Microsoft Monopoly Power

Did Windows force Office upon users,
or was it the other way around?

© Conrad Weisert, Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago
7 November, 1999

NOTE: This document may be circulated or quoted from freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.

Although the ruling this week that Microsoft wields monopoly power was hardly surprising, there are hundreds of opinions about (a) just how that power is manifested and (b) the degree to which it harms business and professional users

Many complain that Microsoft's operating system monopoly gave it an unfair advantage in the word-processor and spreadsheet-processor markets. Users who preferred Word Perfect, Ami Pro, or Describe were compelled, they claim, to convert to Word, simply because Word, along with its companion Office suite components, was so closely integrated with OLE/Active-X and other Windows-specific technology.

That may well have have been the case for some users, but I observed just the opposite in a number of organizations. Reluctant users were forced to install Windows 95 or Windows NT simply because they were already committed to Word and Excel.

Five years ago Windows 95 ("Chicago") and OS/2 were locked in a close contest for supremacy in the desktop and server markets. I recall no one well acquainted with both who considered Windows 95 the better operating system. Nevertheless, most OS/2 users abandoned their system in favor of Windows XX because the new version (6.0) of Microsoft's Office suite wouldn't run under OS/2, and they couldn't afford to convert to another vendor's word- and spreadsheet-processor.

To be sure IBM bears the principal blame for the demise of OS/2, but Microsoft's near monopoly in the Office suite surely delivered the death blow. Should Microsoft be split into an operating system company and a separate prodcutivity-tools company? Would that have made a difference in the operating system wars?

Well, if Office development had been in a separate company from Windows, can you imagine its developers being directed to make sure their software wouldn't work under OS/2? Can you imagine their management suddenly decommitting a previously announced version of Word for OS/2? Or can you imagine the Office company ignoring Unix altogether?


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