Remedy Discussion Spurs IT Debate

That seemed to be the near universal reaction in the IT community to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's guilty verdict in the antitrust trial against Microsoft Corp. Opinions were more varied, however, on how Microsoft should be punished and what impact that

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Lets get on with it; lets get to the remedies.

That seemed to be the near universal reaction in the IT community to Judge Thomas Penfield Jacksons guilty verdict in the antitrust trial against Microsoft Corp. Opinions were more varied, however, on how Microsoft should be punished and what impact that will have on ITs use of Microsoft technologies.

News of the ruling caused Michael Sherwood, director of IT at the city of Oceanside, Calif., to halt his organizations deployment of Windows 2000 Monday afternoon.

"We were planning our deployment up until the ruling because I was under the impression that a deal would be made. I never thought it would go this far," said Sherwood, who spent the day monitoring the case on MSNBC and CNN.

Sherwood, who standardized his 2,000 desktops and 200 servers on Windows NT 4.0 two years ago, said he would hold off on deploying Windows 2000 until the remedies are announced. If the courts order a breakup of Microsoft, Sherwood said he would re-evaluate his decision to migrate to Windows 2000.

"Im worried about an eventual breakup because of the integration between the operating system and the applications," Sherwood said. "A judgment could affect our future with Microsoft as far as them being our one-stop shop for all software applications. I dont think were going to jump to Correl or IBM, but until we know whats actually going to happen, its hard to move forward with Windows 2000."

Sherwood, who hopes the case will end with Microsoft paying a fine, said a breakup of the company and/or the opening of the Windows source code would be a detriment to the software industry.

Bill Stapelfeldt, director of technology at BayShore National Bank, a Windows customer in LaPorte, Texas, took a much different view.

"A fine would be inadequate. I lean toward the breakup of the company to make the industry more competitive," said Stapelfeldt.

Even a breakup may not be enough to curb Microsofts power, Stapelfeldt added.

"What if they wind up with equally strong parts?" he said. "Im beginning to think theres nothing you can do to keep Microsoft down."

Some users are worried about the broader industry implications of harsh Microsoft penalties, pointing to the Nasdaq composite losing 7 percent of its value today as evidence. Microsoft lost 15 percent of its value when its stock dived in advance of the ruling.

"This wave of prosperity is tied unequivocally with Microsoft, and if you take down Microsoft, the economy is assured to fall," said Cary White, MIS director at Reliant General Insurance Services Inc., a Windows customer in San Diego. "[The ruling] is going to hurt a lot more people than it [will] help."

White agrees that Microsoft is a monopoly and may have stifled some innovation. But he believes the software giant created a standard operating platform in Windows that has made computers easier for the average person to use. He disagrees with the governments involvement in the issue and hopes Microsoft is punished with a fine or other remedy rather than a breakup.

"Its bad business for the government to be involved," White said. "A slap on the wrist is the only thing that makes any sense."

Reaction from the vendor community was predictable, since last falls fact finding left todays ruling as somewhat of a foregone conclusion.

"People have been calling since last summer, asking what we think," said Red Hat Inc. CEO Bob Young upon hearing of the guilty verdict. "What planet are people living on that didnt know they were guilty? What we need now is to talk about remedies."

"We are not surprised," said Mike Foster, vice president at SCO Inc. in Santa Cruz, Calif. "This seems to be extremely anti-climactic, like Y2K. Weve all been very close to it and very involved. Were waiting to see how it will play out with what the judge makes them do."

Ransom Love, CEO of Caldera Systems Inc., said a guilty verdict is good for the industry, but his final opinion still depends on the eagerly anticipated remedies.

"Im pleased to see people can have facts in a ruling that actually reflect reality," said Love. "This still could be a great thing for Microsoft. If the government were to break them up, like other historical monopolies, each of the components could do better than the one whole company."

Other executives from Microsoft competitors, not surprisingly, hailed the ruling and proposed harsh penalties.

"The most effective way to restore competition is through a structural remedy or breakup of Microsoft," said Jim Barksdale, former Netscape Communications Corp. CEO and now partner at The Barksdale Group, in a prepared statement. "The question now is what remedy should be imposed on Microsoft for engaging in predatory behavior and breaking the law. A structural remedy ensures that Microsofts illegal and monopolistic practices will not continue in the future."

Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Scott McNealy echoed those comments.

"Now is the time to move on to the important stage of this trial -- determining how to prevent Microsoft from continuing its use of monopoly power to stifle innovation and harm consumers," McNealy said in a prepared statement. "We hope the court will act decisively to ensure that Microsofts illegal activity -- and the harm that it has done to the industry and to consumers -- is brought to an end forcefully and permanently."

Reaction from hardware makers, who played a central role in the antitrust trial, was muted.

"This is a dispute between 19 states, the U.S. Department of Justice and Microsoft," said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, Calif. "Intels position is, we dont have one."

Alan Hodel, a spokesman for Compaq Computer Corp. in Houston, said it was too early to comment on the judges specific ruling, but added, "We do believe that its important that any resolution of the case protects the industrys ability to continue to grow and add customers, and benefits technical innovation."

"HP has always had a close partnership with Microsoft and we expect that relationship to be unaffected by todays decision," said Scott Fingerhut, a spokesman for Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif.