Topical Blatherings

February 3, 1998

I now write a monthly column for Intellectual Capital, so most of my topical blather goes there. I have done three so far. You can find them at and you will find much else to interest you there.

My columns tend to be about the implications of Moore's Law. Of necessity I address the Microsoft question.

October 21, 1997

The Microsoft Lawsuit

Today's paper showed Netscape attorney Roberta Katz with a coprophagic grin, ecstatic over Netscape's triumph. Some triumph. There will now be a hearing to see if, under the consent decree of several years ago, Netscape can force Microsoft to these conditions: Microsoft must

  1. Not insist that Internet Explorer be included with Windows by OEM's

  2. Tell users they don't have to use Internet Explorer
  3. Tell users they can remove Internet Explorer
  4. Tell users how to remove Internet Explorer

Assume Netscape wins; what then?

Point One becomes moot, as IE is built in to Windows 98, and as I understand it, into the upgrade version of Windows 95 that ships at present. At that point IE is a new feature, and under the consent decree Microsoft is explicitly permitted to add new features. Moreover, it's pretty hard to argue that they shouldn't do this: as my intern Eric Pobirs observed a few minutes ago, all future operating systems must be INTRANET ready, and Intranet requires -- ta da! -- a browser. Unless we are prepared to have a federal committee determine what features may and may not be included in an operating system, then at most we affect a few sales and hurry the delivery of W 98.

Point two is trivial. There aren't many users who don't know they don't have to use Internet Explorer. It costs little or nothing to inform the few that don't know it already.

Point three is trivial. There aren't many users who don't know they can remove Internet Explorer. It costs little or nothing to inform the few that don't know it already.

Point four is trivial. Microsoft already provides a way to remove IE and instructions on how to do it, so at most we are talking about making those instructions more prominent.

In a word, at most Microsoft will be insulted, slapped on the wrist, even mildly humiliated. To do that will involve the awful majesty of the law: we bring in the Federal howitzer to fire off a firecracker; we demonstrate the pettiness of the legal system, possibly increase the power of an already too powerful Federal bureaucracy, and affect the market not at all. We encourage the feds to stick their noses in our business, and we get from it -- what? Increased competition? More sales of Netscape? Really?

Moreover, even if an OEM decides not to offer Internet Explorer, will that OEM then pay money to offer Netscape? Will Netscape come free? If there is no brower on the original installation, won't resellers put one on? I can see the advertisements: "OUR systems are Internet Ready! Those other guys sell you a machine that isn't Internet ready. Buy from us." Or will Netscape now send lawyers to harass resellers who bundle in Internet Explorer?

Wouldn't we all be better off if Netscape hired some programmers and maybe a public relations firm rather than spend lots of money on lawyers in order to accomplish such trivial results?

If you are truly worried about the "Microsoft monopoly" this is surely no way to deal with the problem. Whether something ought to be done, and who ought to do it -- whether the cure of increased government involvement in the computer industry is worse than the supposed disease of Microsoft's monopoly -- is another discussion for another time. There may well be a problem here, but this isn't going to do anything at all about it.

Von Moltke, the creator of the German General Staff whose forces formed the Second Reich (Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany) used to have a phrase that translates roughly into "kick them, don't urinate on them", or "Boot their tails, don't spatter on them." (I'm aware there are pithier ways to say that but this is a family web site.)

Netscape and the Justice Department accuse Microsoft of creating a monopoly; then they propose to spatter them for it.

  Jerry Pournelle has an interesting take on this.