The Department of Justice's assault on Microsoft is perhaps the most dangerous threat to your computing freedom since the computer was invented. The real and potential ramifications are frighteningly pregnant with consequences that will be felt by virtually every sector of the PC industry and the Internet itself, yet few are rallying to Microsoft's defense.
Well, enjoy the Internet while you have it, because if the Government wins its legal assault on Microsoft it will only be a matter of time before the Department of Commerce or some other such bureaucracy will be running it. If you think that's a good thing, you probably also love the success of Amtrak, public schools, and the even-handedness of the Internal Revenue Service. And if you don't think this is possible, read on.
The heart of the battle is Microsoft's planned integration of its Internet Explorer into the Windows 98 operating system. The Department of Justice says this is wrong because it would stiffle competition and propel Microsoft to monopoly status. There are at least two things wrong with this logic. First, it just isn't true, and second, there's nothing wrong with integrating software.
As Investor’s Business Daily pointed out, Microsoft "...has more than 85% of the world’s personal computer operating system business. That’s certainly a dominant position. But it isn’t a monopoly. If consumers want, they can buy a computer from Apple. Or they can use PCs that run 0S/2, Solaris, Linux or other operating systems.... And of course, not all computers are, in the strict sense, PCs. Firms such as Oracle and Sun Microsystems, whose chief executives are among Gates’ biggest bashers, have done quite well for themselves serving their high-end markets."
N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University pointed out that the word monopoly has a strict, legal definition which Microsoft fails to meet. "[As] a monopolist, Microsoft flunks many key tests. Its products go down in price. It doesn't restrict supply. And other software makers have found having a predominant operating system to write software for lets them thrive." "What Microsoft has delivered is pretty much what most people want," wrote Virginia Postrel of Reason: "...a way to use computers easily, for many different purposes. Its software isn't always elegant, but that's the criterion of programming elites, not everyday users. And though Microsoft is clearly the big kid on the block, it has enabled, and encouraged, lots of other software developers. Microsoft accounts for a mere 4 percent of industry revenue. As Eamonn Sullivan of PC Week notes, 'A lot of companies are making a lot of money on the ubiquity of Windows, providing users with a lot of choice where they want it--on their desktops. That isn't the expected result of a monopoly.'"
Business Week's Paul Craig Roberts went to the source of the case. "There is no antitrust case against Microsoft. What is happening is that Sun Microsystems, Netscape Communications, and Novell are trying to achieve through antitrust politics what they could not achieve in the marketplace. Economists have known for decades that antitrust is what losers do to winners." David E.Y. Sarna of The Salt Lake Tribune tried to keep things in perspective by pointing out, "While Microsoft posted revenues of $11.4 billion for 1997, poor little Sun posted revenues of $8.6 billion for the 1997 fiscal year." "Unfortunately," wrote Gary S. Becker, also of Business Week, "these issues have been obscured by the bashing of a company that is unpopular with both competitors and politicians."
Even so, "Consumers have shown their approval of Microsoft by preferring its products to available alternatives," wrote Martin Wolf of The Financial Times. "Yet anyone who examines the Senate's judiciary committee hearings can see it is not consumers, but Microsoft's rivals, whose voice is best represented [by the Justice Department]." But even consumers who don't particularly care for Microsoft would probably agree with Glenn Woiceshyn (The Ottawa Citizen): "The essence of a free market is not perfect competition, but freedom of competition. True competition also includes market strategies, such as conditions of sale, designed to expand market share. If Microsoft can integrate products into one operating system, and offer them cheap, Microsoft and consumers benefit."
The Justice Department's position is that its wrong for Microsoft to integrate and bundle different software programs into a cohesive package. Well excuse me, but exactly where have Janet Reno and her legal beagles at Justice been all these years? Doesn't anyone over there at Justice remember when you had a word processing program, a spell-checking program, a thesauraus program, a line-drawing program, a clip-art viewer and copier, and a whole host of other "third-party" add-on utilities which, combined, did not equate to one of today's state-of-the-art word processing/desktop publishing programs? Did anyone at Justice even think of telling WordPerfect or Word or Freedom of the Press or WordStar or PrintShop that they couldn't integrate these utilities into their word processing/desktop publishing programs? Of course not! And why not? Because integration was, and still is, a good thing for consumers, that's why!
