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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sue My Competitor, Please!

The NYT, protectors of the little guy, the consumers, looks at Microsoft, the now-humbled giant of computer software. Joseph Nocera in "Google This: Is Microsoft Still a Bully?" reviews the effect of the anti-trust litigation against Microsoft that he gleefully observed for years for the NYT. Nocera lauds the heroism of Judge Jackson who stood up to Microsoft and the DC Circuit Court in ruling Microsoft had abused its monopoly power to the detriment of Netscape. No, the lawsuit was not in the interest of the consumer. The lawsuit protected a competitor of Microsoft.

Interestingly, in Europe, Microsoft faces similar anti-trust litigation and is being forced to put out a version of Windows without a media player - called Edition N. (which Nocera admits "not a single computer manufacturer has agreed to use").

So, the computer manufacturer does not want a watered down product and end users, computer idiots like me, do not want to have to download new products after buying a new computer with all of the bells and whistles or even consider which of the many products that do the same thing are better than the original brand I know. Brand recognition means a lot to us illiterates.

And ultimately, as with any monopoly over time, there is/was never any need for an anti-trust lawsuit since open competition leads to new faces like Google stealing the old-timer's thunder. Says Nocera, "AMONG competitors, Microsoft is still respected, but it is not feared the way it used to be. It has become a sluggish, bureaucratic company that, for instance, is going to be at least a year late with a new operating system, called Longhorn, that the world needs now because it is supposed to make computing more secure. Its stock hasn't moved in years. "

Then what was the point of the anti-trust lawsuit?

Nocera will tell you the millions of dollars wasted by both the government and Microsoft was to wake "Microsoft up to the fact that it was truly hated in Silicon Valley."

So it was hated by its competitors while loved by its customers. I guess we really do get a benefit from the government's attempt to regulate the free market. We get a computer with less built-in at the time of purchase and we get to pay higher taxes for the enormous expense of government litigation to benefit some competitor who cannot convince us to voluntarily use their product. And what does this do to innovation when competitotrs get to share the technology of the originator? That's America?

Even Nocera asks the question: "when you come right down to it, did the antitrust trial of the century make a whit of difference?" Inevitably, these anti-trust lawsuits never do.

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