Microsoft defeat would be a travesty

We are now coming to the end of the dissenting US states' attempt to achieve a travesty of justice in the last round of the...

We are now coming to the end of the dissenting US states' attempt to achieve a travesty of justice in the last round of the Microsoft antitrust battle. And unless this nonsense is thrown out, it will cost you.

The dissenting states have not presented any evidence to show their demands will benefit consumers - or at least provide enough benefits to outweigh the obvious disadvantages of making Windows an even bigger and less consistent ragbag than it already is.

Indeed, their demands look more like a wish list for Microsoft's competitors, as one of Microsoft's expert witnesses, Kenneth Elzinga, professor of economics at the University of Virginia, claimed last week.

The most worrying idea is the possibility that Microsoft could be forced to distribute a rival's middleware - such as Sun's Java Virtual Machine (JVM) - while removing or blocking access to its own bundled middleware.

But not only is it possible to successfully distribute middleware without bundling it, it has been done more than once.

For example, Macromedia says Flash boasts 98% market penetration among Internet users. Adobe Acrobat, Real Player and ICQ are also very widely installed.

Since most consumers are willing and able to download multiple versions of Flash, it is absurd to claim they are unable to download Sun's JVM. They don't do it because they don't want it. Indeed, if they did, there would be no reason to force Microsoft to bundle it.

The dissenting states' case is also based on economic nonsense. It should be obvious even to them that there are no cost savings to be gained from removing or hiding parts of Windows.

In fact, every variation increases the cost of testing, the cost of distribution (more stock-keeping units), the cost of using Windows (through adding parts later, as required), and the cost of support. Bizarrely, the dissenting states assert that these increased costs should be compensated by lower charges.

And as Elzinga points out, many of the dissenting states' demands cover product areas where Microsoft does not have the largest market share, and that were not part of the original trial.

These include server operating systems, instant messaging, media players and software for television set-top boxes. I can understand why the companies that are market leaders in these areas want to hobble Microsoft.

However, the attempt to use supposedly pro-competition laws to restrict competition looks to me like a naked abuse of the legal system.

Ironically, the claims made for legal purposes -that nothing can stop Microsoft from taking over the world - contradict the claims made for marketing purposes - that Microsoft is doomed because of open source, network computing, the death of the PC, and so on. One does not expect consistency, but this looks more like hypocrisy.

Jack Schofield is computer editor at the Guardian

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