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As we noted a couple weeks ago, Microsoft’s landmark U.S. antitrust settlement expires today. Much has changed in the decade since the settlement was reached and there’s no question that the Redmond company isn’t in the same position it was. The rise of Google and Facebook, the resurgence of Apple, and Microsoft’s mobile struggles are just a few pieces of evidence.

Microsoft’s own missteps often get the blame. But what role did the antitrust settlement play? It’s an interesting question to ponder given the widespread criticism of the deal when it was reached, from people who wanted the government to crack down harder on the company.

In that way, this new statement from the U.S. Justice Department, marking the end of the settlement, is a fascinating exercise in the principles of cause and effect. Here’s the key excerpt.

The final judgment proved effective in protecting the development and distribution of middleware products and prevented Microsoft from continuing the type of exclusionary behavior that led to the original lawsuit.  Microsoft no longer dominates the computer industry as it did when the complaint was filed in 1998.  Nearly every desktop middleware market, from web browsers to media players to instant messaging software, is more competitive today than it was when the final judgment was entered.   In addition, the final judgment helped create competitive conditions that enabled new kinds of products, such as cloud computing services and mobile devices, to develop as potential platform threats to the Windows desktop operating system.

Since the entry of the final judgment, there have been a number of developments in the competitive landscape relating to middleware and to personal computer (PC) operating systems generally that suggest that the final judgment accomplished its goal of fostering competitive conditions among middleware products, unimpeded by anticompetitive exclusionary obstacles erected by Microsoft.

As it happens, the end of the Microsoft deal comes at a time of increased antitrust scrutiny for Google. The New York Times reported this weekend on the revealing emails that turned up in one case against the search giant. But the emails also suggest that Google has learned not to put some things in writing.

In other words, there has been at least one tangible outcome from the Microsoft case.

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