The U.S. Department of Justice is declaring an epic win in its long-running antitrust case against Microsoft, which expires May 12.
“As a result of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s efforts in the Microsoft case and final judgment, the competitive landscape changed allowing the marketplace to operate in a fair and open manner,” reads a statement released by the DOJ, “bringing about increased innovation and more choices for consumers.”
That statement also features the DOJ basically taking credit for the entire tech landscape as it stands today: “The final judgment helped create competitive conditions that enabled new kinds of products, such as cloud computing services and mobile devices, to develop as potential platform threats to the Windows desktop operating system.”
Your tax dollars at work, everyone.
Microsoft’s own statement on the matter was somewhat less effuse.
“Our experience has changed us and shaped how we view our responsibility to the industry,” Microsoft spokesperson Kevin Kutz wrote in a statement widely disseminated online. “We are pleased to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.”
Microsoft’s troubles began with Internet Explorer, whose initial form-launched in August 1995-is a world away from our hyper-slick browsers of today: 1MB in size, and incapable of displaying graphics or newsgroups. It initially came installed as part of the Internet Jumpstart Kit (subsequently re-branded Internet Connection Wizard), itself part of the Windows 95 Plus! Pack.
IE descended from an early Web browser named Mosaic, whose source code Microsoft licensed from a small company named Spyglass-which later filed a loss-of-royalties lawsuit against Redmond, once the latter began giving IE away for free.
In 1998, the DOJ and attorneys general for 19 states plus the District of Columbia hit Microsoft with antitrust action over bundling IE with Windows. Microsoft argued that the browser and operating system were mutually dependent, eventually reaching a settlement in 2001. Under the terms of that agreement, Microsoft agreed to share application programming interfaces with outside companies. In addition, “authorized representatives” were granted access to Microsoft’s software codes and records, and the company was forbidden from retaliating against OEMs if the latter contemplated distributing or selling competing software.
The judgment also stipulated that Microsoft designate an internal compliance officer with “responsibility for administering Microsoft’s antitrust compliance program and helping to ensure compliance.”
Some provisions in the judgment expired in 2007. Even as Microsoft closes out this chapter in its history, though, the case’s effects continue to ripple in even subtle ways: company executives, for example, continuously use the word “choice” when describing any new initiative (“we realize customers have a choice”).