How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

Summary: It was 10 years ago this week that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered Microsoft split in two as a remedy for abusing its Windows monopoly. That judgment was tossed out on appeal, but the eventual antitrust settlement has had plenty of repercussions. From crapware to insecurity, here's my wrap-up of what 10 years of antitrust regulation has really accomplished.

SHARE:

It was 10 years ago this week that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his final judgment in U.S. versus Microsoft. Two months earlier, after almost two years of legal proceedings, the judge found that Microsoft had illegally abused its monopoly in the operating system market, and on June 7, 2000, he ordered that the company be broken up into two separate and completely independent companies.

That judgment turned out to be not so final, of course. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit overturned much of Judge Jackson’s decision a year later, including the breakup provision. The appellate court also ordered him removed from the case, saying his secret meetings with the media and "numerous offensive comments about Microsoft" had tainted his impartiality. (If you're a law and technology geek, Dahlia Lithwick's dissection of the appeals court judgment is masterful and still hilarious.) Still, it was a loss for Microsoft and strong motivation to settle. After a few months of negotiations, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had reached a settlement with Microsoft that severely restrained its behavior and placed it under direct oversight for years. Conveniently, that happened around the time Windows XP was released to the public in late 2001.

So, ten years later, with the gift of hindsight, how did that settlement work out? We don’t have the luxury of living in a parallel universe where we can see what the PC ecosystem in 2010 would look like if Microsoft had been allowed to go on its merry way without penalties or restrictions. But we can look at Windows and its competitors as they’ve evolved over the past decade and see how Microsoft’s behavior changed, and what that meant for the PC you’re using today.

Here are four significant developments that affect all PC users and in my opinion can be traced directly back to the antitrust case and its settlement.

#1: Thanks for all the crapware, Judge.

Throughout the antitrust trial, the word middleware got a serious workout. Originally, the DOJ used it to refer to browsers (specifically Netscape Navigator) and Java. But the judge’s ruling and the eventual settlement expanded the definition significantly, to include not just web browsers but also “e-mail clients, media players, instant messaging software, and future new middleware developments.” In the eventual settlement, Microsoft agreed to the following terms:

Freedom to Install Middleware Software--Computer manufacturers and consumers will be free to substitute competing middleware software on Microsoft's operating system.

Ban on Retaliation--Microsoft will be prohibited from retaliating against computer manufacturers or software developers for supporting or developing certain competing software.

The unintended consequence of allowing PC makers to substitute and support any software they want? Middleware became crapware. Desktops were splattered with icons for unwanted software. Preloaded media players and toolbars and add-ons and trial editions slowed PCs to a crawl. Even today, some retail PCs are crammed with so much third-party software that they take forever to start up. Microsoft still can’t legally do anything to make your overall Windows experience better when you buy a Windows PC sold by an OEM. All they can do is try to shame their OEM partners into doing the right thing.

In fact, the decision to block Microsoft from controlling preinstalled "middleware" founded a micro-industry of products and services that remove unwanted software from brand-new PCs, like The PC Decrapifier and the Geek Squad's "optimization" service.

As for the word middleware? I don't think I've heard anyone use that word since the antitrust settlement so many years ago.

#2: Competition among browsers? It took a long, long time.

This one's filled to the brim with irony. Microsoft's cutthroat battle with Netscape that began around the time of Windows 95 was one of the key complaints in the antitrust action, and Judge Jackson's original decision was scathing on this count. Yet the appeals court reversed Judge Jackson's decision that Microsoft had attempted to extend its monopoly into the browser market.

By 2000, Netscape was pretty well beaten anyway. Ten years ago, Internet Explorer ruled the web with an 80% market share, with Netscape Navigator in a distant second place. And by the end of 2003 IE had a share over 90%, according to one report at the time.

Mozilla Firefox was based on Netscape's source code, and has steadily increased its share since its launch in 2004. But it wasn't until 2008 that a really credible third-place browser for Windows appeared. And I think it's pretty safe to argue that the antitrust regulation had nothing to do with the rise of Firefox or Google Chrome. It's even possible that the antitrust settlement was part of the reason behind Microsoft's decision to completely stop developing IE. If there's no competitive advantage, why sink the development dollars into it? Even now, Microsoft's 2001-era browser, IE6, still has a usage share that puts it above all but two non-Microsoft browsers.

