Different windows of Microsoft lawsuit

COLUMBUS, Ohio (U-WIRE) — For anyone out there who’s ever kicked themselves for not buying Microsoft stock when it was going for $17 a share, there was a little bit of vindication this week. OK, maybe not vindication, but who can pass up an opportunity to gloat over the misfortunes of Bill Gates, the $30 billion man?
Now that the federal government and 20 state attorneys general have filed far-reaching antitrust lawsuits against the software behemoth Microsoft, what had been a rather bland, behind-the-scenes business negotiation has been transformed into a full-fledged spectator sport. Now it’s time to pull up a seat and see if the feds can make their charges stick against what some have called not just the most successful high-tech company in America, but the most successful company in world history.
What’s at stake depends on who you talk to. For his part, Gates has, from the very beginning, played the part of a man more sinned against than sinning.
Contending that Microsoft is simply being punished for its success, he ominously predicts that any potential government intervention into the personal computer industry will not only seriously hinder research and development, but might well deal a crippling blow to the American economy. And while many analysts may roll their eyes at this, wondering if Gates has finally succumbed to believing in his own press, the implications could indeed be far-reaching.
The federal government, the state attorneys general and Microsoft’s competitors — especially Internet browser rival Netscape — view their case against Bill and company in a very different light. They contend that Microsoft’s dominance of the software and Internet products market is not merely the result of savvy business practices and superior merchandise, but is actually an illegal monopoly which stifles one of the basic principles of capitalism: competition.
Lest anyone get too excited about the prospect of half a dozen “Baby Bills” being created by a breakup of Microsoft, it should be noted that the government’s antitrust suit is nothing like the one that broke up Bell Telephone in the 1980s.
Instead, the “surgical” nature of the suit is what makes it unique and a likely litmus test for things to come.
Everyone involved acknowledges that the high-tech industry changes so rapidly that the rules which effectively policed previous manufacturing industries simply don’t apply. With this in mind the government has tailored its suit to address specific aspects of the computer industry — especially Internet browsers — in the hopes that courts will allow them to push the limits of antitrust laws to effectively regulate the computer industry.
When examining the facts presented by both sides, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for Microsoft. Its “Who, me?” responses to questions and criticism are embarrassingly shameless, and coupled with the impassioned pleas from Netscape that it’s being unfairly bullied out of the market by its rival paint the company in a highly unflattering light. Additionally, anyone who’s ever used their browser is immediately struck by just how easy it is to be directed to a Microsoft-related site, no matter what search key is employed. It’s not that we’re against striving for world domination, but this is getting ridiculous.
For now, though, it’s a game of wait-and-see. The feds made no attempt to block the shipment of Windows 98, so the possibility of an out-of-court settlement still seems feasible. And anyone who remembers the government’s first antitrust suit against a high-tech computer company, IBM, knows just how long this thing can take. That suit lasted for a full 13 years.
And remember, the government lost.

This staff editorial appeared in Thursday’s Ohio State University Lantern.