Net Buzz with Richard Wiggins | 14
|Volume 1, Number 23||May 14, 1998|
East Lansing, Michigan
ear Ms. Reno:
ear Ms. Reno:
You've carefully built a reputation for independence. You say you make all your decisions on the law and the facts. You and your staff probably uncovered some real strongarm tactics in the way Microsoft forced manufacturers to ship Internet Explorer on new Windows 95 systems. So, you went to court to fight that practice as monopolistic.
Now, you've extended that battle to new turf: the issue of Windows 98 including integrated Web browser functionality. In so doing, you're impeding the natural evolution of computer systems. Today, we think of a computer operating system with an integrated Web browser as a novel idea. In five years, every cash register and gasoline pump will be doing transactions over the Internet, and every television and telephone will have integrated Web browsers. We will look back and recall how quaint the world was when operating systems and Web browsers were thought of as separate products.
To be sure, there are very real issues surrounding Microsoft and the markets in which it does business:
- Desktop operating system market: Did Microsoft use predatory practices to defeat OS/2 and Apple here?
- Office productivity applications: Did Microsoft's bundling of Office kill Corel, Lotus, and other competitors?
- Server operating system market: Is Microsoft using strongarm tactics to force content partners to serve Web data from NT platforms exclusively?
- Content market: Is Microsoft using scarce Windows 98 screen real estate to force users to view content from Microsoft's chosen partners? It's pretty easy for anyone to pick CNN over MSNBC on television. It's a little harder for a user to skip over the built-in Web site search on the Start menu Â which, thanks to a contractural arrangement, exclusively invokes Inktomi.
- Connectivity market: Are Microsoft and/or Mr. Gates' private ventures in satellite and cable mixing too much control over the wires and the waves used to deliver content? Should one company control information technology, electronic content, and connectivity?
- Handheld devices and other embedded systems market: Is Microsoft using its market power to force vendors of embedded systems (PCS phones, organizers, television set-top boxes) to use Microsoft's operating system (Windows CE) to the exclusion of alternatives such as Java?
These issues involve the entire computer industry, and the economy as a whole. But if Justice is really concerned about its antitrust duties, it should have begun investigating these these issues years ago. It may be too late to undo the concentration in many of these areas. Or, you may be forced to split Microsoft up.
Nonetheless, the very real issues surrounding Microsoft's monopoly powers predate the Web, and you now seek to nail all of these issues upon the cross of the browser market. In essence, you want Microsoft to pay for all of its sins, real and alleged, by stifling an inevitable innovation in the history of computing.
The operating-system-as-browser issue should not be viewed as a part of your overall analysis of alleged monopolistic practices. The question is not whether Microsoft should be allowed to integrate browser functions into the operating system; it's why we don't have more viable operating systems on the market, whose vendors would be free to make the same innovation.
Ask yourself this: if you prevent Microsoft from adding browser functionality to Windows, will you apply that same proscription to Apple, Sun, and others? Surely not, and for good reason. Microsoft integrated TCP/IP into Windows 95, which certainly affected the market for products of FTP Software and other companies. Yet no one cried "foul," because Windows was merely catching up to Unix, which always had TCP/IP built in. Now, Microsoft is taking the next logical step, integrating the Web into Windows 98. While this may be injurious to Netscape, it also will open many new avenues of efficiency and innovation for other companies.
Comments are welcome