Issue 224, August 9, 2001  
 
 
 

Microsoft Brings On The Spinmeisters

By Stephen M. Lawton

Considering the dearth of product news during the summer, June and July were busy months for Microsoft. No, I don't mean Office XP. I'm talking about Microsoft's spin doctors, who went to work following the appeals court ruling that overturned part of the trial court decision to split up the software company. Despite what you've heard, Microsoft was still found guilty. Only the penalty phase will be reconsidered, including the potential break-up.
     I won't try to analyze the entire case here, but it is important to remember that while the court did find in Microsoft's favor on some of the finer points of the case, the key issues were upheld, including the ruling that Microsoft is an illegal monopoly. And while the Microsoft PR machine will tell you that now the company won't be broken in two, that is simply not known. The case has been sent back to a lower court, and to a new judge, to determine what the remedy will be. Sit tight, folks, this isn't over yet. (For more analysis on this case, check out Chris Barnett's Washington Watch column in this issue.)
     In the 125-page decision, the justices ruled 7-0 that Microsoft indeed is a monopoly and "behaved anti-competitively." The ruling can be downloaded as a PDF file from the MicroTimes home page at www.microtimes.com. The appeals court upheld much of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's decision, even though it blasted him for his behavior during the trial. What the company won was time and the ability to spin more tales. In July, it was a doozy.
     As we prepare this issue to go to press, Microsoft made one other "concession." While some media outlets are calling this a change of heart for Microsoft, I see it as a PR ploy the company had to do. Oh, and it's also simply complying with previous court rulings.
     Microsoft has agreed to change its licensing terms and permit PC makers to remove the Internet Explorer and other Microsoft application icons from the Start Menu. Wow.
     OEMs have been asking for that for years from Microsoft, but the Rascals from Redmond demanded that these icons be included as part of a license to sell Windows.
     Dan Gillmor, technology writer for the San Jose Mercury-News, put it eloquently when he called it "an absurdly overdue agreement to obey the law that Microsoft has been breaking for years."
     A Microsoft spokesman said the company was complying with the Appeals Court decision. Yes, it's important to follow the law, something Microsoft does when it wants to.
     But if Microsoft wants to win in the court of public opinion, it had better do more than play a shell game. If it doesn't, you're likely to see more customers and computer manufacturers looking to the courts for some form of satisfaction.

 

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