For Robert...

CobraBoy (
Tue, 15 Apr 1997 08:48:51 -0700

Once upon a time, there were five blind lawyers from the United States
Department of Justice who had a mandate to tour Microsoft to determine
exactly what kind of company it was and
whether it was a monopoly in need of breaking up. All had heard about
Microsoft but had never personally explored it. Since it was such a
large company, they decided to split up in order to get a better
understanding of the company as a whole. They agreed to convene the next
day at the Bellevue Hyatt and discuss their findings. They hoped to
agree on the nature and identity of the company and decide its future.

The following day the first blind lawyer presented his report. "Clearly
Microsoft is a massive software company," he said. "It has huge
investments in operating systems, databases, and countless
applications. Office 97 is a triumph, Windows 95 enjoys near monopoly
status, Windows NT is closing in on enterprise computing, and
Microsoft's server business is soaring. Not only that, Microsoft is so
successful it can afford to give away software for browsing the

He continued, "Microsoft controls its operating interface's
specifications and uses that leverage to drive competitors out of the
market for applications that run on the operating system. As
Microsoft-baiting lawyer Gary Reback says, 'When there's a monopoly,
people suffer. Consumers don't get the benefit of the best products. I
don't think that it would be fair for us to think that we should just
wait and let the free market take care of this problem when it would
take a long time to do it.' I suggest we break it up."

The second blind lawyer said she was confused. "I disagree. It's obvious
that Microsoft is a hardware company--although not in the traditional
sense. While it's true that it doesn't make
computers, it sells millions of dollars' worth of mice, keyboards,
joysticks, and game controllers every year. Surely you are mistaken. I
vote for keeping it together."

The third blind lawyer could hardly restrain himself. "My honored
colleagues, Microsoft is an Internet service provider and has a
successful online service. With more than 2.5 million members, the
Microsoft Network is quite a powerhouse, with aspirations to challenge
America Online--but it is in no way the market leader and enjoys no
monopoly here. I think we should reevaluate our options."

The fourth blind lawyer was incredulous. "Surely you didn't visit the
same company I did. I found a research think tank--and Microsoft plans
to triple the size of its research staff over the next few years. This
is a good thing for the entire industry and I cannot allow it to be
broken up."

The fifth blind lawyer was equally bewildered. "I found Microsoft to be
a media company. It has investments in TV, print, online publishing, and
general news, as well as games and enyclopedias. It recently began
publishing local information on the Internet and even bought WebTV to
help popularize the Internet in consumers' homes. It invested $250
million in MSNBC, but do any of you really think Microsoft can challenge
media giants Time Warner, News Corp., or Disney with such a small
investment? There's no need to break up Microsoft."

The head lawyer pondered the conflicting reports and attempted to find a
consensus. "Each of you has experienced a company that differs greatly
from what the others have found. I conclude that none of us has been
mistaken in our observations, but rather we have experienced different
aspects of the same company. By combining our perceptions, we may be
able to come to a better understanding of the essence of Microsoft. I
would propose that we share our research with each other so as to gain
an understanding of the true character of Microsoft."

With that the lawyers trudged back to Washington. In time, they produced
a report concluding that Microsoft was a software company, a hardware
company, a media company, an Internet company, and a research house.
After many months of deliberation the group concluded that Microsoft's
broad-ranging business should not be dismantled. Even though a number of
companies such as Lotus, WordPerfect, Borland, and Apple have been
crippled or crushed by Microsoft's aggressive tactics, the lawyers
concluded that no company has been put out of business by monopolistic
practices on the part of Microsoft. Besides, even though Microsoft
enjoys near-monopoly status with regard to its operating system, the
wide acceptance of Internet technologies such as TCP/IP and the Java
programming language may dilute Microsoft's dominance.

This is a fable, after all.

Christopher Barr is editor in chief of CNET.


Time exists so everything doesn't happen at once,
Space exists so everything doesn't happen to you.

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