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Reaction split on Microsoft

Industry response to parallel antitrust lawsuits filed against Microsoft has been swift on both sides.

Reaction to parallel antitrust lawsuits filed against Microsoft has been swift on both sides.

While some industry executives, lawmakers, and economists hoped that the action would stop allegedly monopolistic practices by Bill Gates and his software giant, others said the suits were unfair, unjust, and would be harmful to consumers.

"This initial step will begin to enable consumers to have a fair choice of products that can compete in the marketplace on their own merits," Netscape said in a statement. "The government's case against Microsoft seeks to return choice of what is available on the PC desktop to both consumers and original equipment manufacturers."

Former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Robert Bork, who has supported Netscape in the antitrust clash, said at a briefing in Washington that he was pleased with the action taken by the Justice Department. He said also that he had met twice with DOJ lawyers during recent weeks to discuss the case, but didn't elaborate on the nature of those discussions.

Many high-tech executives and consumers dislike

Netscape headquarters
Netscape Communications' headquarters in Mountain View, California. AP Photo.
Microsoft's ubiquity, but some recent polls have shown the public siding with the software giant. A survey by Business Week, for example, said the government should keep its hands off Microsoft. A Fortune magazine poll had similar results.

Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee who has supported Microsoft, attacked the lawsuits as "choking life out of the golden goose."

"There is no antitrust case against Microsoft. In the software and computer markets, consumers continue to get better, faster, more powerful, and easier-to-use products at lower and lower prices," Barbour said. "Government regulation won't improve anything for the consumer."

He added: "Everybody knows that Microsoft's competitors are behind these lawsuits."

House majority leader Dick Armey, who has sided with Microsoft in this legal battle also weighed in: "The Justice Department is saying, 'We'll make your most basic business decisions for you--or else.' That kind of blackmail should frighten every entrepreneur in the nation."

See special report: Microsoft sued Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Washington), who represents Microsoft's home state and counts among his constituents many of the software giant's employees, also took a hard line against the efforts of the trustbusters: "While there is no formal role for Congress, I want to state to Microsoft's critics that any attempt to regulate the Internet or the software industry through legislation will be massively opposed and never pass the Senate," he said.

Mike Sax, president of the Association of Software Competitors, a trade association representing more than 150 software developers, took issue with what he described as the increasingly politicized nature of the case.

"These lawsuits are based not on facts, but on politics. Software and hardware companies alike are being held hostage by the efforts by a few companies to gain the upper hand in the marketplace through government intervention," he said. "If the Justice Department is successful in asserting a right to dictate the features of software products, innovation, and competition will suffer and, ultimately, consumers will pay the price."

The Independent Institute, a think tank in Oakland, California, said in a statement: "Microsoft's rivals--chiefly Netscape--are attempting to use the Justice Department to compensate for their own failures. These include the failure to develop server-side software and not expanding their Web site into a general purpose search engine like Yahoo or Lycos."

In the past, Netscape has said that Microsoft's allegedly anticompetitive practices have hurt its business. It also is in the process of trying to expand its Web site, dubbed Netcenter, into an Internet "portal," or home page for surfers.

"We are gratified that Justice, the states, and the District of Columbia have recognized what businesses and consumers have instinctively known--that no one company should gain a chokehold on the Internet," Sun Microsystems said in a statement. "Microsoft's leveraging its PC operating systems dominance into new markets by engaging in predatory pricing and exclusionary activities is against the law."

"Today's Justice Department action is but the opening salvo in what I believe will be one of the most important cases in modern times," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Microsoft critic, said. "In order ultimately to have any meaningful long-term impact, the department must address Microsoft's ability to leverage its Windows monopoly in order to limit and control the choices available to computer makers and consumers."

The Software Publishers Association, a leading trade group, applauded today's lawsuit. "Justice clearly recognizes that the restoration of a level playing field in the computer software and technology industries is critical for ensuring consumer choice and ongoing innovation," said Ken Wasch, SPA's president. "Robust competition gives new ideas and new companies the opportunity to succeed, and from that all consumers benefit."

Those sentiments were echoed by another high-tech group, the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "CCIA applauds the Justice Department for taking action that will help preserve competition, innovation, and choice in the computer and communications industry by upholding the principles of antitrust law," said Ed Black, president of the trade group. "Justice has demonstrated that no one and no single company is above the law."

In the past, both the SPA and CCIA have taken positions against Microsoft and also have encouraged antitrust regulators to take action against the software giant.