Although it took a long time, the good news is that competition in the browser market is pretty much assured for the next five years. Microsoft long ago lost any claim to a monopoly position in browsers, and it looks like two or three well-funded competitors are in the game to stay.

Next page: You're less safe online -->

 

Topics: Operating Systems, Browser, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Security, Software, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

190 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

    I think you really missed the mark on this article, Ed. I don't see a direct correlation to the antitrust agreement and these 4 points at all, at least not the way you see them.

    #1 - There was plenty of crapware based PCs before the antitrust settlement.

    #2 - you made the worlds point in the last sentence of the third paragraph.

    #3 - we're less safe online because of the number of security related bugs in Microsoft's products. Not because of the anti-trust settlement.

    #4 - they used to bundle outlook express, and then decided not to at some point. I don't get your point here. I think they could bundle an email client if they wanted to, just like they used to. Unfortunately, outlook express was a pile and when there's a bundled pile, that leaves the door open for the marketplace to provide a solution. Not sure of uSoft did that on purpose or not, because they sell outlook, but don't offer outlook for free. They just kept shipping their pile of crap until they pulled it.

    And perhaps the biggest point of all. If Microsoft hadn't have acted like a monopolist then they wouldn't have been in the position they agreed to be in. And they did agree to it.

    -David
    dmkahn
    • MSFT's biggest trouble is always this evil government

      ... rather than anything else. If it's not US then it's Europe. Government all over the world hate people being successful.
      LBiege
      • MSFTs biggest trouble is lack of choice among OEMs

        @LBiege
        Try finding an alternative OS through them. I know somebody will come up with Dell and say that a choice, but that's only one. Where else?<br><br>That's certainly what I hate.
        ubiquitous one
      • Apple was another choice

        Although to be fair, Judge Jackson did say that Macs were only suitable for desktop publishing and weren't really usable by anyone else.
        NonZealot
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        @Ubiquitous one: [I]Try finding an alternative OS through them. I know somebody will come up with Dell and say that a choice, but that's only one.[/I]

        You were given more than one. You were also given Apple and HP. The fact you choose to ignore them doesn't mean they don't exist and that they weren't given.
        ye
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        The judge was right to say Macs sucked. Macs did suck back then, but they were just about to stop the suckage. Today they are fantastic.
        doh123
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        @ye, you're being evasive (or deliberately dense) as usual. When windoze builds the hardware using the same business model as Apple does, then you'll have a case. But they don't unless M$ really does own the OEMs in everything except name only. Is that what you're gonna try to tell us next?<br><br>As I said before, FreeDOS is not Linux and HP offers no Linux laptops or desktops with Ubuntu, Red Hat, SUSE, etc...preinstalled.<br><br>So start telling the truth for once.
        ubiquitous one
      • Don't confuse your ignorance for lack of integrity on my part.

        @ubiquitous one: [i]As I said before, FreeDOS is not Linux and HP offers no Linux laptops or desktops with Ubuntu, Red Hat, SUSE, etc...preinstalled.[/i]

        You can say it as many times as you want. The challenge wasn't "Can I buy an HP laptop with Linux pre-installed". The challenge was "Can I buy a laptop without Windows pre-installed". You were given several: Dell, Apple, and HP. Yet you continue to ignore the latter two because of your ignorance about what was being discussed.

        However given your shifted goal post criteria:

        http://h71016.www7.hp.com/ctoBases.asp?oi=E9CED&BEID=19701&SBLID=&ProductLineId=539&FamilyId=3237&LowBaseId=32521&LowPrice=$549.00&familyviewgroup=2675&viewtype=Matrix

        Side by side comparison of the same HP laptop. One offered with Windows 7 Professional, the other with [b]SUSE Linux Enterprise 11[/b] pre-installed. The laptop with Linux is $102 less than the one with Windows.

