Why don’t we have any Baby Bills

image That fateful day … Nov 5 1999.

That was the day, according to this article, that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson had declared that Microsoft was a monopoly. I remember that day. I was just getting ready to start my career at Microsoft. It made me wonder what I might be wading into. As the ruling came down and as the options were being considered it didn’t change my thoughts on joining Microsoft. And, I’d do the same thing all over again. Albeit, with a bit more wisdom now.

The reality is … Not much actually happened on this day. The impact was felt in the ensuing weeks and months.

There were a lot of hallway conversations about what this meant and what it could mean. There were mostly conversations, at least the ones I remember, about keeping it all together. There were also conversations about what it would mean, could mean and become if the company was forced to break up ala Ma Bell in the 80’s.

In retrospect it could have been a great thing.

It could have been a great thing for consumers, but really it could have been a great thing for Microsoft. From a Freedom of Choice and Revenue perspective, respectively. Think about it. If a company wants to continue running Windows 95 forever … they can. Just pay the man.

If the Operating System division was broken way from the Desktop Applications (Office) division and if the Server & Tools division was spun off there could be three distinct revenue engines. When someone wants to run Windows 95 well past it’s prime they can. Just pay for the privilege. Someone may be willing to pay for the security, networking and other technology upgrades. Whether this is right or wrong is irrelevant. Let the customer decide. At some point the Law of Diminishing Returns will kick in. The customer can make that decision. A similar bit of logic can be applied to the Office Suite of products as well as the Server & Tools offerings.

Is this logical? Not to me, but I don’t represent every customer.

Someone would likely pay for the privilege of doing nothing. Meaning, not having to make a change. Eventually, this would come back to haunt them and it would change the way vendors behave, but it possibly could have been a viable model. Of course, we’ll never know now.

The Convicted Monopolist

SNAGHTML234717fI suppose there could be worse things that could be said about someone … even if they are a corporation.Which, as we now know since this historic ruling came down, corporations are people.

Of course, this wasn’t all just one person. Sure, Bill Gates ran the company, but there were over 33,000 employees at the time. Sure, Bill Gates was the very public face of the company and some of the more egregious comments about how to deal with the competition were attributed to him. But, in the end it takes a group of people to run a company and to make decisions. Even though Bill Gates was wildly wealthy at this point and a lot of people seemed to revel in trying to knock him down a peg or two (including a certain judge).

My Thoughts on BillG

Bill Gates, or BillG as everyone on campus knows him, was and is an amazing guy. He worked hard. He took the company in directions that caused heartache and grief. But in the end he built an amazing cash flow machine. One that is still going quite strong as it enters it’s 5th decade.

Let that sink in … it’s 5th decade in business.

There aren’t too many companies that make it this far. There aren’t too many companies that have done so much for the world. Whether you are a Microsoft fan or foe I think you can agree that the work Microsoft as a company has changed our lives. In my case for the better.

Are Baby Bill’s in Microsoft’s Future?

I hope the new Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, is given enough time to let his ideas run their course. I think Microsoft is on a pretty good path these days. The stock is up. The product mix is stabilizing (for the most part). Sure, there have been a few hiccups, but that is to be expected. It will be interesting to see what he might spin off in the coming years. He has the chance to make some Baby Bills now … or perhaps they will be called Baby Satya’s. We shall see.

What do you think?

  • Was the judge wrong?
  • Did Microsoft miss an opportunity to create a new stream of revenue?
  • Were consumers actually harmed?

I know lots of people that I worked with at Microsoft may disagree with my thinking. And, I’m OK with that. I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Jeff is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, and is currently the Chief Evangelist at K2. Tweet him @jshuey or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+ He is active in the Microsoft Partner Community and is the co-founder and President of the IAMCP Seattle chapter.

He is a contributing author to Entrepreneur, Elite Daily, Yahoo, US News and to the Personal Branding Blog.


Image Credit: Time Magazine, andrechinn