Web Site of the Week: Internet Movie Database

Rethinking The Microsoft Case

I know some of you are going to think I am going soft on one of the most important issues of the day, but I've begun to have second thoughts about the Microsoft antitrust case and I want to share them with you.

I recently spent a day with Dr. Jerry Pournelle,'s senior contributing editor and quite possibly the dean of the computer press pundit corps. As you might expect, we discussed many of the issues of the day.

I knew from previous conversations he didn't think much of the government's antitrust case against Microsoft. I told him something I still believe to be true: that Microsoft sold products for below cost or gave them away in an effort to drive competitors out of business, and that such activities are prohibited to a monopolist in this country.

Jerry countered that it wasn't Microsoft aggression, but competitor's bone-headed moves that drove them out of business, and he cited the particular case of IBM and OS/2, with chapter and verse on some very silly moves by Big Blue that limited the acceptance of its operating system. Most spectacularly, it charged for the driver development kit at a time when Microsoft gave away the Microsoft driver development kit (DDK). The result: Microsoft Windows quickly gained an insurmountable lead over OS/2 in the number of hardware drivers available.

I was covering that exact industry segment at that time, first for InformationWEEK and then for what was Windows and OS/2 Magazine and became Windows Magazine. And I remember how critical the driver competition was, and how thoroughly Microsoft trounced IBM. Until Jerry told me his story about the DDK, I never understood why.

Then, I read a feature story about the government antitrust case against American Airlines. What struck me was the airline experts who were prepared to testify that it wasn't American's predatory pricing that destroyed its startup competitors, but their own inept management.

I got to thinking about my own 20 years covering the computer business, and the ratio between competent, intelligent management and fatuity that I have witnessed, up-close and personal, during those two decades.

And now I am starting to wonder if Jerry is right: maybe Microsoft's triumph really wasn't the result of its anti-competitive activities, but rather of it capitalizing on the mistakes of its competitors. Which makes the whole case seem rather less worthwhile. I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet, but I am taking another look at my assumptions. You may want to do the same.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)