Bill Gates takes his antitrust defense public, arguing in an opinion piece that a recent DOJ action is unfair and dangerous to consumers.
"U.S. antitrust laws exist not to prop up competitors but to ensure that consumers benefit from the widespread availability of goods and services at fair prices," Gates said in the Wall Street Journal article (also posted on Gates's Web page). "The PC business has an exciting future--if the government does not hold it back by regulating product design."
The article responded to Justice Department charges last month that Microsoft had violated a 1995 antitrust settlement by requiring PC vendors licensing Windows 95 to carry its Internet Explorer browser.
The government argues that the operating system and the browser are two separate products and that Microsoft's attempt to tie them is in direct violation of the consent decree. Microsoft, for its part, points to a clause in the settlement allowing it to "integrate" products and says the distinction Justice Department attorneys are attempting to make fails to take either business or industry realities into account.
"The Justice Department's position is akin to the government telling personal computer manufacturers that they can't include word processing, spreadsheet, or email capability in PCs because it would be unfair to typewriter, calculator, and courier companies," Gates wrote.
Gates went on to say Microsoft requirements that PC vendors include the IE logo on desktops merely ensure that Windows 95 will run in a consistent fashion no matter where it is purchased. Gates pointed out that under no circumstances are the sellers prevented from offering competing brands.
Moreover, Gates said that attempts to prohibit Microsoft from integrating IE into the operating system could well push the software giant out of the computer industry altogether.
"Enhancing Windows to support Internet standards more fully is not a frill--it is critical for Windows to stay competitive," Gates argues. "Telling Microsoft that we can't improve Windows is telling us we can't compete."
While Gates's remarks echo the concerns of many who believe that the Justice Department's action is an unwarranted intrusion into private industry, they did little to win over longtime critics.
"What a crock," Audrie Krause, executive director of the consumer group NetAction, said of Gate's piece. "He's talking about consumers wanting choices. Yes, we want choices, and we don't have them thanks to Microsoft."
Krause said her group recently completed a study that found it was impossible for consumers to buy an Intel-based PC from a retailer that didn't carry the Microsoft operating system. While the study did not survey the offerings of original equipment manufacturers, she argues that the Microsoft monopoly allows the company to choke competition for browsers and other types of software.