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Western Press Review: Goliath Microsoft Takes Stone In The Face

  • Don Hill



Prague, 5 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. social scientist Francis Fukuyama has written persuasively that the information revolution wrought by Internet, e-commerce, and computers comprises a human cultural shift as immense as that when humankind shifted from hunting to farming, and that when human labor shifted from farms to factories.

Only something like this could explain the worldwide explosion of interest and commentary around a U.S. judge's ruling on Monday that software giant Microsoft violated anti-trust laws. Press commentary comes in three categories: What happened? Who reacted? and What's next?

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The judgments have struck a blow for openness and fairness in the industry

A Christian Science Monitor editorial today says what happened is that a U.S. federal district court lifted Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates's "oppressive thumb" from the scale of electronic information competition. The editorial concludes: "That does not mean Microsoft is not still trying to use its large market share in operating systems to dominate new fields, or that the court should not punish it and correct its ways. Critics say the company is trying to hijack a publicly accepted standard for security of the web to boost its software. But the suit and the judgments have struck a blow for openness and fairness in the industry."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: "That's Some Fine Mess You've Made, Mr. Gates."

The Wall Street Journal Europe carries a commentary by Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's school of management. The newspaper itself summarizes Cusumano's view in its headline: "That's Some Fine Mess You've Made, Mr. Gates." The writer says this: "Bill Gates must bear the brunt of the blame for creating and continuing this mess." Gates and his Microsoft minions, Cusumano writes, "are smart, hardworking and relentless," but they're also "arrogant, insecure and oblivious to how the world views them."

INFORMATION: Gate's argument is not only absurd, it's meaningless

Most of the commentary in the What happened? category is approving of the court findings. Denmark's Information says in an editorial: "Gates's chief argument any time a monopoly case has been brought against him is that consumers are satisfied and 'our creativity will be hampered if you impose limitations on us. Consequently, consumers will suffer.' The argument not only is absurd. It is meaningless." Microsoft copied most of its major innovations from others, Information says. As the editorial puts it: "Microsoft's success is to be sought not in the ingenuity of its developers but in Gates's brutal tactics against the opposition,"

WASHINGTON POST: Jackson was smart enough to let the facts speak

Another approving commentator is Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. Ignatius calls Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the judge who dropped a two-ton mainframe on Microsoft, a hero. Ignatius writes this: "Jackson was smart enough not to try to impose himself on the case but to let the facts speak -- through the opposing lawyers. Jackson let the lawyers educate him about the facts, and while the press often covered the trial as a daily baseball game -- chronicling the little ups and downs as if they mattered -- Jackson kept looking for the big picture. He finally summarized the thousands of pages of evidence in his Findings of Fact last November. They were a devastating account of Microsoft's behavior -- surprising both for the ferocity of Jackson's criticism and the clarity of his written account. In some areas he was more pointed than even the Justice Department had been. From the beginning, Jackson had believed this was, paradoxically, too important a case for the court. Better that it should be settled by the two parties."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Government's tactics are hardly reassuring for millions of Americans who bought tech stocks

One voice speaks disapprovingly of the U.S. government's interference with a successful business enterprise. That's the voice of the Wall Street Journal Europe. The WSJE interpreted the stock markets' volatile reaction to the Microsoft judgment as a condemnation of the government's tactics. The editorial says: "The NASDAQ, [a stock exchange that hosts many high-tech firms], is telling us where the real danger lies. The image of the government beating up on an innovator is hardly a reassuring one for millions of Americans who bought tech stocks based on assumptions about the value and sanctity of intellectual property."

IRISH TIMES: The warning signal could hardly be clearer

Also in the "Who reacted?" category, the Irish Times looks at the same stock market figures and sees a different prophecy. It says in an editorial: "Fortunately, the U.S. market pulled back from the abyss yesterday. But the warning signal could hardly be clearer. In planning for the months ahead, both government and consumers would be well advised to remember that the economy cannot continue to grow at its current pace indefinitely."

INTERNMATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: NASDAQ Gives Its Microsoft Verdict

A day earlier, the International Herald Tribune -- in reporting the early NASDAQ plunge -- headlined its staff report: "NASDAQ Gives Its Microsoft Verdict."

GUARDIAN: Windows Close for Capitalism

The Guardian, London, wins the succinctness prize in the What's Next category. It headlines a commentary today by Jonathan Freedland: "Windows Close for Capitalism."

NEW YORK TIMES: Microsoft has to be more careful about how it does business

Information technology analyst Robert X. Cringely writes in The New York Times that Microsoft need have little fear of a breakup that would take many years for courts to impose. At the speed with which the information marketplace develops, any such verdict would long since have been overtaken by events. The analyst writes that the court ruling's effects, in his words, "more likely will come through a small but real legal friction that Microsoft already is feeling. Even without a final verdict in this case, Microsoft has to be more careful about how it does business, allowing other businesses to succeed where they might otherwise have been crushed."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The U.S. court ruling already has caused faint echoes in Europe

German commentator Karl-Heinz Bueschemann writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the U.S. court ruling already has caused faint echoes to bounce off the walls of European government structures. Bueschemann phrases it this way: "European Union competition officials [say that] they will examine the U.S. court ruling to see if it has any bearing on their own inquiries into Microsoft's activities in the EU. The EU's Executive Commission currently is investigating three complaints relevant to Microsoft, including claims that the software major has introduced features into Windows 2000 that will help it to stretch its lead from PC to other systems, especially servers."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Microsoft demonstrated that monopolies can find ways of preventing competition

Also in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Nikolaus Piper comments that Gates has much in common with John D. Rockefeller, whose oil empire was fragmented by U.S. courts in 1911. He writes: "Microsoft demonstrated that monopolies can find ways of preventing competition. And Judge Jackson showed [once again] that one can proceed against such machinations without negating the economic realities."

TIMES: Microsoft appears to have lost some of the edge

The Times, London, invokes the memory of King Pyrrhus who -- having won a costly battle in the third century -- cried, "Another such victory and I am undone." Microsoft may yet prevail in the courts, The Times says in an editorial, but the victory will be Pyrrhic. In The Times' words: "The company appears [already] to have lost some of the edge that allowed it to capture the computer market in the early 1990s."

(Our correspondent prepared today's Press Review using a small proprietary software program. But then he checked it for typographical accuracy on Microsoft Word.

Dora Slaba in Prague and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this review).

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