Opinion

Antitrust judgment is bad news for consumers



Jack Schofield

Opinion

Silicon Valley has, as expected, triumphed over Microsoft. But it's been hurt by the rebound. Following the antitrust judgment, billions of dollars were wiped off the value of new technology stocks, with a large proportion coming straight out of Silicon Valley pockets.

Of course, new technology stocks have been over-valued for years. Almost everybody expected a "correction". But it's no surprise that Judge Jackson's verdict triggered the crash.

Although Silicon Valley geeks hate Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates because he's not part of the local mafia, much of the high-tech boom was based on Microsoft's success.

It wasn't just the success of Windows which drove down prices, helped quintuple PC sales, and doubled the number of PCs in US homes in a decade. It was also the desire to found the next Microsoft, and become the next Gates - in short, to be obscenely rich.

But once the judgment went against Microsoft, things didn't look quite so good. Once you'd reached a position powerful enough to justify a Microsoft-style share price, the government could try to take it away from you. People ought to be shocked by this idea.

Windows isn't something that's dug out of the ground. It's not a natural resource in restricted supply, it's a copyright work. Since Microsoft wrote it and owns it, Microsoft has the right to say what goes into it, and to prevent other companies from modifying it.

If that's not bad enough, things may now get worse. A benevolent dictator with absolute power over Microsoft would stop them messing about with the code and introducing random incompatibilities.

Sadly, because the Department of Justice and Jackson are clueless, this may well take the opposite course, and find ways for outsiders - PC suppliers and rival software houses - to mess it up even more.

I have no sympathy for get-rich-quick merchants who have made bad investments, but the US Government's next steps could damage the interests of consumers worldwide.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of The Guardian

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This was first published in April 2000

 

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