monopolistic, some banking industry technologists are inclined to favor.
Bankers and their technology suppliers were not directly affected, and therefore were not very vocal, about the issues that played out in federal court in Washington. But financial companies are major users of Microsoft Windows operating systems and would be at least indirectly affected by any court- or settlement-mandated restructuring of Microsoft Corp.
Though the banking industry in years past found itself at odds with Microsoft and resisting its perceived attempts to enter the financial services business, this is also an industry that hungers for a basic level of technical standardization. The Windows operating system and variations such as NT are viewed in that context as useful levelers of complexity.
"I hate to see us messing with a good thing," said Michael R. Fitzgerald, president of directbanking.com, the newly renamed Internet offering of Salem (Mass.) Five Cents Savings Bank, an early innovator in on-line services.
Mr. Fitzgerald called Microsoft "a remarkable company with remarkable products. We need a lot of the software it provides, and I don't see folks anywhere close to doing what it is doing on some products."
"We're not shaken by the decision," said Ted Spooner, chairman and chief executive officer of Corillian Corp. in Beaverton, Ore., which has built a fast-growing Internet banking software business around core technology from Microsoft. "Clearly, businesses rely on NT and Windows in such a huge way that it will not go away."
Of the year-long trial that culminated Friday in "findings of fact" adverse to Microsoft by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, veteran bank technology consultant M. Arthur Gillis said, "It was a wonderful exercise in academics, but in the trenches who gives a damn?"
Mr. Gillis, president of Computer Based Solutions Inc. in Dallas, added, "At least with Windows we have something of a standard."
Bankers bristled back in 1994 when Microsoft made its abortive attempt to acquire Intuit Inc., an attempt that was viewed as an attempt to control on-line access to financial services. (That merger agreement was quashed by the same Justice Department antitrust division basking in the current victory.) But over time, Microsoft mended fences and even compromised with competitors, as in the case of the Open Financial Exchange specification for home banking. Intuit and Checkfree Corp. agreed on that effort, and they in turn decided to reconcile their system with International Business Machines Corp.'s Gold.
Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 95/97 operating systems currently are in use as branch servers at more than half of banks with at least $1 billion of deposits, according to GartnerGroup Financial Services. They are expected to power 73% by 2001.
James B. Moore, vice president at GartnerGroup, said, "The bottom line is that Microsoft is so damn good at marketing." It is successful at persuading independent software providers to write applications according to Microsoft operating system standards. "If all your applications are moving in that direction, that's where you're going to go," he said.
One drawback of Windows NT has been that it is not powerful enough to run mission-critical operations at the biggest banks, Mr. Moore said. Partly for this reason, the impact of Judge Jackson's expected final ruling on banks should be slight in the near term, he said.
"If you were talking about an IBM or an Andersen Consulting, where banks were using them as a primary contractor to implement mission-critical applications, then you would see some very negative impact," he said.
Even a radical outcome of the court action -- the breaking out of the operating systems from the rest of the Redmond, Wash., software company -- might be a nonevent for customers. "The operating system part that we do business with would not be affected," Mr. Spooner said.
"I don't think anyone has suffered as a result of Microsoft," Mr. Gillis said. "In fact, the only place I disagreed with the judge was when he claimed the public had been harmed. I don't see that at all."
D.R. Grimes, CEO of Net.Bank of Atlanta, said history tells him to take the ruling in stride.
"If you look at significant antitrust cases like AT&T Corp. and IBM, neither caused long-term disruption to the telecommunications and technology industries," he said. "In the end there will continue to be technological innovation." ?