More Debate on the Microsoft Antitrust Trial

My wife was leafing through the Boston Globe the other day, when she suddenly laughed out loud, disrupting my concentration on the ever-amusing comics' page, so I asked her what was so funny. It turns out she was reading the Letters to the Editor and found someone's take on Massachusetts' recent gun-control ruling to be unbelievable. We discussed the curiously American habit of forming opinions without having the facts, a follow-up of sorts to an ongoing discussion about my disdain of opinion polls, which I consider somewhat pointless (it's arguably important to know what people are thinking, of course, but that's not how these polls are generally presented). This is a long-term theme of mine: Too many people feel qualified to opine on topics about which they are uninformed, ill informed, or, worst of all, misinformed. Then the opinion gets reported as a news story. It comes down to a simple question: What's more important—what really happened or what people think happened?

Honestly, it's hard to express my feelings on this week's topic—the aftermath of the Microsoft antitrust trial—within a 700-word editorial (so I've split this editorial into two parts). Now that Microsoft has been found guilty of illegally abusing its monopoly, pundits across the land are weighing in with their own opinions about possible remedies. As expected, those opinions run the gamut from "scatter 'em to the winds" to an utter disbelief that Microsoft could have done anything wrong. And now that some of Microsoft's actions are a matter of public record, armchair lawyers everywhere are also weighing in on the subject.

As for me, I get mail. I get a mountain of email that I wouldn't wish on anyone. In my daily newsletter, WinInfo UPDATE, I touch on what I feel are the most important events in the Windows world. As you might guess, the Microsoft antitrust trial has been at the top of the heap-and the opinions about the trial run the full gamut mentioned above. Because WinInfo UPDATE is essentially one person's output, I do weigh in with my thoughts on various topics from time to time. I like to call 'em like I see 'em. It's what makes WinInfo UPDATE a bit more personal than the typical newsletter. But if I'm going to blurt out an opinion in a news article, I at least try to be informed. I'm not always right, of course—how could I be? But many of the articles stimulate discussions, and I don't mind being wrong because it's not an ego thing—I'm just after the truth.

Let me be even less subtle here. I've been studying, examining, and reporting on Microsoft for more than a decade, and yes, I have some ideas about Microsoft and this antitrust mess. My feelings about it may surprise you. But these aren't the thoughts of an anti-Microsoft lunatic circling the carcass of the company like some rabid dog, and they certainly aren't the blissfully ignorant chantings of a Microsoft sycophant. I just think that there are some pretty obvious conclusions, given my knowledge of the company's business practices over the past decade.

First, let's reiterate the facts that form the basis for this discussion. Let's not argue over what we know to be true: Microsoft has been legally defined as a monopoly. And the company has been found guilty of abusing this monopoly to sustain and extend its power in the industry. In other words, Microsoft has broken the law by harming competitors, partners, and consumers in a bid to maintain its monopoly. The monopoly status is basically incontrovertible, and, according to precedent, the Supreme Court is highly unlikely to reverse that particular finding. The charges of law breaking, however, could be overturned on appeal. And this is where the opinion comes in. Did Microsoft break the law in its zeal to protect and extend its monopoly?

In the tradition of countless TV two-parters, I'll conclude with my thoughts on this in Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE next week because I'm out of space. To be continued.

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