Crime and (No) Punishment

If you missed the news, more penalties against Microsoft were handed down the week of Thanksgiving. What you didn't miss was that Microsoft got off lightly-again.

If you missed the news, more penalties against Microsoft were handed down the week of Thanksgiving. What you didnt miss was that Microsoft got off lightly—again. The beneficiaries in the settlement of about 100 private lawsuits—filed against the company in the wake of the governments antitrust case—are students at some 14,000 public schools who will get free software and computers. But its Microsoft that will be saying thanks.

The deal, which must still be approved by the judge overseeing the class action suits, calls for Microsoft to pay more than $1 billion in software, training, reconditioned computers and other endowments. What could be wrong with this windfall? Well, first, though the "cost" of the software is reportedly almost a billion dollars, to Microsoft its next to nothing because thats what it costs to copy software onto a CD. Not to mention that with almost $40 billion in cash on hand, the company can easily absorb the charge.

Second, ever since Bill Gates first cast his DOS upon the waters, he has sought to put Microsoft software on every computer in every home, business and school. Hes well on the way to that goal, so its hardly punitive to make the company give even more of its software away; it has been doing that for years. It has also made "investments" in education programs and helped businesses with giveaways—if that will keep the competition out.

The more people using Microsoft software, the more powerful the company becomes. Is that what the plaintiffs wanted? It must be. The current administration, as well as most of the public, seems to feel the case of the people vs. Microsoft and related cases have run their course, that enough is enough, forgetting, somehow, that the company was found guilty by federal courts.

Since then, however, everything has gone Microsofts way: a slap on the wrist and some federal oversight, but the status quo is maintained. Now, to add insult to injury, the company gets to distribute even more of its product to expand and lock in its user base. If this is what the DOJ wanted by taking up the case in the first place, then we, not Microsoft, are the guilty party.

Whats your verdict? Write to me at [email protected]

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...