What will the Microsoft trial mean to those whose livelihoods depend on Microsoft products?

Trial by Ordeal

What will the Microsoft trial mean to those whose livelihoods depend on Microsoft products?

If you could survive being smothered in steak sauce and then being cast into a pit with six starving wolverines, you must not have stolen that loaf of bread after all. Nifty concept, eh? Trial by ordeal is centuries old, yet it seems to have survived to this day, with a twist: The spectators are the ones enduring the ordeal.

Yet we’re stuck with that ordeal if we want some sort of legal system that works. You, or supermodel Em, or the person on the corner, or the Lions Club may know that Reagan funneled Iranian arms money to the Contras, or that O.J. was/was not guilty, or that Clinton perjured himself, or that Microsoft execs held secret meetings where they stomped on Jim Barksdale blowup dolls and threw SPARCstations over the railing. But, if you or Auntie or the person on the corner or the Lions Club were to become judge, jury, and executioner, well, we might as well just pack it all in, surround our homes with barbed wire, and stock up on whatever gear hasn’t been snatched up by my brother, the Y2K survivalist.

In our business, we have to somehow make it through the ordeal of the Microsoft antitrust trial, where it seems the Feds will do and say anything short of accusing Redmond of surreptitiously manufacturing nuclear weapons for a preemptive strike down Netscape way, and in which Microsoft will do and say anything rather than admit that some of the ways it does business are specifically intended to crush, maim, and mutilate any company that dares become more than a minor competitor.

Is that illegal? How illegal? Does it warrant fines, breakups, mass beheadings, trips to the wolverine pit? The protagonists in the trial duke it out in Armani suits and careful it’s-not-quite-a-blatant-lie terminology, holding spin-dispersal conferences after every day in court.

It’s you, me, the person on the corner, the coders, the sys admins, and the architects who have to suffer through the ordeal because, in the end, we’re the ones who still have to make a living in a marketplace created by Microsoft. We display Microsoft certifications to show some competency with its products. We count on Microsoft development tools, on TechNet, and on MSDN.

Our ordeal is that we don’t know what the outcome of the trial will be for us. I couldn’t care less whether Redmond’s top 20 moneymakers make only tens of millions rather than hundreds of millions. But those of us whose billables are based on Bill are more than a bit nervous following the proceedings. It’s no great leap of faith to imagine a scenario in which Microsoft is either convicted of or admits to violations of antitrust regulations, is it?

What would a Microsoft breakup mean to the thousands of us whose livelihoods depend on Microsoft products? I doubt any of the players in this game particularly care, beyond lip service. We need to maintain a sense of perspective about how Microsoft views us. The certification process and its costs are marketing expenses for Redmond; our being out there and doing what we do generates income for Microsoft in the form of product licenses. As for the Feds, they’re trying to figure out where Microsoft’s practices fall under the law; third-party vendors and service providers aren’t part of that fact set unless some practice concerning them can provide ammo for the Justice Department.

Face it, our fate hangs in the air, and it’s going to be determined by forces we can’t control one bit. This gal would be surprised if, in the end, Microsoft is dismantled; but remedies that result in a less lopsided playing field will have an impact that goes beyond just affecting Redmond’s annual financial statements. That’s not an admonition of the government—let ‘em do what’s right under the law. It’s more of a wakeup call to you, dear readers, to not discount this case or prejudge it. Weather the ordeal by keeping your skills current and staying flexible.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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