Split Microsoft where it would count

by Michael Cheek

The reasoning behind the proposed split of Microsoft Corp. befuddles me.'It's not that I think Microsoft should stay as it is. Nor am I advocating its breakup. I'm just puzzled at the way Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson and the Justice Department want to split the company.

Another problem with the ruling is its assumption that Microsoft is only a software company. It's not.

While Jackson, Justice and Gates & Co. wait for the Supreme Court to decide what to do with the case, perhaps they should reconsider the logic behind the split, which would leave intact huge chunks of what truly comprises Microsoft.

The focus of the antitrust trial and its media coverage has been on how Microsoft incorporated its browser into Windows 95 and Windows 98 and forced computer makers to keep it that way.

Jackson's order'now in legal limbo'essentially follows that line, splitting Microsoft into two companies, one for applications and one for operating systems.

The idea is to divorce the Windows OS from Microsoft's Web browser and Office programs. But I'm left wondering: Which OS? Which Office?

Even if Justice succeeds with its plan, Microsoft will still be everywhere. From handhelds and notebooks to desktop PCs and servers, Microsoft OSes will probably keep frustrated users and administrators under Gates' proverbial thumb.

If Justice wants to split the company, there's a more logical division. The split should be one of client from server, creating two new companies that would compete against each other.

Really, it's very simple. And it would address the threat Justice attorneys seemed to miss.

Win98 and it successor, the horribly named Windows ME, could easily be split from the four flavors of Windows 2000. In this scenario, maybe even the new client OS, Win 2000 Professional, should head over to what I'll call Microsoft Client-Side Computing Corp.

Client-Side should also house the suite of applications known as Office. For good measure, we'll also take along its games and any other end-user software.

The other part of the new Microsoft'let's call it MS Server-Side Computing Corp.'should take on the three server versions of Win 2000 along with BackOffice and its high-end applications, such as Exchange Server and SQL Server.

This split could be relatively easy. After all, the interoperability of what's on the server and what's on the client is pretty slender. And Microsoft already divides itself along these lines anyway.

Once this is done, Client-Side could create products that push higher into the enterprise while Server-Side would create offerings down to the client. That middleware clash would be an area of true competition.

Another problem with Jackson's ruling is its assumption that Microsoft is only a software company. It's not.'It's also a hardware company and a content and Internet service provider, among many other divisions. Microsoft is a conglomerate, with its tentacles all over the computing and media realms.

Look at your mouse and keyboard. Chances are that Microsoft made one, maybe both. That division could be spun off. Honestly, no one makes a better mouse, and even a Linux computer needs one.

Then there's MSNBC and MSN, among many other content and Internet-focused companies. These can be spun off, too, although a lack of success might cause these divisions to sink without the support of the software cash cow.

And if I guess right, America Online Inc. will buy MSN anyway, in time for its own antitrust trials for dominating the home Internet service provider market.

Michael Cheek ([email protected]) is senior editor and GCN Lab director.


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