Monday, October 27, 1997

Week of 10/27/1997

Target: Microsoft
Anti-trust? Or Anti-Success?
- by David Matthews 2

Some would say Microsoft had it coming.

This week, the Department Of Justice filed suit in federal court that the software giant has violated a 1995 consent decree concerning licensing practices. Specifically, Janet Reno is balking at how Microsoft is requiring PC manufacturers to carry it’s Internet Explorer browser as part of the Windows 95 operating system.

The timing of this action, however, comes within weeks after the debut of Internet Explorer 4.0. Microsoft’s newest browser is not just a stand-alone browser, but integrates itself within the operating system more than any of its earlier versions. The bookmarks, for instance, can be found on the "Start" button instead of having to go to the browser first. Searching the "My Computer" icon can now be done as a web page instead of the classic plain window. Even the desktop can be used to display web pages, stock reports, weather, or even display GIF or JPEG images, in what Microsoft calls an "Active Desktop." All of which the competition (Netscape) can’t provide.

No wonder why the competition is screaming "foul!"

But is it really violating anti-trust laws?

Let’s be brutally honest here. Microsoft’s Windows is the king of PC operating systems. Period. Sure, there’s still IBM’s OS/2 Warp, but how many people are willing to swear their computer by it? Or worse yet, how many programmers would be willing to swear their software by it? No, if you want PC software, it’s either designed for Windows 3.x, Windows 95, or Windows NT.

Naturally Microsoft is playing hardball with the browsers. Bill Gates and Microsoft got caught napping when it came to the Internet, which played off heavily for companies like Netscape and Sun Microsystems. While Microsoft was trying to create its own online service, Netscape created an Internet browser at the start of the Internet fervor. While Microsoft was trying to come up with its own browser, Sun created a programming language called Java that, according to its own PR, was a universal language for the Internet. "Write once, read anywhere." Sound familiar?

Interesting, then, to hear that when Microsoft plays catch-up, the competition screams "MONOPOLY!" Why isn’t the Department of Justice going after Sun for exercising its exclusive control over Java? Or when Netscape was the standard, why wasn’t Janet Reno’s troops going after them? Perhaps the answer lies not in who is engaging in a "monopoly" than who has the fatter wallet.

Microsoft is a success story that puts all others to shame. Who would have guessed that in the span of two decades that the world of computers would turn a college dropout named Bill Gates into a multi-billionaire that would put even old money in second place? And apparently with success like that comes jealousy. Why else would there be the liberal desire for what they call "income redistribution"?

But perhaps there are other reasons behind this suit. After all, Microsoft has told the Clinton Administration to drop dead at least twice. The first time came when Microsoft took part in the lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act. The second came just this month, when Microsoft officially sided against the President’s anti-encryption policy. If the IRS has a questionably partisan sense of timing when it comes to auditing Paula Jones, it doesn’t take too much of an imagination to speculate that the DOJ is suing Microsoft for purely political reasons either.

That’s not to say there may not be clear and credible evidence of anti-trust violations. If the claims by Compaq and others are true, and Microsoft has engaged in essentially corporate bullying tactics, let the facts come out in a court of law, not the court of public opinion.

But enough speculation. Janet Reno says that Microsoft should tell their users they can use any browser they want? NO KIDDING! Maybe Reno should look at who is STILL ruling in the browser department. It isn’t Microsoft! Janet Reno wants Microsoft to tell people how to remove IE if they want to? Guess what? It only takes a couple of mouse clicks to the "Add/Remove Programs" icon to do that!

Perhaps they use nothing but OS/2 Warp at the DOJ? Or worse yet, maybe Apple II and the occasional Tandy TRS-80?

If Janet Reno wants a quick solution, I have one for her. Perhaps Microsoft should add a new program called the "Sheep" feature, where clicking it brings the following message:

"Dear Microsoft Users,

"The United States Department Of Justice is requiring us to inform you of some things you may not be aware of. They believe that you are nothing but sheep, following whatever program we provide for you. We, of course, believe you are more intelligent that that, but they keep taking us to court on that basis. So we have no choice but to send this message to any sheep-like users out there.

"You may not be aware of several programs that come with Windows that you can include or delete at your leisure. We are letting you know now that you can. That is your choice, and we won’t be hurt in the least if you do.

"However, according to the US Department Of Justice, you are unable to do that. Therefore, in all fairness to them and our competition, we will give you the chance right now.

"Click on the button below, and all things Microsoft will go away. Everything we have included that has the name ‘Microsoft’ on it will be removed from your system, save of course, for your core operating system. That way you will be free to install any and all programs you want from our competition without any guilt."

There! A lawyer-like solution to a mess that was created by lawyers!

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