OS/2 eZine

16 June 2000

Well known for his essays on OS/2 and today's computer market, Tom Nadeau is an author as well as the webmaster of the OS/2Headquarters website.

If you have a comment about the content of this article, please feel free to vent in the OS/2 eZine discussion forums.

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Analysis: What the Microsoft Antitrust Verdict Means

The expected verdict has been handed down. The expected punishment has been mandated. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Microsoft will soon be split into two separate companies selling two separate but related lines of software. What effect, if any, will this outcome have on the market for the OS/2 Warp operating system and related products?

The easy answer is, "Nothing." It appears that two or three years from now we will be able to walk into a computer store and see what has changed.... Nothing. Every PC will still come preloaded with Windows, at least on the retail front. Every application on the store shelves will be Windows-only. A small area of the shelf space will be devoted to "alternative" products such as Linux and maybe Netware or BeOS, but no OS-specific applications for these platforms. There will not be any shelf space allocated to pure Java applications, either, even though these would run on all platforms and theoretically have a larger base of customers than Windows-only applications.

The only visible difference is that there is now an area of shelf space devoted to a "new" company's products: RemedySoft. RemedySoft Office for Windows, RemedySoft Browser for Office, RemedySoft C++ for Office, RemedySoft Visual Basic for Office. Other than that, nothing will be different.

Why would such a "momentous" event as the breakup of the Microsoft monopoly have essentially zero effect on the software marketplace? It has to do with the fact that the ultimate source of Microsoft's monopoly power will apparently remain untouched by the court decision. That foundation of control over the software industry is the OEM preload monopoly that Microsoft will apparently maintain. With all the major PC vendors supplying almost exclusively Windows PCs (and particularly in the retail channel), only savvy PC users who know both WHY and HOW to remove Windows and upgrade to superior platforms will have that choice.

Furthermore, Microsoft's control of PC hardware OEMs does not merely include contractual preload obligations. Microsoft hosts an annual industry convention called Windows Hardware Engineering Conference or WinHEC. This meeting is designed to steer the PC makers into making their computer hardware Microsoft-specific through the use of closed, proprietary standards that Microsoft controls, as well as Windows-only hardware such as Winmodems. This way it will be more expensive (and in some cases impossible) to make a PC that is preloaded with Windows run the superior alternatives such as OS/2. We can expect Microsoft's degree of manipulation of hardware standards to continue to marginalize the compatibility of PC hardware with the non-Microsoft platforms.

Finally, we cannot realistically expect Microsoft to freeze their design of Windows in its current configuration. Instead, they will push toward a smaller, tighter kernel of OS code that is merely a program-loader for Microsoft Office (soon to be known as "RemedySoft Office"). This new version of Windows will not perform anything except act as a "bridge" between the PC hardware and MS Office. Office will itself become the new development platform, with its own APIs and its own development tools. Every application that is now designed to run on Windows will have to be redesigned to run on Office, the new proprietary, industry-wide development platform.

Then, at last, Microsoft will be able to use Windows for its true purpose: a *placeholder* that occupies the preload space and prevents other OS's from being installed. By tightly focusing all its energy on excluding other OS's and manipulating hardware standards, the new Microsoft will be able to keep other OS's off of the preload market. And by tightly focusing all its energy on steering software development away from "legacy" platforms and onto the new RemedySoft Office platform, the newly-created RemedySoft will be able to maintain control of the software development "barrier to entry". RemedySoft will never write a product for Linux unless that product later requires a so-called "upgrade" to the Office development platform, which of course only runs on Windows.

This means that OS/2 will once again be excluded from the preload set at most PC makers. Even IBM will be forced to write two invoices -- one to Microsoft and one to RemedySoft -- in order to provide a full-fledged PC platform. The only way to buy an OS/2 PC (outside of a few small independent PC makers) will be to carefully select a set of compatible hardware, buy OS/2, and load it up at home or the office.

As the old saying goes, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." The only solution for quarantining Microsoft would be to abolish preloads of Windows, which would guarantee that every user of Windows bought and installed the product by choice instead of by default. But this option was not even considered in the court case. What Mr. Gates predicted is likely to come true: the antitrust case will be one big NOP -- a software instruction that does nothing but consume processing cycles.

What does this outcome mean to OS/2 users? Basically, nothing. It means we keep using our preferred platform and enjoy the benefits of being more informed than the average PC buyer. It means that we continue to "stay the course" and not get too excited about the guilty verdict. Guilt and rehabilitation are two very different things. Let's continue to make OS/2 a better and better platform, and not pin our hopes on a sudden change of mentality in Redmond.