Microsoft is once again at odds with the law. This time it is facing the strong arm of Joel Klein, assistant attorney general in charge of the US government's anti-trust division at the Department of Justice (DoJ).
It is not the first time the DoJ has taken on Microsoft. In 1995, the software giant had its knuckles rapped for "unfairly" licensing Windows 95 to PC manufacturers. At the time, the DoJ won the case and Microsoft was issued with a court order barring it from imposing anti-competitive licensing terms on manufacturers of PCs.
The DoJ is now charging Microsoft with violating this 1995 court order.
It is also asking the court to impose a #625,000 a day fine if the violation continues.
Ever since Microsoft decided that the Internet was a good thing on an otherwise uneventful day in December 1995, the company has skilfully been building the Internet into its software, especially its operating systems.
With the release of IE 4.0 in September, the company showed the world how far it had come. By installing IE 4.0, any Windows 95 user can radically change his or her PC in an instant, simply by clicking on the Active Desktop button during installation.
It really is that simple. And once it is done, users have effectively a brand spanking new PC without the need to run along to the nearest PC World or Dixons. Just slide in the silvery CD and go. The Active Desktop turns the PC user interface into a web browser, or, more accurately, into the IE 4.0 web browser. It puts neat channel buttons on the PC desktop which can be switched like a television channel to download web broadcasts.
It brings a whole new meaning to channel-surfing. It is cool. As it should be.
Microsoft's spin doctors spent millions promoting it. You have to admire them: broadcasters and publishers are lining up to deliver their services via Microsoft channels.
But - and there is always a but - a web browser simply does not belong in the operating system. It is only an application. Sure, it looks nice today, and people like what the Active Desktop can do, but Microsoft cannot be allowed to get away with this tactic.
If it did, what would be next? Perhaps the company would try integrating all 170Mb of Office 97 into the OS? Perhaps Windows would be the only piece of software we ever needed to buy? No. We think not. Microsoft must be stopped - now.
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