Two Microsofts: Mulling an alternate reality

Two Microsofts: Mulling an alternate reality

Summary: What would the technology world look like today if the 2000 ruling by the recently deceased Thomas Penfield Jackson -- that Microsoft be broken into two companies -- had been upheld?


Thomas Penfield Jackson has died. The former U.S. District court judge ruled in 2000 that Microsoft was a monopoly that should be broken up into two companies. This part of his decision was over-turned, but what might have happened had the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld his decision to break up Microsoft?

Imagine that there were two Microsofts. It's easy if you try--and the late Thomas Penfield Jackson did try.

Jackson took this approach because he couldn't stand Microsoft. The irony is that many experts over the years believe that had Jackson been allowed to break the company up into "Baby Bills," Microsoft actually would have done better.

Certainly, Microsoft in the last few years has been on a decline and there have been frequent calls to break the company up into more agile, responsive divisions. These plans usually involved dividing it into a desktop and a server side. That wasn't what Jackson had in mind. 

Jackson's plan would have led to two Microsofts. Let's call them Microsoft Blue, which would have stayed in operating systems business and, Microsoft Red, which would have retained Microsoft's software programs and products such as Outlook, Internet Explorer, Office, and the Microsoft Network (MSN).

In this alternative reality, Blue would have been forced to be more efficient. I doubt we would have seen operating system flops such as Vista and Windows 8. Blue couldn't afford such blunders. They would have to have listened to their customers more closely.

At the same time, since Blue's entire focus would have been on operating systems, Blue would have been more innovative and more aggressive about supporting its new inventions. So, instead of Apple creating the mass-market tablet with the iPad in April 2010, perhaps Blue would have started it with the Haiku. In the real world of tablets, Microsoft lags far behind Google's Android and Apple's iPad.

On the desktop Blue would probably still dominate, but Apple with Mac OS X probably would have a larger market share, say low double digits. I suspect other alternatives, such as Ubuntu Linux, would also have a bigger share of the market, say two or three Linux distributions with single digit marker-shares. Or, perhaps Red Hat could have gained a significant business desktop market share with Red Hat Enterprise Desktop. 

I think Red would have had a more difficult path. Blocked from working hand-in-glove with Blue, programs like Microsoft Office would have had a far harder time remaining the default office application. Software such as Lotus SmartSuite, OpenOffice, and WordPerfect would have had a real shot at remaining viable office programs. 

IE, on the other hand, had already beaten Netscape into the ground by the time the courts ruled against Microsoft. I'm sure IE  would have continued to be the dominant Web browser. Netscape might have made able to stage a comeback. Had it done so, though, Firefox -- which was built from Netscape's code -- might not exist at all. 

Without Firefox to spur Web browser innovation, I find it very hard to see how the Web browser wars for the last ten years would have worked out. There would have been others, but instead of Firefox and Chrome being IE's main contenders, perhaps it would have been Opera and Safari. 

Still, Red would have had  a far harder time of it on the desktop since it could no longer be developed in sync with Windows. Red would have had to work harder on back-office programs and servers. As it happens, I've long thought that Microsoft produced far better back-end products than end-user programs so I'm not sure how much better they could have done. I suspect that they would have been more open to alternatives.

What do I mean by that? Well, today, Microsoft has finally gotten more open-source friendly than it would have.

For example, on Azure, its cloud platform, you can run Ubuntu, CentOS, and SUSE Linux. It took years, but they're in there. But, Red might well have embraced Linux and open-source software far earlier. For example, I could easily imagine Active Directory being made available as a service on Linux by as early as 2003. After that, who knows...

Like Blue, Red would also been forced to be more innovative. Perhaps instead of being a follower in cloud and search technologies, Microsoft might have been a leader.

Presuming that Gates and Ballmer would have stayed with Windows and Microsoft Blue, perhaps Red would have been more forceful with Internet and Web innovations and acquisitions. Say, for example, that Red would have brought Yahoo. In this Mirror, Mirror world, the stumbling blocks that tripped this deal would no longer exist.

So, in this other world some sample ZDNet headlines for June 2013 might read:

Windows 8's great reviews leads it to commanding lead over latest Mac OS X
Torvalds introduces Microsoft Red Linux Server
Microsoft Red Web Services Cloud beats Amazon again
Microhoo strong number two in Web search
New Apple iPad almost as good as MSFT Blue Haiku 5

I find it all too easy to see a world where Microsoft would actually have been better off if Gates and friends had simply let the company be broken up into more manageable and agile companies than the stumbling dinosaur it is today.

