AT LARGE: Don't bother

"I think it's all over. They didn't get the damaging evidence, the actual smoking gun."

Robert Black, law professor, Edinburgh UniversityBelieve it or not, the above quote does not refer to the US Supreme Court's decision not to expedite hearing the next phase of the Microsoft anti-trust trial. What Professor Black is referring to is a rather disappointing day's evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial. A turncoat double agent, recruited by the CIA, turned out not to have anything particularly interesting to say.

Looking back over it, it's been a rather dramatic trial. Lots of intrigue, betrayals, concealed evidence, biased judges, questions of jurisprudence raised almost daily. Disappointing that it's rolling on to its end in such an anti-climactic manner.

Of course, I'm not referring to the Lockerbie thing. I haven't been following that. I have to admit, I was surprised when I discovered it was still going. When I read the above quote from Professor Black, I immediately assumed he was observing, as I have observed many times, that the US Government has failed utterly in its task (a fairly straightforward task, I might add) of proving that Microsoft has acted as a monopoly to the detriment of its competitors and customers.

That certainly seems to be the opinion of the US Supreme Court, which last week decided that it would not treat the case with any particular urgency. The Department of Justice had asked the Supremos to hear the company's appeal, rather than putting it through the normal process of appeals. Of course, you and I and that guy on the corner selling pencils all know that the case will end up being heard by the Supreme Court anyway - whichever way it goes in the appeals court, there will be further appeals.

What the DoJ wanted was to save a bit of time, expedite the process, get it heard a little faster. It was of the opinion that this whole shebang was urgent and important and affecting millions of ordinary Americans.

Now the court has essentially looked at the situation and decided that there is no particular reason to hurry things along. Why? Because the case wasn't effectively proved.

I've made this something of a personal crusade, I must admit. Hoping desperately that David Boies and the DoJ team might occasionally pick up ARN for a spot of light reading, I've been pointing out the deficiencies of the case. What the Supremos have basically said in refusing to expedite the case is that I was right, the case isn't really proved, nothing's going to happen to Microsoft and the company can go about its business while we wait for the normal process to proceed. Perhaps the Supremos read ARN.

Microsoft, of course, is taking it all in stride. Steve Ballmer presided over the obligatory press conference (at which attendance was notably down) to say that the company was happy with the result, would continue to defend itself vigorously, and in the meantime was getting on with the job of innovation. It's a scene we've had played out many times in the past couple of years, notable only for the absence of William H Gates III, the company's former CEO, now occupying the office of Official Mascot.

And where, you ask, was The Gater while all this was going on? Why, right here in Sydney for the sports carnival. As you might expect from his sporty physique, Bill's quite the one for a bit of rough and tumble out on the field of play, and he was certainly demonstrating his credentials as a sports fan during the games. I believe there was some kind of competition between him and John Howard to see who could be photographed behind the most gold medallists.

The point, you see, is that The Gater regarded this bit of trivial activity as more important than being at his company's side for a crucial announcement that might have affected the future outlook for said company. Why? Because he realises, as does the court, that the whole proceeding to date is inevitably going to end up amounting to nothing. There was no smoking gun. There was no damaging evidence.

Now it will gradually wind down. Fewer and fewer journos will rock up to the press conferences. Now that Bill's missed one, maybe Steve will feel less inclined to turn up either. The DoJ prosecutors will mostly lose their jobs come November, and a new lot will come in (regardless of the outcome of the election). Eventually, the courts will decide what, if anything, will happen to Microsoft.

But there's no hurry.

Matthew JC. Powell reckons the gater should have been tested for performance enhancers while he was in town. Samples should be submitted to mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au

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