How to Rein in Microsoft's Marketplace Dominance Don't Go the Antitrust Route; Instead, Change the Country's Outdated Copyright Laws

Article excerpt

IN a recent Doonesbury, Bernie asks Mike, "Who makes the software that runs 80 percent of the world's P.C.'s?" Mike answers "Microsoft, of course." Bernie then asks whether the world runs on computers and Mike responds in the affirmative. Bernie finally puts it to Mike by asking who rules the world, and Mike sighs, "Why don't we just give Bill Gates all the money now and get it over with!"

When Microsoft premiered Windows 95, some stores stayed open past midnight so customers could snap up the software during the early morning hours of Thursday, Aug. 24, the official launch day. This product is the first major replacement software for running personal computers in five years. Dataquest, a market research firm, estimates that 30 million copies will be sold by year's end. Clearly, it's software, not hardware, that now lures people to the stores in droves. And never in recent history has a company so dominated a marketplace as Microsoft does with its software.

Not everyone, however, is pleased with Microsoft's rule over software. Competitors have argued that Microsoft's licensing contracts have virtually frozen them out of the marketplace in violation of US antitrust laws, which are directed against monopolies and unlawful restraints on trade. A consent agreement between the Justice Department and Microsoft was recently formalized by a US district judge, but it explicitly excludes Windows NT, a microsoft operating system for businesses. Furthermore, it took more then three years of investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, another year by the Justice Department, and one more year in the courts before a deal could be concluded. …