The Microsoft Trial So Far

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Sure, the Microsoft trial is the biggest technology story of the year, give or take an iMac, but with the court on Christmas recess until January 4, it seems like high time to ask, what have we really accomplished? A key aspect of the case turns on whether or not itís possible to separate Internet Explorer from Windows 95. Is it? Experts disagree. Did Microsoft attack Sun Microsystems by developing its own version of Sunís Java language, or were they just improving it? Ditto. None of the key accusations in the case have gone undisputed. The tone of ambiguity and uncertainty was set most of all by Gatesís performance in his videotaped testimony, in which he seemed to remember or understand almost nothing relating to his own company. Asked a question about "the Windows box" (a common term for a computer running the Windows operating system), Gates feigned incomprehension: "The Windows box is a piece of cardboard."

And yet with concrete allegations of hyperaggressive businesses tactics streaming in from companies such as Sun, IBM, Netscape, Apple, Intuit, Packard Bell, AOL and now Disney -Ė on Tuesday the court heard testimony claiming that Microsoft had threatened the Mouse for getting too cozy with Netscape -- one canít help but get the feeling something unpleasant, if not patently illegal, is going on. At the very least, Gates's image has undergone a downgrade that will take years to make over.

If other pending legal actions against Microsoft -- such as the so-called permatemp suit, a class action suit brought by a group of disgruntled temporary workers -- may have a greater chance of realizing concrete gains, one could also argue that the suit has had a galvanizing affect on the industry as a whole: Witness the dramatic AOL-Netscape deal, and the renewed interest in wacky, alternative computing strategies, such as the free operating system Linux and the so-called networked computer. However long the trial may drag on, in just nine weeks it has already changed the face of history.