DOJ Ends Ten Years of Microsoft Oversight

When the Department of Justice and Microsoft hammered out the terms of their agreement in 2001, one of the strictures was that the software giant would be subject to official DOJ oversight for a period of five years. In 2006, the DoJ opted to extend the term another five years, but the government body won't be doing the same thing again. On May 12, Microsoft will no longer be subject to special federal oversight.

Analysts anticipate we'll see Microsoft making some bolder moves as a result, though no one anticipates a return to the old days. Rob Enderle, principle analyst at Enderle Group, told reports that "Any type of consent decree like the one that was over IBM and the one that is over Microsoft limits significantly a company's ability to move," Enderle said. "They have to always be worried that something they are doing or considering or strategizing is going to cross the line or get them in trouble by the folks providing the oversight. The fear of that can tie a company up badly."

Federal oversight, according to Enderle, is sometimes wielded within a company as a sort of corporate boogyman that's trotted out to kill projects a manager might not like or to stall new developments at a company that threaten someone else's entrenched interests. Remove this fear, says Enderle, and you help restore an organization's ability to be creative.

How'd you like to be the guy who has to climb up there and reboot it?

Even if Microsoft wanted to return to its aggressive roots, it would face huge obstacles. In the late 1990s its OS/Office competitors were dead, dying, or too small to matter (Apple eventually became an exception). Netscape was an ant. Windows was making inroads into corporate settings thanks to NT 4.0 and Windows 2000.

Oversight or no, Redmond has genuine competitors now. It can't step out and buy Google in order to dominate search. It can't snuff out iOS or Android to make WP7 automatically dominant in cell phones. Ten years of oversight didn't lead to new competition in the desktop or office space, but it helped make room for new startups to flourish in other areas.

More practically, has stated it will continue to follow all of the rules laid down by the DOJ. Separate agreements Microsoft has reached with the EU or any other nation will continue to be in effect.