You've probably been following the news about Microsoft's antitrust lawsuit. For 2 years now, we've been overwhelmed by ongoing coverage of the case, and during the past couple of weeks the reports have multiplied. As a Web administrator, you might think that the charges against Microsoft—commingling applications and monopolizing the industry—affect only PC makers, not you. After all, you just want to do your job. But the antitrust case does have enormous implications for administrators.

Can you imagine a world without Windows on the desktop? Or even more frightening, can you imagine a world with hundreds of Windows versions on the desktop? By rejecting the settlement between the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Microsoft, nine states and the District of Columbia have created a situation that might just make these frightening scenarios a reality.

The nonsettling states and the District of Columbia are seeking (through litigation) substantially stiffer penalties than those laid out in Microsoft's settlement with the federal government. The proposed federal deal would place restrictions on Microsoft's business practices but have only a marginal impact on the company's software—which seems to be a logical settlement. But the nonsettling states and the District of Columbia have demanded that the court place restrictions on how Microsoft develops and releases software.

During a February 8 deposition, a lawyer for the nonsettling states and the District of Columbia queried Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the ramifications of these sanctions, which seek a "modified version" of Windows. Ballmer said he wouldn't "know how to comply" with the states' proposal. "I actually think we would need to withdraw the Windows product from the marketplace. That ... would be the only way I understand to comply with the proposal as put forward by the nonsettling states," Ballmer said.

Recently, Tom Miller, attorney general of Iowa, one of the nine nonsettling states, described the revisions as "only minor modifications," with one exception: a stripped-down version of Windows. "As a result of discovery, we have concluded that, in addition to Microsoft's fully integrated version of the operating system, the company should be required to offer a modular version that will allow equipment manufacturers and others to make their own decisions on adding middleware products that consumers want such as browsers or media players," Miller said in a statement. "Microsoft therefore would not be required to provide numerous versions of the operating system."

In my opinion, Miller's statement sums up the ignorance of lawyers who try to better the world with technology edicts from on high. Can you imagine the resulting chaos if Microsoft is forced to produce a stripped-down modular version of its OS in which anyone—not just hardware OEMs—can add their own spice to the soup? To administrators, just the thought of supporting a Dell version of Windows, a Compaq version of Windows, an Intuit version of Windows, and Johnny Choi's computer paradise version of Windows is a nightmare. And forget about hardware compatibility and Windows' hardware autodiscovery; we'd end up with the Dell NIC for Windows and the Gateway USB modem for Windows.

In court papers filed on March 1, Microsoft pointed out that the nonsettling states' proposed remedy could force the company to pull Windows from the market. As a result, most newly purchased desktop PCs wouldn't ship with an OS. Even worse, Microsoft would no longer provide support for desktop OSs.

Microsoft has been diversifying its product line for some time. The enterprise server line is entrenching itself, and the recently released developer tool Visual Studio .NET and the platform applications on which it's built (called the .NET Framework and the Common Language Runtime—CLR) seem poised for domination. In addition, Microsoft recently announced plans for its third vertical software application, a customer relationship management (CRM) system for low- to midrange companies, that adds to the existing vertical suite of Great Plains Accounting and Content Management Server.

You can speculate that Microsoft might become a vertical software company such as Oracle. No doubt the company is tired of dealing with litigation from the nine nonsettling states and the District of Columbia, the European Commission, and other entities. At some point, the fight might no longer be worth the effort. The prospect of the nonsettling states' scenario actually taking place scares me, and it angers me that the attorneys for those states don't seem to comprehend the ramifications of their demands. If the court meets the states' demands, life as we know it for administrators will forever change—and probably not for the better.