Pinning Microsoft up Against The Ropes

SAN MATEO (04/03/2000) - After nearly three years of fierce and tense battling, now Microsoft Corp. and government prosecutors want to step to the middle of the ring and shake hands. But settling with an official monopoly power is dangerous and won't likely solve the problems at hand. For the cynicism to lift from the IT industry regarding Microsoft's overwhelming influence, government antitrust forces need to put some teeth into their bite.

Despite Microsoft's continued protestations that the consumer is winning big in a Microsoft-dominant world, corporate customers are resigned to the ways of doing business with the software behemoth: Microsoft will find a way to make us pay for the next upgrade. Even the biggest fans of Windows technology will concede that problems such as unreliable code and big promises have been the hallmark of the company.

Originally, the pundits saw this case between Microsoft, the U.S. Department of Justice, and 19 states as a crucial precedent for antitrust regulation in the information age. But after following every bob and weave of the trial, it's clear that the speed of change is the only defining parameter in the high-tech industry. And as our Page One analysis by Bob Trott and Jennifer Jones points out, any settlement or remedy is potentially irrelevant the minute it's signed.

Sustained government oversight of Microsoft's business practices could be a messy proposition, given the pace of change. But self-regulation is hardly a solution.

Perhaps the most viable settlement option floated is opening up Microsoft source code or APIs. Giving ISVs access to Windows or Office source code would create a marketplace to compete with Microsoft and introduce more innovation and choice.

Microsoft sees the writing on the wall and is slowly moving its technical and financial compass from the desktop onto the server and Web-based services. We can only hope the Internet economy will allow industry combatants to spar on an equal level.

What solution do you see to the Microsoft conundrum?

Write to me at martin_lamonica@infoworld.com.

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