Microsoft Ruling to Have Minimal Mac Impact

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Mac users probably had a difficult time concealing their glee after a federal judge declared in November 1999 that Microsoft had used its operating-system monopoly to snuff out competition. The scathing ruling dealt a sound defeat to a longtime Apple rival that many Mac partisans love to loathe. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson even cited Apple as one of the companies harmed by Microsoft's behavior.

But how will the case affect Macintosh consumers–and Microsoft's role as a key Mac software developer? Not much–at least in the short term.

Microsoft says it still plans to release upgrades of its flagship Macintosh programs, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, and Office. Jackson's finding of fact "has no role at this time in any of our busi-ness plans," says Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan. "This is a small step in a long process."

For its part, Apple is keeping quiet about the ruling. The company declined comment on how it might be affected by the Microsoft case.

The Findings

In declaring that Microsoft abused its monopoly power, Jackson cited the company's efforts to force computer makers to bundle Internet Explorer instead of Netscape Navigator with their systems. During the trial, Apple software chief Avie Tevanian testified that Microsoft threatened to cancel the Mac version of Microsoft Office 97 if Apple didn't adopt Internet Explorer as the default Mac Web browser. Canceling Microsoft Office would have been a crippling blow at a time when Apple was losing money and market share, so Apple agreed to the deal. Tevanian also testified that Microsoft tried to get Apple to kill QuickTime, its popular multimedia-system software.

What's Ahead

Although the ruling was a clear defeat for Microsoft, the antitrust case is far from over. The November ruling was a finding of fact: the judge declared what he determined to be the facts in the case. Now he must rule on whether Microsoft's actions actually violated antitrust laws, and if so, to what degree. That decision could take anywhere from six weeks to several months, says Bryan Ford, an associate professor of law at Santa Clara University.

In the final phase, the court determines a remedy, which could mean anything from forcing Microsoft to let other firms sell its operating system to breaking up the company into separate units. If Microsoft appeals–and the company is almost certain to–it could delay the case's resolution for several years.

Microsoft and the government could still settle the case. Ford is doubtful, however. Because government lawyers won on every point in Jackson's finding of fact, they have little reason to negotiate, and Microsoft is unlikely to consider a deal it finds too burdensome.

In the meantime, Cullinan says, Microsoft remains "committed" to its place in the Mac market. The Mac edition of Outlook Express 5.0 began shipping in October 1999, and Internet Explorer 5.0 is on track to roll out in early 2000.

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