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Auction Windows? Experts disagree

Reports that Microsoft may be forced to give up Windows have met with a mixed response by analysts and observers who disagree on whether the move would benefit the industry.
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

According to a report in Sunday's Seattle Times, auctioning of Windows 95, 98 and 2000 will be one of the options presented by state attorneys general to secure a swift end to the anti-trust trial which has raged since May 1998.

But the move was dismissed by Simon Moores, chairman of the Windows NT forum, as a cynical political move by state attorneys looking to "make careers on Microsoft's skull".

Moores, a long time opponent of the Redmond software house, dismissed the option and questioned whether it would benefit the industry in the long run. "In a cynical America there is much to be gained if you can be the guy who took down Microsoft. You are going to be remembered for it," he said.

While Moores remains sceptical of the plan's motives he concedes that a weakened Microsoft may be willing to offer Windows 98 as a "sacrificial lamb".

"Sacrificing ordinary Windows (not Windows NT or 2000) would not hurt so much but with Microsoft's future resting on Windows 2000 I would be most surprised if it gave that up. To sacrifice Windows NT would have a disastrous effect on Microsoft stock," he said.

Auctioning of Windows would benefit software developers and PC vendors, according to Dataquest analyst Paulo Puppoli. He believes other software vendors would have a better chance of developing competitive software for Windows if their chief rival, Microsoft, didn't have control of the operating system.

George Gardiner, a solicitor with London law firm Tarlo and Lyons predicted that any plans to sell off Windows would be plagued by legal problems. Although he denied Microsoft's claim that the plan is unworkable, he said it would be no easy task: "It is entirely possible but how to do it is an interesting one. Windows is the most widely used intellectual property in existence and there are many issues to consider if it is to be sold."

Possible legal pitfalls

  • Ownership of copyright
  • Transfer and value of the operating system
  • Microsoft's existing obligations to licensees and development of Windows.
  • Gardiner believes a Windows sell-off would have a negative impact on the industry claiming it would simply assimilate other developers from the money made from selling Windows. "A few years down the line it could be the only applications vendor because it has bought all the others up," Gardiner said.

    Microsoft had no comment on the latest speculation about the company's future. "With the trial still going on, it is not appropriate to talk about remedies," a spokesman said.

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