A History of United States v. Microsoft wired.com

John Heilemann, for Wired in November 2000, wrote a sprawling play-by-play of Microsoft’s antitrust trial. There is an awful lot here to digest — close to fifty thousand words — and much of it rhymes with Apple’s situation, as David Piece put it.

This, though, is a core issue in both cases:

Monopoly or no, Windows was unquestionably an enormous asset for Microsoft. (“An asset of the shareholders of Microsoft,” as Gates put it.) And it was one over which the company had claimed total freedom — the freedom to add a ham sandwich, for instance. Was there any limit to how far he was willing to press the advantage of owning the dominant operating system?

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘advantage,'” he said, inspiring in me the brief fantasy that I was David Boies. “It is one of the more proven things that just because we put something in the operating system doesn’t mean people will use it,” Gates went on, citing the early, failed versions of IE, as well as the MSN client software. “Putting new features in the OS is a very, very good thing. Some of those features will end up being used heavily and some won’t. All you have to do is look at the growth of the software industry to say this is an industry that’s delivering for consumers in a fantastic way. So, yes, innovation is OK.”

Gates hadn’t answered the question, so I asked it again, this time more precisely: “Is there any limit to what you regard as appropriate to put into the operating system?”

In other words, how much is it okay for a first party to advantage themselves over third parties? If there is a line, where should it be, and who should establish it? There is obviously deep resistance to government intervention among the industry and its commentators, but there is also little incentive for operating system vendors to restrain themselves from prioritizing their own products and services. Gates, at this time, could not articulate any reason why Microsoft should not follow any competitive path it chose, even if that meant doing things third-party developers could not.

This is an obviously daunting article but, if it makes you feel any better, it is illustrated with pictures of Microsoft executives in ’90s corporate chic.