Feds await impact of Microsoft court ruling

Feds await impact of Microsoft court ruling

CIO Joe Leo expects USDA will keep buying Microsoft wares.

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Federal information technology officials are standing pat on their software plans in the wake of the June 7 court decision ordering Microsoft Corp. to break up.

They are waiting to see whether, or when, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ruling will take effect.

'I don't see any immediate radical change to the way we're going to operate,' said Donald C. Hunter, director of architecture and planning for the State Department. 'It's too early to tell just how this is going to come down.'

As of last week, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had agreed to hear Microsoft's appeal.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department wants to send the case directly to the Supreme Court.

State is a heavy user of Microsoft products, having standardized on client and server versions of Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and on Office 97, Outlook and Exchange, Hunter said.

The department recently finished rolling out unclassified hardware and Microsoft software at more than 200 posts around the world, Hunter said. State had to replace its legacy Wang Laboratories Inc. systems for several reasons, including the year 2000 rollover.

Besides installing the modern commercial hardware and software, State needed to port some of its custom applications to the new platforms.

'It's been a great success,' Hunter said. 'We are still reaping the benefits.'

State officials want to centralize certain applications and make them more Web-friendly so that future software changes will be easier, Hunter said.

'We have enjoyed economies of scale and synergy out of being standardized on one infrastructure and one standard office suite,' Hunter said. 'That's a mighty powerful thing that we've got going.'

Edward Hugler, the Labor Department's acting deputy assistant secretary for administration and management, said the way Microsoft conducts business 'is not important to us in terms of our day-to-day operations.'

What matters to Labor officials is product quality and whether a product meets the department's specifications, Hugler said.

George R. Molaski, chief information officer of the Transportation Department, said he was inclined to wait until a new sales representative came calling rather than worry about software strategy now.

'The Supreme Court's decision is not going to change the usability of any of the products,' Molaski said, referring to the likely venue of the final appeal.

Decisions about using Microsoft products would hang more on technical capabilities, service and pricing than on a company breakup, he said.

'We will let the market tell us where this thing is headed,' said Jeff Smith, deputy director of the Office of Information Technology at the Housing and Urban Development Department.

HUD plans to migrate from the Microsoft Office 95 suite to Office 2000 in the coming year. Agencies that use Microsoft products should wait for market forces to play themselves out, Smith advised.

'At Agriculture we've had a good relationship with Microsoft, and it's actually growing,' Agriculture Department CIO Joseph Leo said.

Whether Microsoft ultimately splits into two companies or remains one, USDA probably will continue its level of investment, Leo predicted.

The decision won't change the products' usability, Transportation CIO George Molaski says.

New landscape

If Microsoft does break up, agencies would have to take legal advice about what to do with their existing contracts with the old, unified company, he said. In that case, USDA would probably seek guidance from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy or other central government agencies, Leo said.

'It's going to be interesting' how a divided Microsoft would handle enterprise licensing of its various products, said Fred Wendling, director of information systems for the National Science Foundation.

NSF has 1,700 desktop computers, about half running Windows 95 and half Windows 98, Wendling said. A few of the newest machines have arrived with Windows 2000. The agency also uses NT Server and the Office suite, he said.

Some agencies were unwilling to discuss the potential impact of the antitrust ruling on their software operations.

General Services Administration spokesman Bill Bearden said in a statement: 'Until the gavel rests on this litigation, a determination of the effect on GSA's business or operations would be speculative. As always, we will continue to work with our industry partners, and for our customers, in the most advantageous and seamless manner possible.'

Brian Dunbar, a NASA spokesman, said, 'We don't like to speculate on these things.'

A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, Marie Avon, said it would be inappropriate for anyone except officials in the Clinton administration and the Justice Department to comment on the matter.

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