This weeks European Union ruling, concerning charges that Microsoft has abused its market power, has resurrected questions about the companys conduct that have been largely ignored for more than a year.
Looking back over columns and news analyses that I wrote at various points of the U.S. antitrust case against Microsoft, I find that some of those 2001 and 2002 commentaries may still have some value in illuminating the difficulties faced by the EU in both crafting and administering a remedy.
The list below, running in reverse chronological order from the conclusion of the case to the initial Findings of Fact, examines Microsofts conduct and the consequences of the legal process from several different angles.
Initially, I felt that the Findings of Fact gave too much credit to Microsofts competitors for actually putting up a decent fight in the marketplace. The companys rise to monopoly was largely a result of offering products that more accurately reflected marketplace wants, and it is not unlawful to become a monopoly or even to remain one by that means.
I was also troubled, though, by the muddling of ideas like “government control of the software industry” on the one hand versus “preserving competition” on the other. Yes, Virginia, there are things that its legal to do when you have 10 percent of the market that become illegal when you gain a 90 percent share. Those are the rules, and there are solid reasons to have them that way.
Over time, as the record became ever more apparent throughout the process of appeal, it became clear that the consequences of Microsofts conduct included damage to competition in many markets—more than merely browsers or even desktop systems software. Advanced Micro Devices, for example, was a sacrificed pawn in Microsofts efforts to weaken Intels support for platform-neutral multimedia technology. Java developers were intentionally deceived about the degree of platform neutrality afforded by Microsofts technically excellent but agenda-laden Java development tools.
The final resolution, it seems to me, has been a permanent shift of responsibility. Instead of relying on the law-abiding behavior of companies, or the law-enforcement powers of governments, it appears that its now the burden of IT buyers to understand the difference between standards that will keep their options open and “standards” that will limit their future ability to choose.
In the interest of making that burden clear, and urging IT buyers to apply their energies in that direction, I offer the following list of links as a retrospective on how we got to where we are today: