When the federal government decided to prosecute Microsoft Corp. for antitrust violations in the high-flying boom times of the late 90s, corporate America was a different place. Back then, the economy was still "new," the advice of Wall Street analysts was widely considered untainted and Martha Stewarts greatest alleged crime was being too prissy. But since spring, when a federal court heard nearly three months of testimony on the punishment to impose on Microsoft for illegally sustaining its monopoly, the business climate has changed dramatically.
When U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly heard a series of Microsoft adversaries charge Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates with strong-arming partners, nobody knew that by summers end, a number of corporate Americas icons would be awash in criminal charges of book-cooking and insider trading.
Early this month, Microsoft held a conference with reporters to herald the steps it is taking to comply with the still-unapproved antitrust settlement it signed with the Department of Justice in November. Given that the court is still reviewing the proposed settlement and simultaneously weighing much tougher remedies proposed by nine states, some users—particularly open-source proponents—view Microsofts compliance proclamations primarily as a public relations measure.
"Basically, Im of the opinion that what Microsoft is doing now is to try and gain favor from the judge by appearing to cooperate," said Glenn Jacobson, president of Unique Systems Inc., in Holland, Ohio. "What they are saying is, We were not really guilty, but in order to end this litigation, we agreed to a set of changes that we will make, given that the court upholds our DOJ agreement. That tells me that they still do not get it and plan on using every trick in the book after the judge makes her decision to circumvent the restrictions."
Judges are supposed to be immune from political influences, but they do not make decisions in a vacuum, insulated from external factors. Kollar-Kotelly illustrated this point last fall when she sternly urged Microsoft and the government to settle the protracted litigation quickly following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
"In light of the recent tragic events affecting our nation, this court regards the benefit which will be derived from a quick resolution of these cases as increasingly significant," Kollar-Kotelly wrote in a Sept. 28 order. "The court cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of making these efforts to settle the cases and resolve the parties differences in this time of rapid national change."