States Make Case for Continued Microsoft Oversight

Facing an unwilling court and abandoned by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and several other US states, the remaining states that wish to continue antitrust oversight of Microsoft for an additional five years made their case recently in a filing with Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. The remaining states--sometimes referred to as "the California group"--say that Microsoft's so-called competitors pose no real threat to the software giant's monopolies.

"The relevant markets--those for Intel-compatible PC operating systems and Web browsers--have not experienced the rapid development that the court had anticipated they might when it limited the initial term of the Final Judgments to five years," the California Group argues in November 16 filing that was released publicly yesterday. "This ... has an important bearing on whether the Final Judgments have had sufficient time to achieve the pro-competitive benefits that the court expected they would, and that the public itself is entitled to receive."

Microsoft previously claimed in an earlier court filing, which defended ending federal oversight immediately, that online competitors such as Google, Yahoo, eBay, and Mozilla, as well as OS-agnostic Web technologies like AJAX and Web 2.0, constituted "competitive alternatives to Windows," its dominant OS product.

The California Group tore down this argument in its own filing. These OS-agnostic solutions, they say, still require users to sit down in front of a traditional PC operating system, and that OS, as ever, is usually Windows. Because these solutions do not "reduce the application barrier to entry," they do not collectively constitute a threat to the dominance of Windows at all.

"With a market share of less than 20 per cent, \[Mozilla\] Firefox does not have the influence to promote the adoption of alternatives to standards or extensions advanced by Microsoft," technical advisors to the California Group note, adding that even the recent successes at Apple have done nothing to overcome Microsoft's dominance. "Apple has been unable to raise its share of the worldwide installed base of PCs, \[which is\] hovering near 3 percent ... Competition in the market for Intel-based PC operating systems has not been restored by the five-year term of the Final Judgment."

In related news, some large American corporations with no particular ties to Microsoft are calling for the federal government to step away from "needless" oversight. Visa and Weyerhaeuser Co. have come to Microsoft's defense, mostly because they're afraid that an extension of the company's antitrust oversight could set a bad precedent. "What are you doing to enforcement generally, if a company can sign up to something that has expiration, yet someone can come along and say I want this to last longer," a lawyer representing the corporations asked. "We're just saying, please don't diminish this standard, because we'll all have to live with it."

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