Since 1990, a battle has raged in United States courts between the United States
government and the Microsoft Corporation out of Redmond, Washington, headed by Bill
Gates. What is at stake is money. The federal government maintains that Microsofts
monopolistic practices are harmful to United States citizens, creating higher price and
potentially downgrading software quality, and should therefore be stopped. While
Microsoft and its supporters claims that they are not breaking any laws, and are just
Microsofts antitrust problems began for them in the early months of 1990, when
the Federal Trade Commission began investigating them for possible violations of the
Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts, which are designed to stop the formation of
monopolies. The investigation continued on for the next three years without resolve, until
Novell, maker of DR-DOS a competitor of Microsofts MS-DOS, filed a complaint with
the Competition Directorate of the European Commission in June of 1993. Doing this
stalled the investigations even more, until finally in August of 1993, the Federal Trade
Commission decided to hand the case over to the Department of Justice. The Department
of Justice moved quickly, with Anne K. Bingaman head of the Antitrust Division. The
case was finally ended on July 15, 1994, with Microsoft signing a consent to settlement.
The settlement focused on Microsofts selling practices with computer
manufacturers. Up until now, Microsoft would sell MS-DOS and Microsofts other
operating systems to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) at a 60% discount. Only
if OEM agreed to pay a royalty to Microsoft for every single computer that they sold
regardless if it had a Microsoft operating system installed on it or not. The number of
computers shipped with a Microsoft operating systems installed, and not for computers
Another practice that the Justice Department accused Microsoft of was that
Microsoft would specify a minimum number of operating systems that the retailer had to
buy. This would eliminate any chance for another operating system vendor to get their
system installed until the retailer had installed all of the Microsoft operating systems that
In addition to specifying a minimum number of operating systems that a vendor
had to buy, Microsoft also would sing contracts with the vendors for long periods of time
such as two or three years. In order for a new operating system to gain popularity, it
would have to do so quickly, in order to show potential buyers that it was worth
something. With Microsoft signing long term contracts, they eliminated the chance for a
new operating system to gain the popularity needed quickly.
Probably the second most controversial issue, besides the per processor
agreement, was Microsofts practice of tying. Tying was a practice in which Microsoft
would use their leverage in one market area, such as graphical user interfaces, to gain
leverage in another market. In the preceding example, Microsoft would use their
graphical user interface, window to sell their operating system, by offering discounts to
manufacturers that purchased both MS-DOS and Windows, and threatening to not sell
Windows to companies who did not also purchase DOS.
In the end, Microsoft decided to suck it up and sign the settlement agreement. In
signing the agreement. Microsoft did not actually have to admit to any of the alleged
charges, but were able to escape any type of formal punishment such as fines.
The settlement that Microsoft agreed to prohibits it, for the next six and a half
years from. Charging for its operating system on the basis of computer shipped rather
than on copies of MS-DOS shipped; Imposing minimum quantity commitments on
manufacturers; Signing contracts for greater than one year; Tying the sale of MS-DOS to
the sale of other Microsoft products. Although these penalties look to put an end to all of
Microsofts evil practices, some people think that they are not harsh enough.
On one side of the issue, there are the people who feel that Microsoft should be
left alone. I am one of these people, feeling that Microsoft does more good than bad, thus
not necessitating their breakup. I feel this way for many reasons, and until Microsoft does
something terribly wrong or illegal, my opinion will stay this way.
With Microsoft creating the standards for the rest of the computer industry, they
are able to create better standards and build them much faster than if an outside
organization or committees were to create them. With these standards set, other
companies area able to create their applications and other products that much faster, and
better, and thus the customers receive that much better of a product.
Take for instance the current effort to develop the Digital VideoDisc (DVD)
standard. DVDs are compact discs that are capable of storing 4900 megabytes of
information as opposed to the 650 megabytes that can be stored on a CD-ROM disc now.
For this reason, DVDs have enormous possibilities in both the computer industry
and in the movie industry. For about the last year, companies such as Sony, Mitsubishi,
and other prominent electronics manufacturers have been trying to decide on a set of
standards for the DVD format. Unfortunately, these standards meetings have gone
nowhere. Many companies have broken off in different directions, trying to develop their
own standards. In the end, there wont be one, definite standard, but instead many
standards all of which are very different from one another. Consumers will be forced to
make a decision on which standard to choose, and if they pick the wrong one they could
be stuck down the road with a DVD player that is worthless. Had only one company set
the standards, much like Microsoft has in the software business, there wouldnt be the
confusion that arose, and the consumers could sit back and relax, knowing that the DVD
format is secure and wont be changed.
Another conclusion that many anti-Microsoft people and other people around that
world jump to is that the moment that we have a company, such as Microsoft, who is
very successful, they immediately think that there must be something wrong. They have
to be doing something illegal or immoral to have become this huge.
Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft has not gained its enormous popularity
through monopolistic and illegal measures, but instead through superior products. I feel
that people do have brains, and therefore have the capacity to make rational decisions
based on what they think is right. If people didnt like the Microsoft operating systems,
there area bout a hundred other choices for operating systems, all of which have the
ability to replace Microsoft if the people wanted them. But they dont the people for the
most part want Microsoft operating systems. For this reason, I dont take the excuse that
Microsoft has gained their popularity through illegal measures. They simply created
products that the people liked and the people bought them.
On the other side of the issue are the people who believe that Microsoft is indeed
operating in a monopolistic manner and therefore, the government should intervene and
split Microsoft up. Those who are under the assumption that Microsoft should indeed be
split up believe that they should either be split into two separate companies. One deals
with operating systems and other dealing strictly with applications. The other group
believes that they government should further split Microsoft up into three divisions. One
company to create operating systems, one company to create office application, and one
company to create applications for the home. All of these people agree that Microsoft
should be split up, anyway possible.
The first thing those proponents of Microsoft being split up argue that although
Microsoft has created all kinds of standards for the computer software industry in todays
world. Competing technologies can coexist in todays society, without the need for
standards set by an external body or by a separate company such as Microsoft. Give the
example of the home video cassette industry of the late 1970s. The battle between the
VHS and Beta Video formats, VHS won not because it was a superior product, but
because it was more successfully marketed. Buying an operating system for a computer is
nothing at all like purchasing a VCR, because the operating system of a computer defined
that computers personality, whereas a VCRs only function is to play movies.
The development of camcorders have been the introduction of many new formats
for video tapes that are all being used at once. VHS-C and 8mm formats all are coexisting
together in the camcorder market, showing that maybe in our society today we are not in
need of one standard. Maybe we can get along just as well with more than one standard.
Along the same lines there are quite a few other industries that can get along without one
standard. Take for instance the automobile industry. If you accepted the idea that one
standard was best for everyone involved, then you would never be tempted to purchase a
BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, Saab, or Porsche automobile. Due to the fact that these cars all
have less then one percent market share in the automobile industry and therefore will
Probably the biggest proponent of government intervention into the Microsoft
issue is Netscape Communications, based out of Mountain View, California. Netscape
has filed law suits accusing Microsoft of tying again. Microsoft is going through their
World Wide Web browser, Internet Explorer 3.0 into their operating system Windows 95.
Netscape is the maker of Netscape Navigator currently the most widely used Internet
browser on the market, and now facing some fierce competition from Microsofts
Internet Explorer. Netscape says that in addition to the browser, Microsoft was offering
Windows at a discount to original equipment manufacturers. Netscape complaint to
Microsoft is to feature Internet Explorer on the desktop of the computers that they
shipped, thus eliminating any competition for space on the desktop by rival companies
Another accusation that Netscape is making against Microsoft is that they are
doing the same type of things with the large internet service providers of the nation. They
are offering the large internet providers of the nation, such as Netcome and AT&T, space
on the Windows desktop, in return for the internet providers consent that they will not
offer Netscape Navigator, or any other competing internet software to their customers.
Netscape is becoming ever more concerned with Microsofts practice, because for
now they are going untouched by the government and it looks as if it will stay that way
for quite some time now. They are very much worried as they watch the numbers of users
switching to Microsofts browser, and the number of users using Navigator slipping.
Beside all of the accusations of monopolistic actions Netscape lay down on them,
Microsoft does seem to have one advantage when it comes to the browser wars. Their
new browser version 3.0, matches Netscapes feature for feature with one added plus
Microsoft browser is frees. Whereas Netscape charges $50 and $1500 for their browser
With all the information that has been presented for both sides of the issue, you
are probably left in a daze, not knowing what to think. Is Microsoft good? Or is Microsoft
bad? Well, the answer is a little bit of both. Even though the Justice Department found
that Microsoft might be practicing some techniques that are less than ethical, they did not
find that Microsoft was breaking any anti-trust laws, nor did Microsoft actually admit to
the accusations when they signed the agreement. If anything them signing the agreement
was more of a sorry than an full fledged admission of guilt. Other people might disagree
with me, and there might be a lot of allegations floating around from different companies,
but the fact of the matter is plain and simple. Microsoft has not been formerly charged
and found guilty of any illegal practices pertaining to them being a monopoly. I believe
that the government should stay out of the affairs of the economy, rather than get tangled
up in a mess. Even if the government did get involved, due to the extremely fast paced
? Check, Dan. The Case Against Microsoft.
? Maldoom, Daniel. The Microsoft Antitrust Case.
? Maney, Kevin. Megamedia Shakeout. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc 1995.
? Schmidt, Eric. The Struggle for Bill Gates Soul. US News and World Report.
Nov 25, 1996: 69-71