Except for a few lines last month, I have purposely avoided writing about the Microsoft/DOJ courtroom battle that has been going on for the last year. The reason was simple: I was not sure where I stood on the issue.
At first glance, I thought it boiled down to the government interfering in areas it knew nothing about. What does the government know about computers, operating system, etc? Not much, I would think. And do I really want to have the government meddle in the world of high technology? I know I don’t want them to try and govern the Internet, nor do I want them to say what an operating system can and cannot have in it. At first, it seemed very simple to me. I was on the side of Microsoft, not because I think MS is not guilty, but because I saw this as a stepping stone for the government to stick its nose where it does not belong.
But the problems and issues go much deeper than that. And after all this time, reading the various news reports on the proceeding of the case, I have slowly come to the conclusion that my initial thought process was wrong, and that the DOJ should in fact be investigating this matter. Now I will give a few of the reasons why I feel this way, and why I now hope something will be done which will force Microsoft to play (and compete) on a level business playing field.
First is the issue of using their Windows 95/98 to compete unfairly with other businesses. This is really what the entire case and lawsuit is all about. Does Microsoft use its dominance to quash other businesses? Sure it does. In my opinion, whether or not the DOJ can prove that in court is irrelevant. Don’t believe me? Call up Compaq and ask to buy a desktop computer without Microsoft Windows 95/98 preinstalled. You can’t do it. Better yet, call and ask Gateway Computers if you can buy a computer with Windows 98, but without Internet Explorer. Guess what? You can’t do that, either. In fact, Microsoft has gone so far as to threaten PC manufacturers who have changed Windows in ways MS did not like. Such as the excerpt from a letter from Don Hardwick, Microsoft’s head of OEM sales, to Celeste Dunn, Compaq’s vice president of consumer software business, dated June 6, 1996. In it, Microsoft is threatening to terminate Compaq’s license for Windows 95 unless Compaq restores the Microsoft Network and Internet Explorer icons on the desktop.
“As we discussed, in the spirit of reinstating mutual cooperation and trust we would like to resolve the above mentioned Notice of Intent to Terminate letter in as a quick and mutually agreeable manner as possible.
“To accomplish this, Microsoft is requesting that Compaq replace the Microsoft Network and Internet Explorer icons on the Windows 95 desktop on all Compaq Presario machines. Specifically we are asking that these icons be put back on the Windows 95 desktop so they look and function exactly the same as how they were originally provided by Microsoft and/or Authorized Replicators. This means the icons should not be just Windows 95 shortcuts, since the functionality is different. In addition, the Microsoft Network and Internet Explorer icons and Internet Setup Wizard icon should also be put back into their original locations and functionality under the “Start” button on Windows 95.”
The latest DOJ/Microsoft battle has raged on about the issue of Internet Explorer. MS claims that IE is part of the operating system, and cannot be removed. The DOJ claims it can be, and has presented expert witnesses who have demonstrated a version of Windows 98 with IE uninstalled. The result? It ran fine, even connecting to the Internet with no problem using a rival browser. Not to be outdone, MS showed a tape in which they proved that without IE installed, it was much harder to connect to the Internet. It now turns out that the tape in question was a fake, a doctored video.
From a Reuters report dated Feb 4th:
“At a bench sidebar with the judge Wednesday Feb. 3rd, Microsoft won permission to redo the video. Government lawyer David Boies asked if government representatives could be present and a Microsoft lawyer agreed, as did the judge.
“Yes, that would be the best way to do it,” said Jackson. But when government officials arrived at Sullivan & Cromwell, the law firm representing Microsoft, they were barred from entering the room where the computers were being set up. They were later allowed in.”
So, not only did Microsoft try to enter false evidence into the trial (the false and doctored tape) they also barred for two hours the government officials from entering the room where the computers were being set up. And we’re supposed to trust Microsoft wasn’t up to any funny business? The ironic thing here is that Microsoft was still unable to produce the results they desired, thus making the DOJ’s case that much stronger.
I don’t know what should be done. Do you? Really, what CAN be done!? Hit MS with a fine, as if that would deter them at all? Restrict their actions? How? Doing what? Tell them they just can’t bundle IE with Windows any longer, only to have the ruling shot down upon appeal? Make MS put Netscape Communicator on their desktop? What can be done?
As for claims Microsoft is competing unfairly with Netscape: do you wonder if Apple had not given up on CyberDog, would they be in the same boat? Or is it just that MS is so big and powerful? And if Apple makes a business decision (for whatever reason) to make IE the default browser, is that somehow unfair to Netscape as well? These are not easy questions, and I do not envy those in position to answer them. For the time being, I simply will continue to watch the web for the latest news in this sad tale of lies and deceit.