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Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Legal, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • SJVN

    No Linux news to report?

    You're obsessed with Microsoft. See your doctor.
  • Intriguing

    I'd never even heard of the Haiku (a bit before my time in the tech arena I'm afraid), it's such a shame that they kinds of stopped bothering with the tablet idea with Vista (and only half heartedly embraced it with 7) as having a portable version of Windows ready to go in 2010 would have dramatically changed things.

    Still, the Windows team seem to be learning (specifically since Sinofsky was booted, I might add, as it seems pretty certain that he is responsible for a lot of Windows 8's missteps (as an aside, I love Windows 8 as it is but I do feel there should have been a start button/boot to desktop option from the start, and a decent tutorial for the new UI) that have caused it some negative press) and 8.1 is definitely on the right track, I'm hopeful they move even faster with 8.2 and get to a 6-9 month turnaround on updates.

    A shame the new devices coming out as soon as this month (Acer W3) that do resemble the Haiku ideal are a little behind, though that is still partially down to technology constraints. It took Microsoft a long while to port Windows to ARM and Intel equivalents only just began to match ARM in 2012. I'm sure if Intel had a chip that would have allowed thin and light tablets in 2010 we'd have had some running Windows 7.

    I actually think Microsoft Red could actually have done even better than they already have without being constricted by Windows. Office does really well anyway but without Windows holding it back we could have ended up with Office on other platforms much sooner than the 365 option rolling out now. Ditto IE and MSN. Both teams are pretty great anyway but with more freedom to be platform agnostic they could also be making a much bigger dent.

    Having said that, Now that Microsoft is finally getting all these disparate departments to work together more coherently and contribute to Windows 8 in more meaningful ways, it might all turn out for the best. The new Bing and SkyDrive integration in 8.1 is a great example of the company working together properly.

    We'll have a better idea if it all pans out in about 12 months though, I'm fascinated to see what happens.

    I would say that Microsoft is on as huge a decline as people make out though. Sure, percentage wise they may have less of a share in the PC market (if we're including tablets in the overall number) than they did. But that's only to be expected when the amount of customers out there is rapidly expanding and newer, cheaper, options are out there; a more heterogeneous tech future seems to be better for everyone anyway, imo.

    Also, the record profits they made this year (despite Windows 8 not selling as well as hoped) show they're not really suffering that badly.

    Thankfully they're at least done with being so slow and complacent about the markets they're in.
    • Correction

      Meant to say:
      "I would say that Microsoft ISN'T on as huge a decline as people make out though."

      Is there no edit feature here anymore?
      • Re: I would say that Microsoft ISN'T on as huge a decline as people make ou

        But all its OEMs are.
        • That's the beauty of the market

          right now there are many PC manufactures out there, a hefty slew of competition, thus squeezed margins.

          All what's needed a couple of weaker, low profit ones to fold, which in turn will send customers towards the remaining ones, which has a ripple effect that will raise their profit margins. Have you ever wondered why Apple does as well as they do?

          It's because they have no competition in the OS X related PC segment. The same would apply to PC OEM's should one (or even two) companies become the dominate PC OEM's
          William Farrel
          • Re: It's because they have no competition in the OS X related PC segment

            This is pretty much self-serving statement. It likely comes to prove that had Apple seen any kind of competition (as in, music players, touch enabled mobile phones, touch enabled tablets), they wouldn't do anything.

            Fact is, Apple had taken UNIX and polished it to a state where many who would otherwise dislike UNIX (for example, because it has all telnet ports open ;)) would gladly accept, use and love OS X.

            If you remember that OS X is UNIX, it turns out there is plenty of competition for Apple out there, including desktop Linux. For some reason, Apple do pretty well.

            Might be, you need to find another excuse.
          • Then ask yourself why Apple, at the 11th hour

            decided not to license their PC OS to "clone" makers? Imagine multiple OEM's selling OSX based PC's, along side Apple.

            That wouldn't have had no effect of Mac sales whatsoever, right?

            And no excuse, (at least on my part) just truth. Music players, touch enabled mobile phones, touch enabled tablets? Haven't we read here that even though there are more Android sales/Activations then iPhone it's Apple's making all the profits?

