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The government vs the Department of Justice (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Next time I get a traffic ticket, here’s what I’ll say in court:

“Your honor, the court has found me guilty. I disagree. Also, I disagree in principle with the existence of speed limits on our nations’ highways. Several theorists claim that highway traffic should be self-regulating — we should allow the overall flow of traffic to determine the speed at which each car is driven.”

“In the case U.S. Department of Justice vs Microsoft, the courts established the precedent that when the defendant disagrees with both the law and the finding of the court, the prosecution and guilty party must negotiate as equals to define a settlement agreeable to both parties. I request the court to so instruct the prosecution and myself in this case.”

Think it will work?

Me neither.

Regardless of whether you think antitrust laws are a mistake, obsolete, or inapplicable to the software industry, and regardless of whether you personally think Microsoft was actually guilty or not, the outcome of DoJ vs Microsoft was unambiguously disgraceful. With the departure of Joel Klein as lead prosecutor, and Penfield Jackson, the Lance Ito of antitrust, as judge, the fix was in. Microsoft said, “Play dead!” and our government’s executive branch — controlled, ironically enough, by the law ‘n order party — obeyed. From this point forward, Microsoft is freed from any constraints worth talking about when it comes to its use of non-market forces to buttress its market position.

As just one example, take a look at Microsoft’s investment in Corel. Almost immediately, Corel discontinued WordPerfect Office for Linux. Since Apple, in its ongoing quest for marketplace irrelevance, persistently snubs corporate IT, Linux is the only significant threat to Windows on the desktop. Which means that just as CIOs, faced with increasingly onerous licensing terms from Microsoft, are starting to search for a credible way to at least threaten to take their business elsewhere, Corel is running away from the opportunity to instead try to sell WordPerfect head-to-head against Microsoft in the Windows environment — a battle it has already lost.

Pardon me for being suspicious.

For several years I’ve predicted an impending implosion for Microsoft. I still see serious problems for it: It’s hemmed in on the server front and has such limited potential for growth on the desktop that’s it’s turned to the only alternative it could think of: predatory licensing.

Its problems, though, have receded now that our government has a “for rent” sign in front of it that lets Microsoft obey — and require its customers and competitors to obey — only those laws it finds convenient.