Microsoft breakup may be premature

Court ruling: Appeals, technology advances could render decision less earth shattering.

June 09, 2000

THE SKY WILL not fall if Microsoft Corp., the most successful company of the Computer Age, is forced to split in two, as U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered on Wednesday. Indeed, there's a long way to go before we even reach that point.

It may be years before a final, definitive verdict is implemented. By that time, the rapid pace of technological innovation could turn this anti-trust battle into a dispute over a largely obsolete computer operating system.

All or part of Judge Jackson's decision could be overturned on appeal at one of two levels. It's even possible the appellate court or the Supreme Court could order Judge Jackson to hear this lawsuit all over again.

The most important aspect of the case, in fact, may not be the ultimate judicial ruling, but the exposure of Microsoft's predatory practices designed to maintain its monopoly on computer operating systems.

Microsoft already has changed the way it conducts business and has curbed its aggressive contract demands on other computer and software companies. From now on, its dealings with competitors will fall under intense public scrutiny.

And even while Microsoft continues to rule computer software and operating systems, the industry is swiftly changing, thanks to the immense popularity of the World Wide Web.

You don't need a Microsoft operating system to browse the web. New "appliances" to tap into the Internet or receive e-mail, cellular phones and hand-held devices such as the Palm Pilot are not Microsoft-dependent. Major computer manufacturers Gateway and Compaq are building machines with the hot new Linux operating system.

Even if the worst were to happen from the perspective of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, the two emerging companies would be industry giants. Some analysts predict a smaller, more nimble Microsoft-2, selling software applications and Internet products, could dominate the next generation of computers, too.

Increased competition -- the ultimate goal -- would benefit consumers and lead to more innovative products. But the marketplace, far more than the courts, could have the most to say about the pace and direction of the computer revolution.

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