Crime and Punishment, Microsoft Style

Despite the endless posturing and legal wrangling that has taken place over the duration of the Microsoft antitrust drama, Friday’s proposal by the U.S. Justice Department and 19 states to split the software titan into two competing companies must have come as quite a heavy blow to Bill Gates.

After all, Gates has not been shy about letting reporters know how difficult it is to accept the fact that his own government is attempting to break up the company he and Paul Allen co-founded in 1975 — when he was just 19 years old.

Under the proposed breakup remedy, one company would be allowed to sell Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system, while the other would control such applications software as the Office suite, as well as Internet Explorer.

The Beat Goes On

To make matters even worse for Bill Gates and Company, part of the proposed remedy prohibits the two companies from reuniting for 10 years. Additionally, the plan would put restrictions on Microsoft’s Windows company for three and a half years — just to give its rivals a chance to catch up.

While the finer points of this case will probably be argued for the next couple of centuries, one has to wonder: Does this severe a punishment really fit Microsoft’s so-called crimes?

Anyone who objectively studies Microsoft would have to admit that it is a ruthless competitor that always plays on the edge. In addition, if one reads the testimony of this case, it is obvious that the software giant stepped over the antitrust boundary line on several occasions.

Still, to break up Microsoft for monopolizing technology that is no longer relevant would be a miscarriage of justice.

Heavy Fine Would Have Sufficed

It is fairly obvious to me that a heavy fine and perhaps restitution to injured companies would have been a more appropriate and expedient solution to this case than the drastic measures now being formally proposed.

Moreover, it is my feeling that Bill Gates’ combative attitude made this remedy irresistible to the powers that be.

Yet, I think there is another factor that has helped make the possibility of breaking up Microsoft finally a sad reality: jealousy. Whenever and wherever high-tech executives gather, there are always a number of Bill bashers spewing bile about how the world’s richest man and his company should be punished.

All the same, no matter how hard the peanut gallery tries, nothing can change the fact that this Harvard dropout forever changed the world.

Real Victims

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Microsoft’s stockholders and partners will be left slowly twisting in the wind for years, as the company Gates started from scratch spends untold millions trying to keep from being chopped in half.

I only wonder if government prosecutors and state attorneys general gave much thought to the real victims of this case before they decided it was time to carve.

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