Analysts following the Microsoft anti-trust trial as it went into its final stages last week have claimed that it is unlikely the proceedings will result in the software giant being broken up.
Tuesday 21 September saw attorneys on both sides make their final closing arguments summarising the proceedings. US district Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson presided over the proceedings and, according to trial watchers, was uncharacteristically silent throughout the whole event.
US lawyer Richard Steuer, partner at Kaye, Scholar, speculating on the outcome of the trial, said that both sides will probably declare victory when it is eventually over and Microsoft will probably emerge unscathed.
"A break-up type remedy is unlikely to happen and therefore Microsoft will continue to thrive in the future." (see Newswire 22 September)
Judging the situation
The first of two Jackson rulings in the case is expected to come within 45 days of the conclusion of arguments. After that, both sides will submit written proposals of how they think the judge should tailor his final ruling.
Jackson is expected to ask both sides to argue their proposals before making the final ruling some time early next year.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) took the floor first last week claiming that Microsoft's 90 per cent share of the Intel based PC operating system market since 1991 was a strong indicator that the company was a monopoly.
Steve Houck, senior counsel in the New York State Attorney General's Office, said that no other company could make a dent in the market because of high barriers to entry erected by the software giant. And there is no end in sight.
“Microsoft has maintained an unshakeable stranglehold on the market for PC operating system software," he said.
Houck also questioned the credibility of Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates, asking why Gates has never testified in person. He has only appeared via videotaped deposition. (see Newswire 3 November)
Chief trial counsel John Warden lead Microsoft's rebuttal in the afternoon, claiming that AOL's acquisition of Netscape, the introduction of Web-based applications and the Linux open-source OS, were clear evidence that Microsoft is facing competition.
He said that market competition was so fierce that one company could never control sales in the way the government alleges. He said it was improper for the government "under the guise of antitrust enforcement to act as some sort of hall monitor" for the industry.
Both sides focused on a meeting between Netscape and Microsoft officials on 21 June 1995, which DoJ attorney David Boies said offered an "insight into Microsoft's soul".
At the meeting, the government alleges Microsoft attempted to strike a deal with Netscape to divide the browser market between the two companies, giving the Redmond company control over the market for Windows 95.
Netscape, in turn, would agree to confine itself to the browser market for Apple Computer systems and earlier versions of Windows.
But Microsoft's Warden challenged every aspect of the government's description of the meeting, claiming that Marc Andreessen, Netscape's founder, had fabricated notes made at the time.
"The inference is inescapable - that these notes were created for the purpose of ginning up some kind of complaint against Microsoft," he said.
Ulric Weil, technology analyst at US research company Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Company, said that the trial will probably be eventually decided by the appeals court in a couple of years.
But he pointed out that the IBM trial in the 1970s took 13 years and by the end, technology had moved on so far as to make the government's arguments appear redundant."They [the DoJ] were fighting the last war rather than the next war, and they gave up."
He added that with the speed of change in the internet era, the market could change completely in three years, let alone 13, which could make any Microsoft anti-trust ruling very difficult. "In three years, technology changes the landscape significantly," he said.
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