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Experts: Microsoft Split May Push Standards Compliance

As Microsoft Corp. does battle to overturn the Department of Justice's calls for a divestiture, some industry experts say a breakup of the software giant will have positive ramifications for the future of Web development.

To date, Microsoft's participation in the standards-setting arena has been lax, according to said Carl Cargill, Sun Microsystems' director of standards. Yet, if chiseled into smaller operations, Sun and other rivals believe it will be forced to become more of a team player.

"If you are not market dominant, it is easy to participate in the standards game. If Microsoft splits, it will be competing against companies that are the same size. The loss of market dominance could give the company incentive to become more involved in the standards area," Cargill noted. "Therefore, it will need to become more involved in standards setting to make friends. When it came to html coding, Microsoft was very involved with the standards process. Why? Because it was not the leader. Microsoft can be a very good player when it is not dominating the market. The diversification of the company would be a good thing for the industry overall."

A breakup of Microsoft may come into play in establishing new browsers, according to Tim Bray of Textuality, an independent writing/programming operation in Vancouver, Canada.

"For the Internet to grow and prosper, there really has to be more than one browser. If the DOJ proposal leads to more than one browser, then it is a good thing. If Microsoft diversifies, there is a greater chance of that happening," he said. "For any industry to grow and prosper, there has to be competition. I think that the diversification of Microsoft may lead to more competition and that is certainly good news for the Internet industry overall."

Mark Finkle, an Atlanta-based system administrator, agrees.

"Additional code is often needed to support alternative browsers. At minimum Internet Explorer and Netscape should fully adhere to all standards with no non-standard extensions," he said. "Other than some of the current html standards, Microsoft has had little involvement in the majority standards. When all players are involved in the creation of standards many more ideas come to the table. In my opinion, cutting the company into three pieces: -- OS, applications and Internet -- would be what we need to rekindle the competition needed to both encourage development of new technologies and reduce prices."

Steve Champeon, senior technical consultant and vice president of hesketh.com inc., said the ruling would likely have few effects.

"Given the way things are, or will be if the DOJ ruling is acted upon in as expeditious a manner as possible, it doesn't change much. We still don't have meaningful 100 percent standards support. We are still wasting billions of dollars a year on unnecessary workarounds, and we're still pushing all of the vendors to support standards - regardless of whether they are under investigation for being an arrogant monopoly.

"The DOJ ruling, if anything, may help prevent other abuses, but it isn't going to make up for the past three years of nonchalance and damage done to the Internet by Microsoft's and Netscape's policies. We are looking towards the future, and the trouble we're in now is all about decisions made over the past three years," he said.

Champeon believes the only thing that will set a different course in the future is for all competitors to take steps now to make their products fully compliant with existing Web standards.

Jeffrey Zeldman, founder, Happy Cog Productions, took a pragmatic approach.

"I don't know if the diversification will happen, and if it does happen, I am not sure that it will be a good thing for standards. We want standards in all browsers; Microsoft is capable of delivering that in its present position. It's just a question of following through on the company's commitment to support st