Microsoft Customers Remain Cautious

Reaction from enterprise users of Microsoft Corp. technology to Thursday's decision by a U.S. Appeals Court to kick the remedy to break up the software giant back to U.S. District Court ranged from cautious optimism to muted indifference.

Reaction from enterprise users of Microsoft Corp. technology to Thursdays decision by a U.S. Appeals Court to kick the remedy to break up the software giant back to U.S. District Court ranged from cautious optimism to muted indifference.

Several said the ruling would have the same degree of impact on their lives as Judge Thomas Penfield Jacksons initial order to split the Redmond, Wash., company in two--very little. Others applauded the decision, but pointed out that while the Appeals Court may have kicked back, or "vacated" the remedy, it still upheld Jacksons findings that Microsoft violated anti-competitive law, and that a punitive decision must still be made.

Gregg Morris, president of FarPoint Technologies Inc., said he was pleased the court ruling upheld the antitrust claims and only sent back the remedy.

"Will another judge decide to break them up? Probably. That would be my guess," said Morris, whose company is a longtime Microsoft partner and ISV, in Morrisville, N.C. "Everything in the last couple of weeks has been Microsoft strutting their stuff again."

But he said the uncertainty wont alter his companys plans to support the .Net platform. "I dont see [a court decision] killing any of their initiatives."

"I think its a win for the industry, but I dont think Microsoft is out of the woods yet," said Sam Patterson, chief executive officer of Microsoft partner ComponentSource Inc., in Kennesaw, Ga. "I think its a win for the industry if a more unbiased court goes back and looks at this. Customer demand has to drive what people can and cant put into their prod-ucts, even if they have a big market share."

For Fran Rabuck and others, things werent going to change much whether Microsoft was split in half or kept whole. Microsoft, Rabuck said, will have to be open by default, regardless of the final decision.

"The market changed between the initial decision and now," said Rabuck, practice leader for mobile technology at Alliance Consulting in Philadelphia and an eWEEK corporate partner. "Were looking forward to an era thats going to have new devices with multiple languages and they dont dominate...Whether they split or dont split isnt going to matter at the end of the day. The fact that were moving toward open standards will force Microsoft to be more open. The best they can do is create wrappings that make it easier for developers to support."

Paul Schmehl, supervisor of support services for the University of Texas at Dallas, agreed. "I suspect that, if Microsoft is broken into an OS company and an apps company, then not much will change," he said. "They will still dominate the marketplace because, lets face it, they may not be the greatest, most perfectly written programs available, but they respond to customer needs better than anybody else. Look at the features they offer that cannot be found elsewhere."

For Tony Scot, chief technology officer at General Motors Corp. in Detroit, the decision wasnt surprising.

"The tea leaves have been out there for a while that this was a possibility," Scot said. Nev-ertheless, GM was prepared to adjust its relationship with Microsoft had the breakup remained in place, but, he said, the company wasnt counting on it.

Lewis Temares, vice president and CIO at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., said they never expected the Microsoft breakup order to be carried out. "We never had [the breakup] in our strategic plan because we never expected it to happen," Temares said. "With the new administration in the White House, we figured the chances of a full-blown break-up were pretty remote."

Temares said he was not surprised that the Court of Appeals took issue with Jacksons public comments. "I couldnt believe some of the things he was saying in the press. Much of it sounded prejudicial from the beginning," he said.

Nor do CIOs expect Microsofts behavior to change now that the prospect of a breakup is, at least for now, off the table. Thats because it hadnt changed much even when the company was subject to the break-up order, Temares said. Microsofts .NET strategy and its tougher licensing terms, both pushed since the order, indicate the companys ongoing desire to consolidate power and use it to its advantage, said Temares.

"These were not the acts of a company concerned about being under judicial scrutiny," said Temares. "It was pretty much business as usual."