California Bar Journal
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Taking a look at Microsoft on trial
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Dana ShultzThe U.S. Department of Justice has decided to take on Microsoft, the largest PC software company in the world. Depending on who is talking, Microsoft is either a monopolistic tyrant that needs to be stopped in its tracks, or a successful enterprise constantly looking over its shoulder to make sure no one else is catching up.

With the antitrust trial making daily news, people have been asking my opinion about Microsoft. Here it is.

Aggressive competitor

Fundamentally, Microsoft is a very aggressive company that takes advantage of every opportunity that is presented. Blaming Microsoft for attacking other companies is like blaming a shark for eating other fish.

Consider, for example, the dominance of MS-DOS and, later, Windows. When IBM was preparing to launch its original PC, Microsoft (which had been retained to provide the BASIC programming language) recommended that IBM use Digital Research's CP/M operating system.

Digital Research did not like IBM's approach or terms and told IBM to go away. IBM then asked Microsoft to provide an operating system. Microsoft bought the rights to DOS from a third party and licensed it to IBM.

Because IBM purchased DOS for a fixed fee and did not give Microsoft a royalty based on the number of PCs sold, Microsoft was forced to license DOS to other hardware manufacturers.

The rest, as they say, is history. Microsoft saw and exploited opportunities that larger, more mature companies had overlooked.

Unconscionable bully

At times, however, Microsoft's behavior has been out of line. The battle for Web browser dominance provides a fine example.

Having come late to the Internet party, Microsoft was desperate for Internet Explorer to cut Netscape Navigator's huge lead. So Microsoft used its dominance in the operating system market to threaten PC manufacturers and Internet service providers.

Microsoft's terms: Any manufacturer or Internet service provider wanting favorable treatment from Microsoft had to promote IE over, or to the exclusion, of Navigator.

Totally apart from any legal arguments regarding inappropriate use of monopoly power, as a matter of business ethics, Microsoft's behavior was obnoxious and unconscionable. The company was rightfully forced to back away from this position.

Embedded browser

One of the government's key contentions is that Microsoft should not be able to embed its browser in the Windows operating system. I disagree.

It's not that I favor IE - in fact, I use Navigator. It's just that I want all information available to me as quickly and easily as possible.

I should not have to care about the data's format or where the data reside.

The operating system should be able to find, and launch the right viewer or application for, any file sitting on my PC, my local area network or the World Wide Web.

This capability requires that heretofore separate functions performed by the operating system and the Web browser be integrated.

If DOJ ends up forcing Microsoft to keep these operations separate, the government will not be doing me a favor.

When the subject is Microsoft, everyone has an opinion. Send me an e-mail message summarizing yours. Particularly interesting and incisive comments will appear in a future column.

Dana Shultz is an Oakland-based lawyer, certified management consultant, speaker and coach specializing in office technology. He may be reached by e-mail at and on the Web at