The Department of Justice won, Microsoft lost, and the consensus is that the ruling will have little effect on the computer industry because Microsoft's lawyers can slog an appeal through various courtrooms for years.
So why did the DOJ bother, and why should you care? Here's one justification for the whole circus: the case might encourage computer professionals to look at Microsoft's role in the industry a little more carefully. It has had that effect around the ComputerWorld Canada offices, and thereby caused us to reverse some previously stated opinions.
It is an often-heard view that Microsoft is being unfairly penalized for its own success. The argument goes like this: work hard, pursue the American Dream, but don't do it too well or the feds will come calling. It has also been said that the additions Microsoft made to Windows - notably the integration of Internet Explorer - are innovations that benefit customers.
Bill Gates has flogged both of these theories for years. The arguments appear to make sense, and similar sentiments have appeared at least twice in this space. The basic premise is that Microsoft should not be criticized for being the best.
On the other side of the fence is the DOJ, which has been investigating Microsoft since 1991, and U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who decided the vendor contravened the Sherman Antitrust Act by illegally integrating IE and Windows, pressuring OEMs, service providers and developers in an effort to crush Netscape Navigator and Sun's Java, and generally committing anticompetitive and predatory acts.
Judge Jackson went on to say that only by viewing the company's various areas of misconduct as a "single, well-coordinated course of action, does the full extent of the violence that Microsoft has done to the competitive process reveal itself."
The Big picture
Jackson makes a good point, because if you look at surface results only, Microsoft offers pretty good products at a decent price, and the company is responsible for many of the efficiencies and joys of the computer age.
But if, as Jackson said, one examines the company's business history, a different picture emerges. This image is one of questionable dealings, pressure tactics and stretching of the truth.
One microscope through which to get this view is The Microsoft File, The Secret Case Against Bill Gates. Written by journalist Wendy Goldman Rohm, the 1998 book is a scathing depiction of Microsoft in general, and of Gates in particular. Among the many intriguing stories in the book are the following:
Microsoft committed to co-developing OS/2 with IBM in 1989, publicly stating it supported the OS as a business platform. At the same time, Microsoft was secretly moving ahead on a version of Windows designed to compete with OS/2. One result of this was that Lotus, among others, wasted a lot of money porting its products to OS/2.