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Network World - Ten years after losing a bitterly contested antitrust browser battle to the U.S. Department of Justice, debate continues as to whether Microsoft was tamed by the legal rebuke or freed to treat it like a speed bump.
In April 2000, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that Microsoft violated federal and state antitrust laws and ordered the company to decouple its operating system and browser technology, pay hefty fines and undergo years of scrutiny to prevent future market monopolizing. Now with the key stakeholder in the trial, Netscape, gone and Internet Explorer competing with open newcomers such as Firefox and Google Chrome, the ramifications of the years-long trial continue in the European Union for Microsoft ... and now Google.
Microsoft today remains intact -- reporting in January record revenues of nearly $20 billion for its second fiscal quarter -- but the 2000 ruling has meant more choices in the browser arena and enabled an industry to innovate around technologies that many felt Microsoft attempted to control in a closed environment, according to industry watchers. For others, not much changed and Microsoft continues to capitalize on its market strengths, pummeling competition where it can.
"The potential was there to shatter Microsoft. I envisioned a whole new world as seen through my IT goggles," says Greg Topf, director of IT at NewBay Media in New York City. "I knew Microsoft was always the 800-pound gorilla. I really figured major changes would be coming, the implications from the ruling really held the potential to cause Microsoft to totally re-architect itself. Honestly, the whole change was a lot smaller than I envisioned."
Microsoft, which declined to comment for this story, has lost some market share to competitive browsers, yet the company seems to be making strides with its plans around IE 9 and standardizing HTML5.
"Microsoft has shown they really want to lead the way with HTML 5 and not follow others with innovation. Their leadership here will help Microsoft deliver IE9 as a truly modern browser and demonstrates how seriously they are taking this effort," says Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish. "From the browser perspective, people can have multiple browsers and it is important Microsoft innovate in this technology to stay as close to customers as possible."
And Microsoft continues to dominate with its Windows operating system, holding 91% market share, according to Net Market Share, and seeing eager anticipation and accelerating adoption of the latest revision, Windows 7. According to a 2009 report by McLeish, 80% of enterprise customers use some version of Microsoft Office for productivity and collaboration, with 8% choosing alternatives. And many are anticipating adopting Microsoft Office 2010 to meet emerging needs, according to Forrester.
"Microsoft continues to leave its computing fingerprints on most desktops," McLeish says. "But the scrutiny ensured Microsoft couldn't monopolize the market so now companies like Google can also make a concerted effort to own the desktop experience from browser to application to operating system."