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Microsoft woes draw mixed reactions

Rogue Valley computer executives speak out

Though he spent nearly a decade at Apple Computer, Ashland's Alan Oppenheimer hasn't been celebrating the legal blow dealt this week to Microsoft Corp., his old company's nemesis.

A federal judge on Monday ruled that Microsoft violated antitrust laws by maintaining its monopoly power by anticompetitive means and by trying to monopolize the Web browser market.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson now must decide what punishment to mete out. He'll spend the next few months crafting a remedy. Microsoft intends to appeal the verdict.

Oppenheimer was at Apple during its legal battles of the 1980s and early 1990s with Microsoft, when each new version of Windows had more of the look and feel of MacIntosh's operating system. He watched Microsoft use its power to push Apple around.

For all that history, Oppenheimer said Tuesday he is ambivalent about Microsoft.

They do some bad things and they do some good things, said Oppenheimer, who owns a MacIntosh software company called Open Door Networks.

He and other Rogue Valley technology leaders had similarly mixed views on how Monday's ruling that Microsoft abused its monopoly power will affect the technology industry. Like national analysts, they said it's too soon to tell what the impact will be, since no decision about Microsoft's future has been made and the company is planning to appeal.

Jim Teece, owner of Ashland software firm Project A, said the ruling won't affect his business or his clients, even though his company specializes in Microsoft-certified software solutions.

Teece said he questions how much it will change things since in many parts of the technology market there is no real competition to be stimulated.

All of this process is for nothing, he said.

Not all are as ambivalent as Oppenheimer and Teece.

Charles McHenry, a founder of the Southern Oregon Technology and Telecommunications Council, said he hopes the government deals harshly with Microsoft.

They can't do enough, he said. If they break up Microsoft, it would be the best thing.

This has been a lock on so many parts of the marketplace for so many years. To loosen that stranglehold at all will have a tremendous benefit.

McHenry said he saw Microsoft's tactics first-hand while working for Quarterdeck Office System, a California company that made an early windowing program that let users run several programs at once.

This company was completely eliminated by Microsoft, he said.

Though Oppenheimer takes no particular pleasure in Microsoft's defeat, he said the ruling makes a great difference for technology's competitive culture. Even the possibility of an anti-trust ruling against Microsoft had begun to have an effect.

People are more emboldened to challenge Microsoft, Oppenheimer said.

If the company is indeed broken up, he said people 20 years from now will probably look back on it like they do the break-up of AT&T -- a change that needed to happen for competition to grow.

It will be very good in the long term, said Oppenheimer. In the short term, there will be pluses and minuses.

As with AT&T, a break-up of Microsoft would have some negative short-term effects, he said. It could, for instance, be confusing to customers who've grown used to Microsoft's products and may resist -- or have trouble -- sorting through additional choices. That scenario certainly played out in the phone industry.

But, for now, he and others say sorting through such matters is premature. So are predictions about how much impact Monday's ruling will have -- especially given the company's intention and legal might to contest it.

It's too soon to tell, Oppenheimer said, because Microsoft is going to appeal forever.