Franklinesque Vision Needed For Microsoft
By Stephen Lawton
it be possible that we might know the outcome of the Microsoft monopoly
trial before we know who the next president will be? Amazing. In the past,
big antitrust suits dragged on for years. The Microsoft suit, which began
and ended this year, looks like it might find some level of closure before
the 2000 elections. Imagine Microsoft getting a product of its own out
that fast. Unheard of.
The appointment of federal judge Richard
A. Posner as mediator is good news, particularly since Microsoft seems
to be modifying its position and now seems to be in a mood to talk to
the Justice Department. No big surprise, since it received a serious blow
when it was found to be acting as a monopoly recently. Cooperating with
Justice might be Microsoft's only chance to remain whole.
Judge Posner is an interesting choice
- a free marketeer who seems to understand big companies. Posner is said
to be affiliated with what's called the Chicago School of economic legalism,
which holds the belief that big isn't necessarily bad and that real monopolistic
behavior is rare. He also believes the market is better than the government
at policing economic matters.
Microsoft owns the operating system,
word processor and spreadsheet markets. Its other offerings, including
its database, presentation graphics, e-mail client, back office applications,
and yes, even its browser, have significant competitors. As long as a
company has viable competitors, the market will dictate what users choose.
And if lots of users choose Microsoft products, who are we to say: "No,
you can't - you need to select a non-Microsoft product"?
Standardization is a good thing. I
like to know that my software is compatible with my writers' software.
Choice is good, too, but that doesn't mean we can't choose Microsoft.
There is a reason Lotus Ami Pro (later Word Pro) and Corel WordPerfect
fell from grace: Users chose not to use them.
The last time I wrote about Microsoft,
a reader accused me of being a "free marketeer." I strongly believe that
the less government we have mucking up the technology works, the better.
That's also why I strongly oppose UCITA - the Uniform Computer Information
Transaction Act. I'm not sure I'm all that pleased with H.R. 3028, an
anti-cybersquatting bill that could turn into a legal muddle. It seems
every time I check, several more half-baked ideas have worked their way
through Congress, sponsored by less-than-technology-savvy legislators
with a hometown bone to pick.
I just wonder what the great American
sage Benjamin Franklin would say about Microsoft. Maybe he already said
it: "Drive thy business, or it will drive thee." He also said, "Energy
and persistence conquer all things."
I think he would say the market, and
the innovations therein, should drive technology rather than edicts from
Washington. If he said that, I'd have to agree.