Microsoft Corporation President and CEO Steve Ballmer spoke to GW students about the future of technology Tuesday amid controversy surrounding a monumental anti-trust lawsuit. Microsoft is an unapologetic monolith that stifles competition through the use of anti-competitive practices in direct violation of the 1890 Sherman Anti-trust Act. These are not mere allegations; a federal district judge ruled April 3 that Microsoft broke the law.
Microsoft’s products have dominated the computer industry. Beginning with the creation of the Windows operating system, Microsoft has cut a wide swath through the computer industry, leaving battered and broken companies in its wake.
The case centers on software bundling, a practice in which computer manufacturers using Windows on their machines must also include other Microsoft products, specifically the company’s Web browser. This combination prevents competition from other companies with similar products, most notably Netscape’s Web software package.
Microsoft is actually a victim of its own success. Windows is the most popular operating system in today’s market, meaning any attempt by its creators to package other software with it effectively shuts out competing corporations’ access to the majority of the world’s computers. In effect, Microsoft has the perfect weapon against competition, but using it violates the law.
The current Microsoft situation is exactly what the legislators who formulated the Sherman Act wanted to prevent. Back then, oil and steel were the commodities of greatest value. Today, information fuels the global economy. Limiting access to the information technology marketplace destroys a company’s ability to compete in an economic system that sees competition as the best means to control predatory practices aimed at consumers’ wallets.
The government is right to encourage competition and protect consumers from monopolistic corporations that could increase prices without regard to the burden placed upon consumers. Protecting the bottom line must come secondary to protecting Americans in the checkout line.