Where doesn't Microsoft want to go today?

Microsoft gets another visit to the DOJ... It has been no secret that Microsoft has become the favourite flavour at the United States Department of Justice recently. Years of innovative technology, superb marketing, and stunning growth when combined with predatory practices and sharp dealing were bound to catch the attention of the arm of the US government responsible for ensuring that no one company is capable of arranging a supposedly free market to suit its own bank account.

Microsoft’s latest troubles made the front page of the Financial Times on 10 June and chronicled the problems that Microsoft is having extending its desktop domination into the world of on-line services. Louise Kehoe reported from San Francisco that Microsoft faces the prospects of having Windows95 that includes connectivity software for the Microsoft Network (MSN) blocked or delayed by another anti-trust investigation.

The regulators are asking Microsoft for clarification of the terms of licensing under which computer manufacturers pre-load Windows95 on new PCs. But once the DOJ starts snooping, who knows where their inquiries may end?

This recent potential show stopper is a big concern for businesses trying to plan a migration to Windows95. Not knowing what is in the final product causes complications! Microsoft plans to ship 10 to 20 million copies of Windows95 this year and another 50 million next year, according to some market watchers. The judicial hamstringing of the Microsoft Network will touch almost every business computer user world-wide.

Bundling Microsoft Network with Windows95 may not even be the smart thing to do. Microsoft is resolute that the Microsoft Network is integral with Windows95 and will not be sold separately. While this may provide a strong motivation for some to move from Windows 3.X or Windows for Workgroups, it also has the effect of blocking tens of millions of satisfied users on earlier Windows renditions from gaining the same access to Microsoft support resources and third party content providers.

By betting it all on W95 and the MSN, Microsoft has aroused the ire of the vested interests in the proprietary online provider market, lead by CompuServe, Prodigy and America On Line. And those vested interests have evidently found the right ears to whisper to in the Department of Justice rather more readily than did the application and operating systems software business.

Out of all the Microsoft Network muck, the Internet manages to stay clean. Although Internet connectivity of some description will be offered across the Microsoft Network (when, how much and how dear is not entirely clear), the Internet emerges as the only sure bet for business for 95. Once decried because it had no obvious owner, management structure and anti-commercial leanings, the Internet’s independence is now what really counts.

The Internet is not subject to the inquiries of anyone’s Justice Department, despite some recent American efforts to become the world’s Net cops for prurient content. Business requires free markets for best prospects and customers ultimately benefit from the open competition. The Internet delivers both today. Regardless of what happens to the hapless Microsoft Network or other proprietary on line organisations, the Internet will continue to grow and provide cost effective business communications across every national boundary on the planet. It’s pretty hard to create any serious competitive challenge to that!