        Clearly anyone who wants to purchase a laptop without Windows can do so from a number of vendors. Your ignorance of this fact notwithstanding.

        [i]So start telling the truth for once.[/i]

        Now don't you feel dumb?
        ye
      • That still doesn't let you off the hook, ye

        [i] You can say it as many times as you want. The challenge wasn't "Can I buy an HP laptop with Linux pre-installed". The challenge was "Can I buy a laptop without Windows pre-installed". You were given several: Dell, Apple, and HP. Yet you continue to ignore the latter two because of your ignorance about what was being discussed.[/i]<br><br>BWHAW HAW HAW? :D :D<br><br>Hilarious<br><br>Oh you are something, aren't ya? Lol? :D<br><br>Like I said, you can engage in semantics all you want to, the statements above amount to the same thing with me. Now I'd like to see you come up with models that have only blank HDs on them. Can you do that? Hmmm?<br><br>[i] Side by side comparison of the same HP laptop. One offered with Windows 7 Professional, the other with SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 pre-installed. The laptop with Linux is $102 less than the one with Windows.[/i]<br><br>Excellent! You finally came up with one. And [b]only one[/b]. First time I've ever seen one from HP. There?s hope yet. ;)<br><br>Well let's see, we have four choices from Dell and one from HP. Anything else?<br><br>[i] Now don't you feel dumb?<br><br>[/i]Not at all. Five models out of hundreds doesn't invalidate what I say one bit. Let's see you come up with more. You managed to find [b]one[/b] and only [b]one[/b].
        ubiquitous one
      • You were wrong. Accept it and move on and stop making a fool of yourself.

        @ubiquitous one: <i>Excellent! You finally came up with one. And only one. First time I've ever seen one from HP. Theres hope yet. ;)</i><br><br>One is all I needed. The reality is, despite your denial to the contrary, is you can buy laptops without Windows pre-loaded from a number of vendors. And that was the original challenge.<br><br><i>Not at all.</i><br><br>Then you are dumb.<br><br><i>Let's see you come up with more.</i>

        Here you go:

        http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/us/en/sm/WF04a/321957-321957-64295-3929941-3955552.html

        <br><br>Somehow no matter how many I find it will never be acceptable to you.
        ye
      • No, it's not over ye - feel free to move on yourself...

        _
        I'm not just gonna just shut up go away, ya know...<br><br>@ye says...<br><i>One is all I needed. The reality is, despite your denial to the contrary, is you can buy laptops without Windows pre-loaded from a number of vendors. And that was the original challenge.</i><br><br>No, all you did was further reinforce my original point. One Linux machine out of hundreds doesn't cut it. And no, I don't have to move goalposts, either. You boneheaded obstinacy precludes that.<br><br><i>Then you are dumb.</i><br><br>How so, ye? Where are the Quad Core machines? The i5's? The i7's? Most Linux distros run just fine on those. Or does Intel have a new exclusivity agreement with Micro$oft along with HP?<br><br>Or maybe another example of why the Windoze key is baked into practically every computer keyboard in the United States? Hmm?<br><br>How do you explain that?<br><br><i>Here you go:<br><br><a href="http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/us/en/sm/WF04a/321957-321957-64295-3929941-3955552.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/us/en/sm/WF04a/321957-321957-64295-3929941-3955552.html</a></i><br><br>Where's the Linux choice, ye? I don't see it there. That's the same misleading page you linked to earlier.<br><br><i>Somehow no matter how many I find it will never be acceptable to you.</i><br><br>Sure, when Micro$oft gives up some of it's monopolized marketshare. Or the government finally has the balls to do it. And I don't mean the white-washed wrist-slap they've been engaging in the last 10 years, either.
        ubiquitous one
      • Wow, all the NZ haters are out in force today...

        @ Whomever flagged NZ,
        Flagging someone because of flame-baiting on this site doesn't work. Why do you think Mike Cox used to hook all the little fishies?

        ... Speaking of, where is Mikey at? I miss his stories about how he and his Microsoft rep laugh about this judgement.
        nix_hed
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        @doh123

        Around 20 comments up. -.-


        I actually prefer the older G3/G4 Macs to what we have nowadays. Back when Apple completely controlled everything, they were a legitimate alternative choice to MSFT. They were even some of the best PC's for their time, if expensive.

