Let the market rule

Microsoft Corp. has been sending feelers to the Justice Department
about settling its antitrust case. No one knows where this will lead.

From the perspective of GCN, it’s been a curious case, given that the federal
government is one of Microsoft’s biggest customers.

I won’t comment on either side’s position. That’s for the judge to
decide—purely, one hopes, on the legal merits. But a few observations spring to mind.

Considering the sales, profits and stock market performance of computer companies
lately, to say nothing of the torrid pace of more and more product introductions, it is
difficult to see just how the industry has materially suffered because of Microsoft.

Then, too, Bill Gates probably gives his company a bit too much credit for the
industry’s wave of wealth-building and innovation.

As a rule, I dislike pile-ons and the mass demonization of a company or an industry,
even if the target is tempting. In any industry, companies’ abilities, motivations
and tactics vary widely. Microsoft didn’t achieve its dominant position solely
through bullying and unfair marketing tactics. Surely, it also made something people
wanted to buy.

It’s better if the power of the market, rather than the government, reins in
overly dominant companies. In technologically driven industries, such dominance is nearly
always fleeting. Just ask Digital Equipment Corp.

Besides, success in one niche often doesn’t map to others. Anyone remember when
General Electric made computers? Often, companies stumble under their own weight.

Microsoft’s inability to finish Windows 2000 is a golden opportunity for companies
such as Novell Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Red Hat Software Inc.

Gates’ decision to reorganize the company into multiple operating divisions is a
wise one. A voluntary breakup might dispel many of the allegations charging that Microsoft
is hypercompetitive.

More important, from the customers’ point of view, is that each division might
serve its users better than did the Microsoft behemoth.

Thomas R. Temin
[email protected]


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