Monopolysoft: The saga continues

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a week makes: Observers suspected they were able to gauge how far Microsoft's lawyers had read through Judge Jackson's voluminous ruling by how suddenly pleased they seemed to be to publicly discuss the possibility of a settlement.

However, the first step is admitting that you have a problem, and Microsoft at press time continued to strongly dispute the Findings of Fact. Some industry observers agreed, saying that the findings were so sweeping and so dismissive of the evidence submitted by Microsoft that they might not hold up at the appellate level. Among the more controversial findings: Jackson's statement that there were no substantial benefits to bundling Web-browsing functionality into the operating system.

That won't help, however, if Microsoft wants to settle. According to Joel Klein, the antitrust chief at the Justice Department, the government "would need a settlement that deals with the very findings that the court made in this case." If Microsoft's legal team feels confident of getting around the findings (noted head legal beagle William Neukom, "findings of fact are not bulletproof"), being forced to accept them might dissuade the company from settling. And Klein has stated his general preference for taking large antitrust suits to trial, where rulings serve to evolve the laws themselves.

However, there's pressure throughout the industry to get to the table, since most observers recognize a legal morass when they see one. (The spate of class-action lawsuits filed by consumers in Illinois, Kansas, and other states is clearly the beginning of a wave, whether or not the claims themselves are frivolous in nature, as Microsoft spokesfolk hinted many might be.)

Meanwhile, the local papers were all over signs of support for Microsoft and, particularly, for Bill Gates. Shareholders at the annual meeting on November 10 gave Gates a standing ovation, while Washington governor Gary Locke made a show of solidarity with the Microsoft head at a reception over the weekend. And the stock market, that barometer of public opinion, had just a few hours of Monday-morning jitters before the price stabilized just two points lower than its preannouncement level—due, in part, to announcements that Microsoft would be teaming up with mall stalwart Radio Shack and that (in interesting contrast to the charges that Microsoft's actions undermined technologies that could provide powerful Net-based applications for end users) the company is developing a version of Office that would be used as an online service.

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