It's been heralded as the biggest anti-trust suit in history,
which pits the dominant software giant Microsoft against the Sherman Antitrust
Act of 1890.
In the present case, the Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general
are seeking a preliminary injunction to force Microsoft to separate its
Internet Explorer browser from Windows 98. There are other issues, but
this is the critical sticking point. The multiple actions have been consolidated
into one case that will be heard in federal court Sept. 8.
The government has been keeping close tabs on Microsoft since 1990 when
it suspected possible collusion between Microsoft and IBM. Since that time
there has been continual posturing, threats and investigations, but nothing
of the magnitude that MS now faces and, I believe, with good cause.
I do think that Microsoft is finally treading the line that separates
true capitalism from fascism.
As a staunch Microsoft supporter, I can hardly believe that I speak
these words, but the future of a strong, creative software industry demands
that MS not be allowed to strong-arm equipment manufacturers and consumers
into accepting unwanted products and desktop configurations as part of
the necessary operating system.
Let's review Computers 101: Software is a set of instructions that tells
the computer what to do and is categorized as either system or application
software. Application software are programs designed to carry out a specific
task at the user's request whereas system software is the program that
interfaces between all hardware, the user and all application software.
Microsoft gained its dominance in the PC market by first cornering the
market on the system software MS-DOS, then Windows 3.X and now Windows
95/98. You must have an operating system to run your PC and today, Microsoft
controls 90 percent of the world's personal computers using the Windows
Enjoying their control of the system software market, Microsoft has
branched into application software development with great success as well.
Products such as Word, Excel and Access are the preferred applications
among most business users.
Little by little, however, Microsoft has started bundling its own applications
with the operating system, first with "applets" like Write, Paint and Terminal
and then more boldly with the likes of the Microsoft Network. Now Microsoft
is flagrantly forcing its browser software, Microsoft Explorer, onto the
desktops of Windows 98 and won't allow any alteration or customization
by equipment manufacturers in keeping with their licensing agreements.
At the very least this is a clear attempt to gain market share over
Netscape and some believe this is part of a Microsoft long-term strategy
to control the Internet as well. In theory, he who controls the window
to the Internet can control the Internet as well. That the web browser
may eventually replace the operating system altogether in the future further
justifies Microsoft's rigid stance and sense of urgency.
Regardless of the grand scheme, Microsoft's application software products
must stand-alone and not be leveraged with its operating system software.
Microsoft Word outpaced industry workhorse WordPerfect on its own merits
as did Excel over Lotus 1-2-3. Let Explorer go head-to-head with Netscape
on an even playing field and allow the market place to choose the victor.
Not only does bundling application and operating system software create
an unfair business advantage, it also creates a huge, bloated operating
I'd much rather see Microsoft focus its efforts on developing a well-tuned
OS instead of trying to deliver the all-in-one operating system to the
exclusion of third-party developers.
In a curious turn of events last week, Microsoft granted Gateway computers
permission to promote their proprietary Internet access from the desktop
and then allow consumers to choose between Netscape and Explorer as their
browser software. Interestingly, these were two of the issues that MS refused
to negotiate just the week before with the Justice Department. A gesture
of good faith perhaps or a strategic move?
I'm certainly not suggesting that Microsoft be broken up into smaller
companies, as some radical thinkers have proposed. Microsoft wants the
"freedom to design products with innovative new features, functions and
improvements." No problem. Just give consumers the same freedom to choose
their own application software.