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.
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.
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.