Tale of Two High-Tech Trials

By Scot Petersen  |  Posted 2002-04-29

You could say its the best of times and the worst of times. You may even agree that its the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness. It has always seemed that way in the business of technology. We were never better off than we were during the late 90s—and never worse off, either, for we were celebrating the dot-com boom in a house of cards.

And now we are again in a critical period of extremes, which themselves were on trial last week in the forms of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and HP CEO Carly Fiorina. To listen to Gates especially, we are teetering on the brink of the season of darkness, should the courts accept the nonconforming states expanded remedies against Microsofts antitrust violations.

Claiming that "Microsoft [research and development] at best would go into a 10-year period of hibernation," Gates said he would also have to pull Windows from the market and lay off most of his employees.

Gates and his lawyers should be commended for his court demeanor upgrade. But it should be a crime to try to scare the public and the court into protecting his company against solutions that are easily attainable. Better yet, he should take up the R&D and business challenges of conforming Windows to the law and the needs of the industry while maintaining his companys 95 percent share of the operating system market.

Meanwhile, the impact of a consummated HP-Compaq deal depends on your perspective. It will be the end of Fiorina if the courts nullify the March 19 shareholder vote; it will be the end of the world for Walter Hewlett if they dont.

In court last week, Fiorina won points for being steadfast in her testimony that financial goals will be met and that theres no smoking gun of shareholder coercion. Hewlett, who certainly means well, has tunnel vision about the merger, ignoring the fact that market forces will buffet the company, merger or no.

In reality, no one can honestly predict what will happen after these cases are decided. Gates and Fiorinas desired results will most likely maintain the status quo, minus Compaq as it exists today. If both lose, we can only hope we avoid Dickens winter of despair, which could happen only if Gates kills Windows out of spite. He wouldnt really do that, would he?

Ill take wagers on the outcome. Write to me at scot_petersen@ziffdavis.com.

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