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
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.