Microsoft's monopoly

Antitrust: Government wins case against the software giant, but devising remedy will be hard.

April 05, 2000

SHED NO TEARS for Bill Gates, now that a federal court has declared Microsoft a monopoly.

Any punishment Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson conjures for the software giant will likely leave Mr. Gates richer or, at the very least, no worse off. The judge will have to find more creative solutions to help consumers damaged by Microsoft's practices.

Mr. Gates is a little like Br'er Rabbit in this situation -- facing a penalty that might seem to anyone else like a joy.

Break up Microsoft? Oh, no! Then Mr. Gates would be forced to reap the profits from the sale of units that might qualify for the Fortune 500.

Levy a harsh fine? The horrors! Mr. Gates could write a check (Microsoft has $17 billion in cash) for just about any amount the judge sets.

Moreover, this judgment may be moot by the time the appeals process ends. Technological innovations are coming with such speed that Microsoft today isn't even what it was when the Justice Department began its antitrust investigation. What do you think wireless systems and alternative operating systems like Linux and Java will do to the market?

The only hope for justice here may be to force Microsoft to open its source code to allow other software companies to improve and innovate. Maybe add to that a ban on Microsoft's predatory acquisitions of companies that might compete with it.

The goal should be ensuring that consumers -- now and in the future -- can buy the best software at the best price from the company that offers the best service. That's the way a competitive market place is supposed to operate.

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