Battling Opinions in the Microsoft Settlement

Nothing raises people's ire more quickly than discussions about religion, sports (Go Patriots!), politics, or--yes--the Microsoft antitrust trial. Opinions flew fast and furious in the waning days of the case's public-comment period, in which, by law, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) was required to accept and respond to public comments about the proposed settlement between the government and Microsoft. The public-comment phase ended yesterday, but a growing uproar from some observers bolsters the opinion that special-interest groups aligned both with and against Microsoft paid for many of these comments--especially those from public figures.

Groups aligned against Microsoft--such as the Project to Promote Competition & Innovation (ProComp)--have such high-profile backers as ex-Supreme Court Justice Nominee Robert Bork and ex-Netscape CEO James Barksdale. And Nobel-Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow, a Stanford University professor, let ProComp--which AOL, Sun Microsystems, and other Microsoft competitors fund--file his opinion against the settlement.

Meanwhile, pro-Microsoft groups, such as the Microsoft-funded Americans for Technology Leadership (ACT), sent letters offering supporters the chance to win one of two $650 iPaq PDAs if they wrote letters supporting Microsoft. And ACT filed supportive letters from former Attorneys General Griffin Bell and Edwin Meese.

Are such letters tainted by some kind of impropriety, or are these individuals simply guided by a desire to speak out for or against a cause about which they feel strongly? We might never know. I think that the quality of the people who have publicly chosen to support their views sums up the quality of each side's arguments. Because both sides have credible backers, these opinions aren't likely to unfairly affect the outcome of the case.

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