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Monday, June 12, 2000
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Volume 65, Issue 150

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The jury's still out on the Microsoft break-up

Margaret Mitchell

Boom -- and the gavel comes down once again on the side of the U.S. Government in Round 4 of its battle with Microsoft.

Zzzzzz.

Oh, I'm sorry, I must have dozed off. I'm awake now. Where was I? Yes, Microsoft!

OK, for those who haven't been following this high-stakes game of Monopoly between the government and the software giant -- Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson basically told Bill Gates "Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 million dollars."

In a nutshell, the judge gave the green light to plans to break up Microsoft into two separate companies -- one for the Windows operating system and the other for the rest of its products. It also imposes various restrictions such as requiring Microsoft to disclose technical details so other companies may write software for Windows, allowing computer makers to add or remove Windows components, and stopping preferential treatment with regard to pricing to companies who kow-tow to all of Gates' demands.

So, what does all of this mean?

Not a damned thing. Why? Because the decision is going to be appealed, thereby granting a stay of execution, which insiders project to be at least two years.

It was interesting to see the various reactions to the ruling, some praising the judge for upholding the principles of open competition against a tyrannical monopolistic giant, while others are outraged at the thought of the government telling a corporation how to run its business -- cutthroat or not.

Bill Gates was probably the most outraged person. You can tell because he looked like a sea bass that had just been hooked.

I'm not really sure who is right in this situation, so let's look at both sides.

The government says Microsoft is the bully on the playground and it wants mommy (U.S. Federal Court) to tell Gates to stop throwing sand at the other kids (computer companies) and rigging the merry-go-round so that nobody but him can push it unless they know the secret code word.

Bill Gates contends that his company is his and he should be able to do what he wants to with it. True. This is the American way: to start with nothing, build up and then screw over the competition.

After careful analysis of the situation I have come to the earth-shattering conclusion that both sides have valid points, but I really do not care about any of it. I won't be losing any sleep over the problems of people who make more money in a year than I will make in my entire lifetime.

This case, though, is a good illustration of what's wrong with the policies and the powers that be in our government. Somebody needs to make a decision about the future of anti-trust rules and go from there. Is mega-merger-mania the way we want to go, or is it time to pull the plug?

If the decision is that bigger is better, then leave everyone, including Microsoft, alone.

But if monopolies are a bad idea, then go ahead and break up Microsoft. I don't care. But don't keep approving every other merger Wall Street comes up with, guaranteeing that we the consumers will have fewer choices in the marketplace.

It's time to put up or shut up, because the only people who win in situations like this are the lawyers. With that said, I'll leave this issue alone. You can wake me when it's over.

Mitchell, a junior political science major, 
can be reached at smeggie37@compuserve.com.

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