WASHINGTON -- A court decision to divide Microsoft puts a major crimp in the company's ambitions for a new generation of software that computer users would access from the Internet, analysts say.
If U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's order stands, Microsoft will no longer possess one of its most powerful tools -- the ability to secretly integrate its popular Windows operating system with its other software in a way competitors could not.
Jackson last week ordered the creation of two separate companies -- one for the operating systems and the other for all the rest of Microsoft's software, including its Office suite and its Internet browser.
The ruling would prohibit the two companies from merging their work or even disclosing technical information that wasn't offered to competitors.
That, say analysts, may put Microsoft's new Next Generation Windows Services, or NGWS, a plan to run applications off the World Wide Web, in jeopardy.
''They've always depended upon owning the operating systems and development tools,'' said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with IDC Research in Framingham, Mass. ''The Web came along and surrounded them and gave people another opportunity. Microsoft's NGWS is clearly an attempt to take control back.''
Microsoft has put a lot of effort into NGWS, even modifying the company's mission statement to delete references to the personal computer. That's because NGWS shifts the focus from software stored on the PC to applications that run over the Internet.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has vowed a vigorous appeal that likely will end in the Supreme Court.
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