a simple way to resolve the 2002 anti-trust suit against Microsoft

There is such irony in certain events, over which you and I have no control, that it sometimes makes us want to cry. How could they NOT GET IT!? We can see the simple solution, but the government will never get it. I’m thinking of the federal antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, and how much is being wasted in order to hobble that company, when the next 1000 words would settle it satisfactorily for everyone.

We all know that Microsoft was sued by the federal government for violating antitrust law. The suit, as best anyone can tell, is still being waged in court. The trial may never end, and most of the world has lost interest anyway. We can see the inevitable, that no matter how the suit may one day be settled (free computers to developing countries, better wallpaper for Windows, billion-dollar fines paid to the feds, whatever), we will still have Windows just as it exists today, and you and I will continue to have exactly the same problems with Microsoft that we’ve always had.

You know what the problems are:
1) Software doesn’t install properly.
2) The first twenty questions every user has about a program aren’t answered in the documentation or the help file.
3) You keep performing illegal functions and incurring invalid page faults and being scolded for not shutting down Windows properly.
4) You know your software has certain features that can be turned on and off, but you can’t find where to do it. When you find the check box to turn something on or off, the program won’t let you.
5) You received the original installation disks when you bought your computer and you have faithfully honored the licensing agreements as best you can guess what they say. But when you really need Microsoft’s customer support, you’re told that you need to pay hundreds of dollars for it.
6) And on it goes...
Here is what I wish the judge in the antitrust trial would do.

A) Rule that Microsoft has a monopoly. Big deal. Telephone and electricity providers have been monopolies for decades, and forcing them to break up has been as stupid as it would be to force the U.S. Treasury to relinquish its monopoly on the monetary system.

Microsoft has set the standard for personal computing. Thank you, Microsoft! And in spite of the above constant problems, Microsoft’s products are very, very good! The monopoly isn’t such a bad thing. If it violates the law, then Microsoft is guilty of violating a law that is archaic, if not stupid, for not making an allowance. Look at it this way: Microsoft Windows is much like a language that we all can speak with different levels of proficiency. It’s how we store and share information, just like a language. Programs like Excel and Word are like the special languages that scientists and artists speak within their native tongue. Forcing a breakup of Microsoft would lead to a sort of information processing Babel. English is so much richer because it has adapted to everyone’s needs. If it were confined to a segment of the population, and everyone else were forced to adopt a new language, none would be as rich or as useful as the one common tongue.

As a business, Microsoft will one day go under, if it’s not first absorbed by RJR/Nabisco. Microsoft will bank on Windows and mouse clicks and will eventually grow stodgy and unresponsive to the market and some day won’t see a future innovation sneaking up on it. Some other technology will suddenly wash over it and leave a mere mound of Microsand on the beach where the great Windows castle once stood, and we’ll all have a new day in the Sun, maybe sipping Java for a change. I don’t know and I don’t care who or what it will be, but it will happen. That’s how free enterprise will deal with the immediate monopoly of Microsoft.

B) (Here’s what else I wish the judge would do.) Slap Microsoft sharply across the knuckles with a brass ruler. Their sin is not in monopolizing the world of computing. Their sin is that, in monopolizing the world of computing, they have arrogantly distanced themselves from us poor suckers who are forced to endure the software bugs that result in the foregoing list of problems.

Regardless of the legal technicality – did they violate anti-trust law or not – they are a monopoly. Therefore – and pay attention, because here’s the solution – I wish the judge would order Microsoft to open a free, 24/7, worldwide help line with no log-ins and no waiting. If we all must use their products, and that’s what Microsoft has strived to achieve, then we all should have access to unequivocal, unrestricted, reasonably-immediate support.

That should be their penalty. That would have the greatest benefit for the greatest number of non-lawyers, would shove the hot poker into Microsoft where it would do the most good, and would potentially prompt Microsoft to make their very good products as good as they are advertised to be.

Even apart from the antitrust lawsuit, there would be a distinct benefit to Microsoft in voluntarily setting up free, 24/7, worldwide help line with no log-ins and no waiting: I might actually buy their product instead of treating it like freeware. I have already sunk hundreds into Windows, Works, and Office, but only when it was absolutely necessary, as when buying a new computer. When I’ve cobbled together a charity computer from spare parts, (and I’ve given away dozens of computers this way), I’ve loaded the operating system using the latest Windows disks in my collection. When one member of the household gets Microsoft Office CDs with a new computer, that version of Office goes onto the rest of the computers in the house. My attitude is, if it won’t work properly on the computer it came with, and it never does, then the product isn’t what it purports to be, and if I have to pay hundreds of dollars just to talk with them, then Microsoft has given up its chance to persuade me that it is what it purports to be. If it doesn’t perform as advertised and Microsoft won’t provide service, then Microsoft has no claim to my respect for its business practices, including its regal licensing agreement.

Microsoft, the monopoly doesn’t make all the rules. The consumer sets some conditions too. My condition is, I’ll honor your claim to collect a license fee for my use of your product if you’ll honor my claim to information about it. I am not alone in this attitude. Won’t talk to me? Then I won’t send you the fee if I don’t have to.

I don’t know how to reach the judge or Microsoft with this solution. So I’ve gone out on a limb with it, where I will sit and see who notices.