Federal Judge Robert Penfield Jackson found in the government’s case against
Microsoft that the latter’s web browser, the Internet Explorer, is not, as
Microsoft claimed, an integral part of its Windows operating system, but
rather a separate, distinct product. This finding has been taken as one of
great importance and as signifying a major defeat for Microsoft.
It may well be that, in the topsy-turvey world of antitrust, this
finding will in fact play a major role in the imposition of penalties
against Microsoft and perhaps in the very destruction of the company.
Nevertheless, in the judgment of this writer, the finding is of no more
philosophical significance than would be the very similar finding that
rear-view mirrors and automobiles are separate, distinct products. (At one
time rear-view mirrors did not come as a standard feature of new automobiles
but were sold and installed in an aftermarket.)
To any computer user it should be obvious that Microsoft’s web
browser represents the addition of a degree of functionality to its Windows
operating system comparable to that accompanying the addition of a rear-view
mirror to an automobile and that Microsoft is as logical a provider of web
browsers as automobile companies are of rear-view mirrors.
Furthermore, as soon as one sees matters in this light, it also
becomes obvious that whatever questionable tactics Microsoft may have
employed with respect to other companies, such as America On Line and Compaq
Computer, in its quest to gain prominence for its browser, such tactics were
utterly unnecessary and were irrelevant to the ultimate outcome.
Fundamentally, the situation was the same as when the automobile companies
decided to manufacture their cars with rear-view mirrors already attached.
Just as it was not necessary for the automobile companies to twist
anyone’s arm to facilitate the sale of cars with rear-view mirrors attached,
so it was not necessary for Microsoft to twist anyone’s arm to facilitate
the sale of its operating system with a web browser attached. All that
Microsoft had to do to establish its browser as an overwhelming favorite was
to offer it as part of Windows, which is exactly what it did, beginning with
the latest releases of Windows 95 and Windows NT and then Windows 98 and all
subsequent versions of Windows.
If follows that all aspects of
Judge Jackson’s findings with respect to Microsoft’s behavior toward other
companies in connection with Internet Explorer simply do not relate to any
substantive matter as far as Internet Explorer’s success is concerned. Its
success was virtually certain without any inappropriate behavior on
Microsoft’s part. What is present in the case against Microsoft is sound and
fury about a finding of fact that is essentially ludicrous, buttressed by
more sound and fury about alleged wrongful tactics on Microsoft’s part that
it had absolutely no reason ever to employ. (And, indeed, this cannot help
but call into question whether Microsoft’s behavior was in fact
inappropriate or, if inappropriate, was not the result of foolish
overzealousness on the part of subordinates rather than the policy of the
company’s top management. For
it would certainly be very strange indeed for people as intelligent as those
running Microsoft to behave as alleged by the government in Judge Jackson’s
courtroom without any rational need whatever to do so.)
© 2000 by George Reisman.
All rights reserved.
This article appeared on the Editorial Page of The
Orange County Register, March 13, 2000.
**George Reisman is Professor of Economics at Pepperdine
University's Graziadio School of Business and Management and is the author of
Capitalism: A Treatise
(Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996).