Wired Windows. Dave Kearns

While watching the second round of the NHL playoffs last month (my favourite teams: the San Jose Sharks and whoever is playing the Detroit Red Wings) when it occurred to me that the NHL might provide a good metaphor for the Microsoft Corp. antitrust hearings.

In hockey, whenever someone is caught doing something against the rules, they go to the penalty box (usually for two minutes – 1/30th of a game – but it could be longer) giving their opponent a 6-to-5 advantage in personnel on the ice. That’s very similar to sending someone to jail, so there is some symmetry.

When the illegal activity is particularly heinous, though, the league can impose an additional penalty in the form of player suspensions – generally one to 10 games in which the player is not allowed to participate. The player also forfeits his pay for the suspended games. On top of that, of course, fines can be levied.

So here’s the plan. The courts suspend Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. They can have no contact with Microsoft or its employees and must leave the “arena.”

They also are not allowed to use a network-connected computing device (that could include cell phones, but we’d need an appeals court to rule on it) for, oh, three to five years.

There’s even precedent in computer-based crime (and Microsoft’s conduct – for which they were found guilty – is definitely computer-based crime).

Kevin Mitnick, perhaps the best-known convicted computer criminal (see www. kevinmitnick.com), was sentenced to time in prison and was forbidden access to computers (not just networked computers, any computers) for three years after leaving prison.

For those who prefer a non-hockey analogy, consider professional baseball (about as far from hockey as you can get!): when the team “manager” insults one of the umpires they are tossed out of the game and they can no longer take part.

It’s even possible for them to be further suspended for additional games, with no contact with the team or players, but the team is allowed to continue to play its schedule.

So the bottom line? Forget breaking up the company; that would take a lifetime of litigation. Instead, just suspend Gates and Ballmer and forbid them to access a computing device for three years or so while letting the company continue.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.