Most of the school technology decision makers who talked with eSchool News had unequivocal reactions to a judge’s June 7 decision to break up software giant Microsoft Corp. Trouble is, their definite opinions ranged from strong support to emphatic disapproval.

Some even said the whole matter is much ado about not much.

“I don’t see a lot of this in the near term. It will be a long time before any of this happens,” said Charlie Reseigner, technology director of the Penn Manor School District in Pennsylvania.

Despite the uncertainty of the appeals process, Reseigner said he agrees with the judge’s decision.

“They were way out of control,” he said of Microsoft. “I think it’s dangerous for one company to have such a heavy hand in information technology.”

Nancy Messmer, director of library and media technology for the Bellingham School District in Washington, wasn’t so sure.

“Essentially, we are puzzled,” she said, trying to assess what the decision might mean for schools. “This is another bit of uncertainty in already uncertain terrain. We use Microsoft products as our backbone and main applications in a completely networked environment, in which every student from the third grade up uses their eMail, internet, and network accounts in the course of their studies.”

Joe Kitchens, superintendent for the Western Heights School District in Oklahoma, was less equivocal.

“I’m worried that we will have a hodge-podge of applications as a result of the government’s decision,” Kitchens said. “I’m really concerned our government may not understand technology as well as it should.”

Experience tells Kitchens that a common platform with common applications makes network convergence possible.

“It may be a noble idea to encourage competition, but I think it is short-sighted,” he said. “Microsoft has done a wonderful job helping us support a converged network, and I’d hate to see that go down the drain.”

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson approved the breakup proposal that had been offered by the federal government and 17 of the 19 states that joined in a suit against the company. He said any other action would simply encourage Microsoft to continue engaging in anticompetitive behavior.

“There is credible evidence … to suggest Microsoft, convinced of its own innocence, continues to do business as it has in the past, and may yet do to other markets what it has already done in the PC operating system and browser markets,” Jackson wrote in ordering the most dramatic antitrust breakup in the United States since AT&T in 1984.

In addition to splitting Microsoft into two companies—one for operating systems and the other for other software and internet properties—Jackson also imposed restrictions on Microsoft’s business practices.

Undaunted by Jackson’s order to break Microsoft in two, company co-founder and chairman Bill Gates continued to assert that Microsoft has not broken antitrust laws. Gates vowed to launch an appeal that could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is the beginning of a new chapter in this case,” Gates said. “We will be appealing this decision, and we believe we have a very strong case on appeal.”

Reseigner said he thinks makers of operating systems that rival Microsoft’s Windows—such as Apple’s Macintosh and the open-source Linux—stand to benefit from the decision.

“This brings out the fact that there are other operating systems out there,” he said. “The more choice for education, the better. I don’t believe in the one-vendor deal. The students we are training aren’t just going to be working on Microsoft systems.”

Bob Moore, director of instructional technology for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, also thought the decision could spur competition in the education market. “It will cause people who are making purchasing decisions to take a look at what other operating systems are out there,” he said.

But Moore worried about the impact the decision might have on Microsoft’s role in K-12 education.

“They have a real strong commitment to education, and I hope that isn’t lost in all of this,” Moore said. He said Microsoft currently offers web sites with lesson plans and activities that correlate to its various software applications: “Teachers are always looking for great ideas and guidance about how they can use software in education.”

Regardless of the reactions, analysts generally agree the ruling will have little immediate impact on consumer and corporate users of Microsoft’s products.

To begin with, Microsoft’s appeal should drag on for at least a year, if not two. And even if Microsoft loses, it would take a while for the actual breakup to produce real change in market dynamics, analysts say.

Microsoft Corp.

http://www.microsoft.com