Just when Microsoft thought it was safe to ship another OS, relying on major manufacturers to seed the market, comes today’s U. S. Supreme Court decision that manufacturers can mandate minimum prices at retail. The consequence will open up room for new manufacturers and hurt Microsoft.

Freedom from fixed pricing was established in 1911 as part of federal anti-trust reforms. In the dawn of the PC industry, when pioneers Kaypro and Osborne were creating desktop computing, that freedom of dealers to set their own prices was a fact of life. Had IBM and Compaq been able to fix retail pricing on the PC when they entered the market, fewer dealers would have been able to carry those machines, and the rush to dominance by major manufacturers would have been slowed.

What does this turnabout mean to the IT pro? More white box clones in corporate environments, for one. HP won’t be able to resist jacking up the prices of desktops, laptops, and servers, and Dell will quickly follow suit. When the downward price pressure is lessened, Apple will raise its prices as well. The door opens for system integrators to regain some of the corporate market, as CIOs find that next year they’re getting less computing for the same dollar they did today, but they didn’t get any more budget to buy spendier name-brand boxes.

As white box clone dealers gain more business, look for clone part vendors (FIC, Asus, et al.) to spend more in marketing its own machines through smaller dealers. The Microsoft OS sales will slow even further, as white box clone dealers have no loyalty to Redmond and can just as easily assemble a productivity suite based on Open Office and Ubuntu, or AbiWord and PC Linux 2007. Web-based applications grow faster, as without the Windows/Office lockstep combination, there’s more room for diversity.

Will your IT department budget more for name-brand machines, are you thinking about white boxes, or is this just a rosy scenario? Join the discussion.