What’s Next For Microsoft?

If the actions of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates are any indication as to whether there is life after being declared a monopoly by U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Not only did Microsoft announce a blockbuster deal with Tandy Corp.’s Radio Shack that will allow the software giant to hawk its online service to millions of Radio Shack customers throughout its 7,000 brick-and-mortar locations, Gates himself gave a strong performance at Microsoft’s annual shareholders’ meeting last Wednesday.

During the meeting, Gates portrayed Microsoft as being in a conciliatory mood, but also vowed that the software giant would never submit to the government’s demand that it give up control over the way computer makers display its Windows product.

Standing Ovation

It has been reported that before Gates made his remarks, thousands of Microsoft stockholders gave him and his top executives a rousing standing ovation.

During the meeting, Gates also compared the trial to an unfinished baseball game, saying that the process was still in the early innings.

Still, I think the most interesting comment that Gates made was about his personal frustration over the whole ordeal.

“When your own government decides to take you to court, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience,” Gates said. “It’s not something that anyone should have to go through.”

Changing Momentum

To me, this remark signals a shift in spin that could change the dynamics of the trial. In the past, it has been easy to portray Microsoft as the big, bad wolf.

However, now that the wrath of the government has fallen on Microsoft’s head, that perception has changed drastically.

Already, surveys are showing that the general public seems to have empathy for Microsoft in its troubles with the government. After all, many average citizens know what it is like to sweat bullets when summoned to sit in front of an Internal Revenue Service auditor who is basically making them prove that they are not liars.

Additionally, Microsoft employs more than 30,000 workers and its products create millions of jobs for people throughout the world.

No matter how strong the government’s case may be against Microsoft, many people — and rightfully so — are going to be concerned that any government remedy spells bad news for their individual livelihoods.

Hint At Dire Consequences

If I were advising Gates, I’d tell him to rev up his spin machine and hammer home the following two themes over and over again:

One, if the government breaks up Microsoft, the sky will fall down on all of our heads. It will make any kind of economic calamity brought on by Y2K seem mild by comparison. In fact, it might just plunge us into a depression.

Two, any government remedy would knock the U.S. out of its worldwide high-tech leadership role, and perhaps make it a second-class competitor that is vulnerable to attack by its enemies.

Goodbye, Cruel Remedies

If Microsoft exploits this strategy for all it is worth, the public and political outcry would be so intense that Bill Gates and company could kiss the possibility of harsh remedies good-bye.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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