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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World Awaiting Answers To Impact on Consumers




NEW YORK -- The effect on consumers of Wednesday's decision to split the Microsoft Corp. into two companies remains unclear, in large part because Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's orders are on hold until the appeals process is concluded, which could take years.


However, Wednesday's order also included behavioral remedies that could go into effect within 90 days. Among these are changes that could have a more immediate, although still indirect, effect on consumers.


For example, Microsoft no longer would be able to require PC makers to buy a copy of Windows for every computer made, regardless of whether consumers want Windows. Because PC makers pass the cost of the software along to consumers, the price of some computers could fall, especially for inexpensive PCs in which the operating system is a more significant part of the price.


Nor will Microsoft be able to compel computer makers to bundle other Microsoft products with the PC, like the Microsoft mouse, as a condition for favorable treatment.


But a spokesman for the Dell Computer Corp. said his company would continue to provide Microsoft products because customer demand for them remains exceptionally high. The demand for such products as Windows and Microsoft Office is not expected to abate just because the software comes from two different companies, he said.


Judson True, assistant program director at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, noted that both companies would have monopolies in their respective areas. "When you've got one really big head, and then two really big heads, I don't understand what's going to really change.


"Windows drives me crazy," he added. "I can't imagine it getting much worse."


Although it is easy to find people frustrated by Microsoft software, it is harder to find businesses willing to abandon it. Information systems managers are reluctant to change software once it has been installed and employees have been trained to use it. Microsoft's hold on the operating systems and major applications used by business computers is secure, analysts say.


And since many consumers are familiar with Microsoft software from using it at work, they have adopted it at home. As a result, demand for Microsoft products is expected to remain strong regardless of the eventual outcome of the antitrust case.


"It's not going to change my life at all," said John Kelley, a PC user "because I'm going to persevere through using Windows 98."


Kelley said he also used Corel WordPerfect GroupWise, a collection of application programs that compete against Microsoft Office.


Microsoft Office dominates the application software category as thoroughly as Windows does in operating systems. Corel has doubled its market share over the last year, which indicates some gains against Microsoft, but it still has less than 1 percent of the market.


"I have my own personal and emotional opinion, which is that I frankly would like to see the company split up," said Peter Carson, who works at the law firm of Cooley Godward in San Francisco. "But if I look at it functionally, I don't think a split will have much of an impact on me."