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Opening Windows IV: Is the relevant market a dying market?

Like Microsoft says, the judge's problem will probably go away anyway

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Special Report It's important that Microsoft's biggest rivals don't want to compete with Microsoft directly in the client space, because this fact is of deep significance to what the judge sees the problem as being. Prior to getting on to the juicy bits detailing sundry Microsoft hoodlumisms Judge Jackson's findings of fact define a relevant market. This is the market for Intel-based PC client operating systems, and it's the one Microsoft has a monopoly of, he says. He does not include servers, appliances, Macs (he gives the Mac a nod, indicating you might want to include it, but it still wouldn't matter much). Judge Jackson's relevant market is therefore precisely the market Sun et al don't think will be relevant in a couple of years time. If they wanted Windows source access they'd want it largely for use in products that are outside the relevant market, so from the point of view of injecting competition into the relevant market the judge should conclude they're not relevant. Got that? And although our friends in the open source movement could be in the relevant market, they're also outside it. By defining Linux as largely a server OS Judge Jackson defines it as largely outside, and understates its capabilities as a future desktop competitor. But Linus Torvalds himself has been taking about a future of lower footprint, appliance-style implementations. He seems to think Linux Everywhere will happen to a great extent via new platforms that obsolete the old Wintel model, and he's hardly alone in taking that view. If open source's future also lies outside the relevant market, then it's not a neat solution to Jackson's highly focussed version of the problem either. Is it possible to maybe promote a couple of Linux distributions in order to build competition in the PC client market in the real term? How could you do that without letting the whole thing escape, and turning into something much bigger than the narrow problem you meant to solve? What Linux distributors would be willing to co-operate in such an exercise anyway? The bottom line, as Jackson and the DoJ will no doubt find when they get to it, is that yes, Microsoft does have a monopoly, and does compete unfairly in the relevant market. But the relevant market is becoming history. This is actually what quite a lot of Microsoft testimony said, although the extent to which Microsoft really believes it to be true is doubtful. Any action Jackson takes is therefore likely to be a matter of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The possibility of Microsoft competing unfairly in order to establish a monopoly in future markets might be addressed in any measures he takes to get a lid on the company's interesting business methods, but as Microsoft clearly doesn't have a monopoly in these markets yet, that's a tricky one too. Picture it in a couple of months time, after they've tried and failed to cut a deal with Microsoft. Judge Jackson, the states attorneys general and the DoJ reps sit around a table strewn with crumpled paper, abandoned scribbles and empty coffee cups. Joel Klein is snoring gently. Judge Jackson rubs his eyes, heaves a great sigh and says: "Screw it - why don't we just hang the bastards and have done?" ® Back to first part: Special report: If the judge opened Windows source, would anybody come? Complete Register Trial coverage

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