Talk about saving the best for last. In 1998's final session of the
Microsoft trial , Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson conceded what Microsoft has
been saying for weeks: That the merger of AOL and
Netscape could represent "a very significant change of the playing field"
which "could very well have an immediate effect on the market." Jackson
agreed to let Microsoft review the documents submitted by the merging
companies to the Justice Department for approval, and also said he might
allow Microsoft to request additional documents from AOL and Netscape to
assist in its defense.
"It is a major victory for Microsoft," says TIME technology writer Chris
Taylor. "But nothing has changed in the central tenet of the government's
case, which is that Microsoft illegally used its operating system to
leverage itself into other software markets."
Ever since the AOL-Netscape merger was announced last month,
Microsoft has claimed that it would radically alter the balance of the
browser wars because Netscape would suddenly have preferential access to
AOL's immense subscriber base. But Justice prosecutor David Boies has countered
that the merger was a last resort for Netscape -- a direct consequence of
the beating it took because of Microsoft's underhanded grab for market
share. And regardless of the new world order, the image of one of the
world's most brilliant businessmen pretending not to understand the
simplest questions about his own company will be hard to dispel. A new
playing field doesn't mean you didn't cheat on the old one.