement in viewing video images. This company then goes to Microsoft and says "We want our product to be able to work with your operating system. Let us see some of the code that we would have to work with to make our program run properly."
Microsoft takes a look at the product specifications and realizes there is a large market for such an idea and that their current video display software would be rendered obsolete. Instead of granting the company the right to see and work with the required operating system code, it says no and at the same time tells the world that it is developing a new piece of software that will allow you to view video images at full-screen without distortion.
When the public hears that Mircrosoft is developing such an application (there's that word again), it forgoes buying of the other company's product and instead waits for Microsoft to release it's product. Which it does. Three years later. Meanwhile, the original developers of the video software are either out of business or are just barely hanging on.
Again, some would say that there is nothing wrong with the above scenario. Microsoft has every right to not allow an application to work with its operating system and to develop whatever software they want. The catch is, why reinvent the wheel? Why not let another company develop a product that will work with your software? Why go through the trouble of saying you're developing a similar product yet not release it until years later?
The reason is simple. Microsoft, in the end, wants you to buy products only from them. They want to be the start and end points of your computing experience. Every application you run should be made by Microsoft (according to them).
The problem with that thought is evidenced by the next reason for the breakup; lousy proucts. One need only take a look at the inital realease of Windows 95, 98 and Office 2000 to see how poorly their products are created. In every single instance, within just a few months of the release of these products Microsoft had to release patches or upgrades to correct known issues. Some of these issues were and are serious enough to allow others to view or manipulate your data. For example, Office 2000 was released with over 63,000 known bugs or issues. 63,000! And those were just the ones that the company knew about.
The biggest problem with Microsoft is what it claims are innovations to its operating system. For example, as I mentioned earlier, Internet Explorer, Microsoft's web browser, is now firmly incorporated into the operating system when you buy Windows 98, Office 2000 and most other current Mircrosoft products. Their claim is that the browser is part of the operating system. If that is so, then why is a version made for the Macintosh? Are they trying to claim that their browser is part of that operating system too?
Fortunately Microsoft's days are numbered. The judge overseeing the case has put the proposals to breakup the company on the fast track. Microsoft has, of course, said that it will fight all the way to the Supreme Court to defend its right to "innovate". Time might be on Microsoft's side. It hopes to drag the case out long enough for a new president to come in who might be more favorable to its side of the story. If that happens, the losers in this case won't just be the government attorneys, but all of us as well.
Having one company with so much influence in a critical industry is never good. When competition lacks, quality declines and costs to consumers go up. Hmmm, sounds very much like the current situation.