Big picture one of "violence to competitive process" says ruling

Only in viewing Microsoft's various areas of misconduct 'as a single, well-coordinated course of action does the full extent of the violence that Microsoft has done to the competitive process reveal itself' says the judge.

          US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson today ruled that Microsoft violated federal antitrust laws, and that only in viewing the company's various areas of misconduct "as a single, well-coordinated course of action does the full extent of the violence that Microsoft has done to the competitive process reveal itself."

          Issuing his "conclusions of law," or the verdict, in theUSgovernment's antitrust case against the software maker, Jackson ruled that "Microsoft maintained its monopoly power by anticompetitive means and attempted to monopolise the Web browser market," in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Law.

          "Microsoft mounted a deliberate assault upon entrepreneurial efforts that, left to rise or fall on their own merits, could well have enabled the introduction of competition into the market for Intel-compatible PC operating systems," Jackson wrote, adding that "Microsoft placed an oppressive thumb on the scale of competitive fortune, thereby effectively guaranteeing its continued dominance in the relevant market. More broadly, Microsoft's anticompetitive actions trammeled the competitive process through which the computer software industry generally stimulates innovation and conduces to the optimum benefit of consumers."

          The judge also ruled that Microsoft's tying of its Internet Explorer Web browser to the Windows operating system was illegal, and did not benefit consumers. "Internet Explorer is not the current 'best of breed' Web browser, nor is it likely to be so at any time in the immediate future," Jackson found. "The fact that Microsoft itself was aware of this reality only further strengthens the conclusion that Microsoft's decision to tie Internet Explorer to Windows cannot truly be explained as an attempt to benefit consumers and improve the efficiency of the software market generally, but rather as part of a larger campaign to quash innovation that threatened its monopoly position."

          Besides finding that Microsoft broke federal antitrust laws, Jackson also ruled that the software maker broke various US state laws. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), 19 U.S. state attorneys general and the District of Columbia are plaintiffs in the case.

          Although the judge ruled that Microsoft's marketing deals with other vendors did not constitute unlawful exclusionary dealing, his verdict endorses the US government position on other key points of the case and paints a damning picture of anticompetitive behavior by a company bent on controlling the Internet browser market and maintaining its operating systems monopoly.

          Microsoft behaved as a "profit-maximising firm" in its approach to stomping out competition in middleware, specifically when it came to dealing with Netscape Communications' Navigator Web browser and Sun Microsystems' Java technology.

          "Microsoft early on recognised middleware as the Trojan horse" that if left to march on would "enter the market for Intel-compatible PC operating systems unimpeded," Jackson wrote in his verdict.

          "Simply put, middleware threatened to demolish Microsoft's coveted monopoly power. Alerted to the threat, Microsoft strove over a period of approximately four years to prevent middleware technologies from fostering the development of enough full-featured, cross-platform applications to erode the applications barrier," Jackson wrote.

          Microsoft's effort "succeeded in preventing -- for several years, and perhaps permanently -- Navigator and Java from fulfilling their potential to open the market for Intel-compatible PC operating systems to competition on the merits," Jackson found.

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