        Now they're just a generic PC, but still expensive. Intel procs, Nvidia gfx, etc. Nothing Apple but the OS.
        Cyberjester
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        @LBiege

        Sure ! Government must hate Apple, Google, Disney, and Tiger Woods too.

        Or, maybe governments only get involved when somebody gets greedy or careless and enough people complain.

        Like BP.
        Jkirk3279
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        @LBiege Microsoft has consistently made questionably unethical business decisions based on a large monopolistic market share they would not have achieved without government contracts. The only time the company has ever offered anything "free", fixed anything "free", or changed anything in their product was from the result of competition. If others were not making "middleware", "crapware", "adware"...whatever you want to call it. If 3rd party companies were not making their own OS and distributing them for free. We'd all still be running on something that looks like windows 3.1. The government changed technology for the better when it stepped in. But you take the good with the bad.
        Socratesfoot
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        @LBiege Nonsense. Microsoft did act unlawfully and against the consumer's interest. The problem is the law lags too far behind and can't act quickly enough to stop (or even deter) this behaviour. The remedies don't work and have unintended consequences (partly because the IT landscape changes and partly because they weren't framed very well - often by people who didn't fully understand the arguments). This isn't about stopping Microsoft (or anyone else) being successful, but there is more than a little technical incompetence on the part of legislators.
        Jeremy-UK
      • There you go again ...

        saying "governments hate people being successful." That's like saying football referees hate touchdowns and basketball referees hate good playing. It's a matter of HOW you become successful and WHAT you do with your success after getting there. Microsoft did make good and useful products, but they were MORE successful than they otherwise would have been because of their pre-judicial marketing strategies, which the court decided were not fair to competitors (and made it more difficult for CUSTOMERS who wanted to use competitors). So what the court did was like a referee taking back yardage after a clipping, that's all.

        If you believe that in some SPECIFIC cases, government went too far and penalized some "fouls" that you believe they got wrong, that is something to argue about. But that does not mean that government ALWAYS wants to punish success, or that it should NEVER call a foul, anymore than football referees always want to punish teams that move the ball and score points, therefore should be abolished.

        If football is not your thing, consider this: your favorite over-the-air TV channel had to get a license to use its designated channel, 8 for example. What if any idiot could just decide they were going to go on the air in channel 8 and did not need to get a license or even check around for another vacant channel? They could jam channel 8 so that the licensed station's signal would not get through. Be glad that government is preventing some pirate station from cutting off your favorite programs.

        Incidentally, even today, although I use an alternate browser (Firefox) and only rarely start up Internet Explorer, and have set the "favorites" submenu of the start menu to launch Firefox, I have to put all my bookmarks into IE ALSO in order to have them get on the start menu. And since neither browser is smart enough to "import" bookmarks while avoiding redundant names, I have to use a third party syncing program to keep my Firefox bookmarks (which I can create and edit in Firefox) in sync with the ones in IE, which I ONLY use to get them on the start menu. This was a "bundling" left over from the pre-court-decision days that never got updated, apparently.
        jallan32
        • Shake Down

          Microsoft put a browser in their bundle.
          That was a "Shake Down" because M$ made more cash than the government could invision.
          Yea they bought up small start ups but that's business.
          SHAMKEN
    • Very biased opinion

      @dmkahn <br>#1 - you maybe right theoritically, but I don't think anyone was really bothered by it before 2000.<br>#3 - I don't know what you are based on, far from reality.<br>#4 - They can still dundle email client if they want, you missed the point.<br><br>If your mindset is with 80% Americans, I don't blame you, because the media made you so, but if you really thought though the facts in your own mind, something is wrong in your logic.
      jk_10
      • RE: How a decade of antitrust oversight has changed your PC

        @jk_10 Don't Vista and Win7 comes with Windows Mail? I remember my Vista x64 Business Edition coming with it. I haven't bothered to check on Win7, since I use Thunderbird.
        WarhavenSC