FROM THE EDITOR
IT buyers need to keep the Microsoft case in perspective
Thomas R. Temin
Now that the Microsoft Corp. antitrust case is moving into its final phase, government officials are starting to wonder how it will affect their software buying decisions.
Until recently, government agencies that had spent billions of dollars on Microsoft products had only an academic interest in the case. That changed last month when U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his findings of fact and concluded that Microsoft engages in monopolistic practices.
In state and local government offices, Microsoft products are as ubiquitous as they are in many industry offices. And agencies often participate as beta test sites.
Microsoft also negotiates other types of deals with state and local governments, a process that could become more complex depending on Jackson's final ruling or a settlement between the company and the Justice Department. Of particular note is a partnership between Pennsylvania and Microsoft.
The state has standardized on Microsoft operating systems and office software. As part of the 30,000-seat deal, Microsoft provides application training.
Microsoft isn't alone in promoting its products under the guise of education. At a recent conference of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives, Cisco Systems Inc. chairman John Morgridge extolled the virtues of the San Jose, Calif., company's Cisco Academy. The academy this year will graduate 160,000 students certified as apprentice Cisco product engineers.
But it is the Redmond, Wash., software giant that is in the crosshairs of cocked government guns'and not just those of federal antitrust lawyers. Several states' attorneys general are piling on, seeking damages.
So the question that many in government information technology shops are asking is this: Is it hypocritical to build new systems using Microsoft products?
Government buyers should continue to do what they presumably have been doing all along. Namely, agencies should competitively choose the products that most closely match the requirements.
The simple fact is that government buyers never had guns aimed at their heads forcing them to buy Microsoft's or anyone else's products.
If Jackson determines that Microsoft's practices harmed anyone, he will likely view software companies and PC manufacturers'not end users'as the victims.
This case ultimately is about freedom to choose. And systems and program managers should continue to choose the tools best suited to their needs.Thomas R. Temin