Originally created 11/29/97

Curb the Gates monopoly

As Microsoft's founder and chief executive officer, Bill Gates has proven himself an entrepreneurial genius in the complex high-tech world of software development. His innovative imagination has made him a billionaire several times over. His products fulfill a need, serves his customers, enriches his stockholders and contributes to U.S. prosperity.

Because Gates is living out the American dream on a scale few of his fellow Americans can even imagine, he has become the poster-boy for unfettered capitalism. We bow to no one in our respect for free-enterprise, but we also respect the anti-trust tradition in this country.

Federal trust-busters, when they do their job right, are just as much of an asset to free enterprise as any successful entrepreneur. They're charged with ensuring the system stays competitive Ä that no business so dominates its field that it wipes out the competition and becomes a monopoly.

This is what's lost in widespread public bashing of the Justice Department's move against Gates for anti-competitive practices. Perhaps part of the criticism is instinctive. Attorney General Janet Reno has done everything possible to undermine confidence in the public integrity section of her agency, so why should the anti-trust division be any better?

Well, as U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., says about the Clinton administration in a different context, sometimes it does try to do the right thing. And when that happens, it should be acknowledged and applauded.

The real issue surrounding Microsoft is not about Big Government, instead of the marketplace, deciding what innovations will be made available to computer users. That misses the point. It's about whether Microsoft will obey the law.

The company did, after all, sign a consent decree two years ago promising not to require computer makers to accept other Microsoft products in order to put the Windows 95 operating systems in their machines.

Then Microsoft went right ahead and broke the decree. It required computer makers to accept its Web browser before they could obtain a license for Windows. Confronted with choosing Microsoft's browser or a competitors', computer makers went with Microsoft. They couldn't compete if they didn't.

Gates lamely insists that his Explorer browser and Windows are an "integrated product." That's nonsense. One Microsoft critic rightly likens it to selling a bottle of shampoo with a bottle of conditioner taped to it.

As far as the trust-busters are concerned Ä and they're right Ä Microsoft's demands were unfair to competitors like Netscape, which created the most widely used browser until Microsoft's strong-armed its way in. If allowed to go unchallenged, Microsoft would monopolize the field Ä and that would be bad for consumers.

This time the Justice Department is doing the job right. Make Microsoft compete fairly Ä and obey the law.


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