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Doug's Mailbag: Splitting Microsoft, More Patent Thoughts

Here's a response to Doug's question about splitting up Microsoft:

Had the Department of Justice forced the issue following the election of George W. Bush, I do believe that Bill Gates would be even richer today than he is now. I also think that the few "Microsoft for Macintosh" products out there would be more robust and more compatible with their Windows counterparts, and with Windows servers. And there WOULD BE "Microsoft for Linux" products out there.

In the end, I don't think such a move now would make much difference in the overall scheme of things.

Linux poses no real threat on the desktop -- and probably never will -- because the consumer support model for Linux is so lame and because no first-tier Linux OEM is willing to deliver a pre-loaded consumer-friendly Linux platform at competitive prices.

Apple continues to serve the high-end consumer space but this is no threat to Microsoft OEMs when it comes to the commodity PC market. Apple simply cannot compete on price/performance.

Linux will continue to compete head-to-head with Microsoft in the enterprise server market where project-based purchases have predictable lifecycles and future sales opportunities.

In this environment, a Microsoft Applications division could find itself competing head-to-head with a Microsoft OS division by providing compatibility tools for Linux servers, but I don't see Microsoft entertaining such a move -- even though it might give them a leg-up on Linux competition by giving them the opportunity to bid multiple times on platform-independent projects.

In the end, it would take an aggressive Apple initiative to break into the enterprise space with alternatives to ADS and Exchange for Apple to be able to slow the Microsoft juggernaut. And, with Linux already in the space, Apple's would be a two-front war for dominance.

Fortunately for Microsoft, Apple knows even less about marketing to the enterprise than Microsoft does about marketing to the consumer.

I just don't see such a move in the cards.

One reader gives her perspective on Microsoft's latest patent situations:

You asked, "Are software patents given too easily and enforced too rigorously, or do inventors deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labors?"

I believe the answer is Yes, Yes and Yes. But, I keep hearing stories that support both sides of the issue. What burned Microsoft in the i4i case is that they had collaborated with them for some time before implementing the XML solution. I saw some samples of both on a site and, in my opinion, there was no question that Microsoft had copied the look and feel of the i4i application. On the other hand, I saw that Apple actually tried to patent multitouch. Patent (or would it be copyright?) the code required to parse those gestures into commands but, c'mon, actually trying to patent a finger movement? Gimme a break! Apple is now attempting to patent a method of determining if an OS in one of their devices is genuine. Isn't that what Windows Genuine Advantage does already? Oops! It sounds like I'm anti-Apple. I'm not. My family has two iPads and three iPods and we love all of them. Well, maybe love is too strong a word.

Inventors DO deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labors. But, do you believe that the guy that actually did the inventing sees any of the fruits of their labors? They usually are required to sign over the rights to their employer for anything they invent. They might get some sort of "bonus" as the corporation that they work for sees all the profits. Just ask the inventor of Velcro how that turned out. Or the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. He finally got some money from Ford after several years (and some very expensive lawsuits) but not before he had exhausted all his assets.
- Dana

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Posted by Doug Barney on 10/15/2010 at 1:18 PM


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