On March 8, Intel announced it has reached a settlement on anti-trust charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission. Before the terms were even public, reports surfaced that Microsoft is discussing a settlement of its problems with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Settlements in both cases would be welcome. It’s much better for business to be done in the marketplace than in courtrooms.
But do these settlements mean that nothing has changed, or the government was wasting its time?
I don’t think so. The struggle has changed Intel and Microsoft in profound ways, and these changes will be felt in the marketplace for years to come. The “WinTel” partners must henceforward be more cautious in their dealings, and more transparent in their announcements. Both companies have had to hire more lawyers, who’ve forced changes in the corporate cultures.
Intel rivals will no longer accept bullying over issues of intellectual property. (Is it a coincidence that AMD’s market share in some areas now rivals that of Intel? I don’t think so.)
At Microsoft, the changes are even more profound. The growth of easy profits through bundling will end. Lawyers will no longer let the engineers give you a Web server with NT, or a full e-commerce engine with a plain Web server. The flow of information from Redmond to favored resellers will also slow, and the threat of legal action will now hover over every meeting you hold with a Microsoft-ie like stale beer after a frat party.
Put simply, Microsoft is becoming what IBM was, whether it wants to be that way or not. That will mean new opportunities for small companies of all kinds. It will also mean life in the marketplace is going to be a lot messier.
Is that a good result? Should the government have let these monopolies continue to grow, regardless of collateral damage?
What do you think? Let’s talk about it.