ZDNN's David Coursey said it all when he wrote, "Preventing Microsoft from building an integrated Windows and browser is wrong -- for customers, for the Internet industry and, of course, for Microsoft. The only company it would seem to help is Netscape." So what, exactly, is Microsoft's crime? Professor George Bittlingmayer, University of California - Davis, tried to pin it down in Investor's Business Daily, "The struggles of trust busters at the turn of the century created these terms. Just being big wasn't going to get you sued, but if you did something naughty, then you'd get broken up. And once political pressure heats up, you can always find something anti-competitive in a situation like this. In Microsoft's case, its "naughty" activity is charging prices [for its browser] that are too low."
But the zealots at Justice do not subscribe to a cohesive logic or they would apply it evenly and consistently. Michael Surkan of PC Week pointed out their inconsistency. "If Microsoft is forced to take Internet Explorer out of Windows 95 or Windows NT, then by all rights Sun should have to stop shipping Solaris 2.6 with the HotJava browser, as it does now. Isn't Sun being 'anti-competitive' with its inclusion of E-mail software and Web servers in Solaris 2.6 for intranets? The same arguments that are leveled at Microsoft for making life difficult for users could easily be made about Sun and Novell."
To those who have been swayed by the politics of envy into believing that Bill Gates and Microsoft are the incarnate of evil itself simply because they earn more money than they can count, Janet Reno is doing the right thing. And that is their sole criteria -- that Microsoft and Gates are rich! As The Wall Street Journal remarked, "Microsoft is where the money is, so Microsoft is the target”
Columnist and economist Thomas Sowell correctly pointed out, "Government is the ultimate repository of force in a society. That force can be used to see that a general framework of laws is followed and that contracts between private individuals are enforced. This is basically an umpire's role. Free market economists are against the government being a player-umpire. In some sports there are player-managers but in no sports are there player-umpires. The two roles are incompatible." Is anyone in Washington, D.C. listening?
If you are so into the political left's politics of envy that you believe Bill Gates and Microsoft should be smashed for their success on general principle, then Janet Reno's Justice Department is your saviour. If not, then consider this. The United States Government is not exactly known for its moderation. Once it gets involved, it really gets involved. It got involved in local schools with school lunch programs. Now it's involved in virtually every aspect of education, and the result of its activism has been a near-total collapse of discipline, morality and education itself. Do you really want the Government deciding what software can be sold inside the same box? Do you really want the Government involved in the way you view the Internet? This whole debate is, after all, about an Internet browser, and if you think that doesn't really matter, you're not even thinking.
If the Federal Government's involvement in local public schools can be viewed as a model for its activism, and the Internal Revenue Service can be viewed as the ultimate power of its bureaucracy, then do you really want it sticking its heavy foot in this particular door? Do you trust it to step in, slap Microsoft's hand (whether deserved or not), and walk away?
The very least you can do is echo the concerns expressed on this page. Discuss them with a friend or colleague, and don't allow the discussion to degenerate into a Bill Gates- or Microsoft-bashing session. This isn't about personal success or wealth or business strategies, but about the future of software evolution. The hour is late and it's time to make up your mind about what is right and what is wrong in this matter. If you feel like doing more, so much the better. Write, email or call your Congressional Representative, your Senators and President Clinton and tell them you want the Department of Justice to keep its hands off Microsoft and let the marketplace decide how you get your browser.
If you have a web page, you can display a "Hands off Microsoft" button and link it to this page. Simply right-click on one of the "Hands Off Microsoft" buttons on this page and save it to your computer as "handsoff.gif". Then upload it to your web page's server and display it on your web page with the following HTML code:
|<center><a href="http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/handsoff.html"><img src="handsoff.gif" width=154 height=54 border=1 alt"Hands Off Microsoft"></a></center>|
Marco den Ouden of Investing: Canada Guide has started his own campaign, using the "ribbon campaign" technique used in so many other causes. Indeed, Marco points out there are now over 170 "ribbon campaigns" active, which one can inspect at Carolyn Gargaro's Ribbon Campaigns Page. Marco's Free Market in Technology Ribbon Campaign is a welcome addition in the fight to keep the U.S. Government's hands out of the software industry.
Another Canada-based campaign in support of Microsoft and against the DoJ litigation is the Netizens for the Freedom to Innovate. Pay them a visit if you have time.