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November 1999

For a Change, a Dose of Reality

By: Tom Nadeau os2headquarters@mindspring.com

In a sweeping and thorough analysis by Judge Thomas Jackson, computer users and buyers of PC hardware and software have been put on notice: "You have been cheated!"

Judge Jackson carefully defines the fundamental elements of PCs, hardware, software, operating systems, and browsers. Then he outlines the effects of these components and their interactions -- how they work together to affect the PC marketplace. The most oft-quoted phrase in his article is the one that is of most interest to the OS/2 user: "applications barrier to entry". What Judge Jackson is saying is what Bill Gates stated many years ago: "Applications sell operating systems, not the other way around." This means that people won't buy a non-Windows OS unless there is a sufficiently large and varied base of tens of thousands of NATIVE software applications that run on that OS.

Then Judge Jackson goes on to describe how various related threats to this key monopoly leverage point came onto the scene, and what Microsoft did about them. For example, Netscape's own API's could have been used to develop non-Microsoft applications that would also run on non-Microsoft platforms. Java's API's could have been used similarly, to develop apps that would run on multiple platforms, removing the barrier between Windows and other OS's. In effect, software ISV's could use their large sales on the Windows platform to fund development for non-Microsoft platforms. Eventually, sufficient numbers of applications would be available on non-MS OS platforms to begin attracting PC users away from Windows.

This would break the MS monopoly, and MS was not going to let that happen. Microsoft used a variety of price and non-price incentives, leverage, and coercion to prevent the growth of both Java and Netscape Navigator as software development platforms. Therefore, the thrust of Judge Jackson's analysis is that Microsoft's transgression is that it has engaged in a persistent and illegal pattern known as "monopoly maintenance". This means that a company uses its monopoly power to stifle any innovation that would become a competitive alternative to that monopoly leverage point (in this case, a critical mass of tens of thousands of native applications on a non-MS platform).

The conclusion that Judge Jackson reached is just what we OS/2 users have believed all along: the PC consumer has been damaged by being forced to use Windows in order to get the applications they need and want. The consumer should be able to choose OS/2, or Linux, or Navigator, or Java, or any other platform on cheap, ubiquitous Intel-type clones, without having to sacrifice their choice of software applications. If that condition were true today, how much easier would it be to successfully sell OS/2 Warp as a full-fledged PC platform to users of all sorts?

No matter what Microsoft says about its "innovations", there are many other innovations from other software companies that are unavailable to the consumer due to Microsoft's intentional roadblocks. And it is that way that the consumer has indeed been harmed. Why should PC users be forced to settle for a single vendor for everything? Would we be better off having only McDonald's for burgers, and having no Wendy's, no Burger King, no Jack in the Box? The essence of Microsoft's argument is a condescending attitude, perhaps even a "superiority complex": "We Know What's Good For You.... Just Obey Us."

Judge Jackson, thankfully, sees through that hocus-pocus. No matter how many "good things" a company provides, there is no excuse for preventing other companies from profitably providing alternative "good things". That is the essence of a free-market economy: freedom of choice.

editor's note: Judge Jackson's Finding of Fact can be found online at http://usvms.gpo.gov

Tom Nadeau is the author of: Are You Ready for SEVEN LEAN YEARS?
OS/2 Headquarters -- http://www.os2hq.com/

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