            If Apple wants iOS to take top spot again, the smart thing to do would be to license it out to Samsung, HTC, Nokia, and let them build iPad "clones".

            So in video, music, desktop publishing, ect where OS X is the first choice, maybe it's time people bought their OS X based PC's from some other vendor?
            William Farrel
          • I think that Apple

            likes to be in total control of their devices and does not trust that part of their business to other OEMs for that reason. Although, as you stated, it might have been a big sales boost for them. But, I don't think Steve Jobs would have ever gone along with letting others produce and sell Apple products.
          • They tried it before; it didn't work out like they'd hoped.

            They tried to license Mac OS to other companies, but the main problem was that they were losing hardware sales to other OEMs. They were effectively giving away pieces of a pie that wasn't that big in the first place, and it bit them in the behind. That's probably the official reason for Jobs stopping that particular program once he came back (either that or the "not invented here" effect).
            Third of Five
          • Agreed

            The two main reasons why I switched from MS Windows to Apple's OS X were that OS X was certified POSIX UNIX and that OS X has a lot of very polished applications, like Pages and Numbers.

            Most of my work is in mathematical or numerical modelling, so I use a lot of source code from universities where UNIX tends to dominate. The fact that OS X is UNIX is a real boon.

            At the same time, the OS X GUI so slick and productive (especially with AppleScript) that I prefer it to most GNU/Linux implementations. It also has brilliant PDF integration.

            When I'm not using TeX and PDF for technical writing, Pages is a superb word processor. Numbers is a good spreadsheet, but I tend to use Mathematica for most things that people do on spreadsheets.
          • Competition is wonderful...

   long as your company isn't the one competing.
            John L. Ries
  • "...stumbling dinosaur."

    For a call company coming off a quarter of record profits, that is a ridiculous way to depict them. Can't you just try to write one objective article about Microsoft? Here is a challenge for you; write an article "5 Things that I Love About Windows 8". You can't write anything negative or use any backhanded compliments about Windows or Microsoft. I don't think you can do it. Your bias towards Microsoft is just too much for you to overcome, even for just one article.
    • Having used Windows 8

      I can't honestly say there is anything about it I like, feature wise.
      x-windows user
      • I didn't ask you....

      • Amazing

        Somebody with the user name "x-windows-user" doesn't like a Windows version.

        It's almost as unbelievable as if somebody called "apple basher" were to hate Apple products.
        Michael Alan Goff
    • Journalist must be hurting

      Come on guys...the journalist job is to get attention either by creative or controversial columns. A bad journalist, like the one that wrote this column, takes the easy road by bashing. Truth is Microsoft is a respected technology giant with outstanding profits over several decades, and hires some of the best and brightest engineers in the world. The journalist that wrote this column is foolish and must be desperate for attention.
      Sean Foley
    • Well, as someone here has already said

      this is a blog! Bias is built in and that also goes for other writers here.

      Ask Ed Bot to do the same about Ubuntu and I think you would get the same results in the bias department.

      BTW - if you have seen the latest demos of Ubuntu Touch then you would have to agree that the unified OS for all form factors looks to be pretty much in their corner, providing they meet their self-imposed launch dates. Let's see of Ed covers any of that without bias.....
  • how things might of been

    Yea, right, and what would the world be like if Hitler would have won the European campaign !!

    But if you want to see the effects of a fragmented development ideology you don't have to go any further than Linux and FOSS.

    Divide and be conquered.
    • .

      There would be no USA and therefore no SJVN!!!! go go Nazis!!!
    • Whlat if ?

      What if Micro Soft had not invaded the net book market and killed it with slow software! They were selling very well with open source software. They jumped into a market were they were not a good fit. Lost time on innovating a new product were they would fit . Gave time to Apple to develop the Ipad and then showed up late to the market with the RT. And talking about late lets not even start with the phone division. Yes I think that M.S. Would have been a stronger company if each division had to stand on it's own. If they had I might not be sitting here writing this on a Ubuntu computer using Libre office, calling work on a Android phone watching the stock market on a Nexus 7 pad. Oh and they are all main stream devices Dell, LG. Asus and the list just goes on. Five yrs ago I had no idea what open source was. Oh how the market has and will continue to change!!