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Does Microsoft have a monopoly?

Does Microsoft have a monopoly?

MANAGEMENT SPEAK: That's a good start. Let's see what else you come up with.

TRANSLATION: I need some time to find the flawsTo determine if Microsoft has a desktop OS monopoly, ask if you have a real choice.

The electronic mailbag has been pretty full during the Microsoft/Justice Department controversy. Most letters have been complimentary. A few writers pointed out that because Microsoft has a "noncoercive" monopoly it will eventually fail without government intervention. Their conclusion: keep government out of it.

Some readers thought I wanted to prevent Microsoft from integrating Internet Explorer into its future OSes. It can build it into Hydra for all I care (just what you'd want, too: a Windows desktop accessing a server-based browser - the ultimate "stupid-client architecture"). But no matter how much Microsoft sings, dances and plays the tuba, Explorer is not part of Windows 95 nor Windows NT.

The biggest question on everyone's mind, though, is whether Microsoft really has a monopoly in desktop operating systems. This hits you where you live: do you have any real alternatives?

If you're the CIO for a typical company you're establishing an architecture, not buying stand-alone PCs, so you probably have these requirements:

No 1: A quality word processor, spreadsheet, end-user database, e-mail client, and Internet browser for general users. You'd prefer Microsoft Office since that's the format used by most of your partners.

No 2: A platform for commercial client/server business applications. You need a platform most vendors build for.

No 3: A platform for which you can develop and deploy in-house client/server business applications. Typical in-house applications have to last a decade or two, so future support is critical. And this OS has to match the OS that fits requirement No 2 since you'll need to run both in-house and commercial applications on the same desktops.

No 4: If the OS that satisfies requirements No 2 and No 3 is not the OS for general users, it has to support the same office suite or you can't share files electronically.

Windows passes all the tests. How about the alternatives: Unix, OS/2, and Macintosh?

Unix fails requirement No 2, so you can only use it in a mixed architecture. No Unix satisfies requirement No 4. Scratch Unix.

OS/2? With SmartSuite, OS/2 partially satisfies No 1 and fully satisfies No 4.

It fails No 2, though - few manufacturers of business software create OS/2 clients anymore - and as a result, No 3 as well. You can use OS/2 except for client/server applications.

How about the Mac? With Microsoft Office it satisfies requirements No 1 and No 4. But it fails dismally on No 2 and No 3.

Then there are the intangibles, like availability of suppliers, support and programming talent. All of these make Windows more attractive.

So here are your options: use Macintoshes for general-purpose desktops and Windows for business applications, or use Windows for everything and save yourself the headaches of a mixed environment.

A judge and jury will have to decide if, for desktop operating systems, Windows fits the legal definition of a monopoly.

Does the typical CIO have a realistic desktop operating system alternative today? The answer is pretty clear, even if you don't like it.


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