Microsoft's World Goes On

No one's going to sink this ship.

A new version of NT called Windows 2000 is being readied for release next year. A new piece of middleware to connect process control systems for manufacturing was unveiled in October. A new version of the SQL Server database was introduced in mid-November. Higher than expected earnings were recorded for the latest quarter. In late November, the share price was only a few dollars off its record high. Clearly, it's business as usual at Microsoft Corp. One would have thought the big bad bully of the software industry would be pulling in its horns an inch or two these days, considering the spate of condemning e-mails from Microsoft executives introduced as evidence by the government in its antitrust trial against the Redmond, Wash.-based firm. Not Microsoft. In fact, as the trial continues, it becomes more evident that this is a company that knows no bounds, accepts no limits, takes no prisoners, and above all, feels unhampered by any of those feeble, outmoded notions of fair play in business. Under the banner of "What's Good for the Consumer is Good for Microsoft," company executives continue to defend in court their routine sabotage of competitor software firms and their products. Most experts now believe that it's no longer a question of who will win the trial, but how far the government will go in trying to reign in this monster that stands -- hooves spread, nostrils flared, and horns bloodied -- momentarily interrupted from its anticompetitive rampage. Some observers have suggested the government regulate the Windows operating systems as a sort of public utility. Others insist that only a breakup of the company, similar to what happened to AT&T in the 1980s, would do the trick. There is something to be said for the idea of dividing Microsoft into two operating companies, one for operating systems, and one for software applications. At least that would take away some of the leverage that Microsoft so brutally wields today in the software marketplace. That power is evident in the further extension of Microsoft's various technologies into the corporate and consumer worlds. For instance, last month the company demonstrated for Process Control (OPC) , which it said was developed by a consortium of 165 suppliers "working to solve integration problems for the process and manufacturing industries." OPC is based on Microsoft's Component Object Model technology, which is in a battle with another leading interoperability standard for object-based software that appears to be losing out. Says Microsoft's Marcus Schmidt, industry marketing manager for manufacturing, "By working closely with other leading software developers, we are extending our mutual vision of interoperatibility to include all applications within the four walls of a manufacturing plant and throughout the supply chain." Translation: Microsoft wants to push deeper into the corporate enterprise. Assuming the government wins its case, one real question looms large -- does the government, given the Clinton Administration's laissez-faire attitude toward business, have the cojnes required for the job at hand? I mean, does any living judge in this era have the guts to tell Bill Gates what he can and cannot do? And make it stick? Remember the Clinton Administration, especially with technology fanatic Al Gore in tow, has taken a we-love-you-all-the-way attitude toward Gates and Co. The Executive Branch's love of technology makes it unlikely some federal judge is going to sink this Bismarck with a harpoon from a rowboat. With Microsoft's stock price so high, and the company currently acting as if nothing in the world is wrong, you have to wonder. Is the big fix in?

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