Why Gates May Have Triplets Instead of Twins

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Microsoft came to court Wednesday looking for a dismissal of the Justice Department's plan to split the software giant into two separate companies, or at least some more time to hack away at the government's case. What they got was a judge with a carving knife. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has ordered up a new plan after apparently becoming enthralled by a 65-page outside brief filed by the Computer and Communications Industry Association and the Software and Information Industry Association (members include Sun, Oracle, IBM and Netscape, natch) that the Redmond giant be divided not into two parts but three. The proposed Baby Bills: a Windows company for operating systems, an Office company for software, and a browser company for Explorer. "Excellent brief," said da judge.

TIME Silicon Valley writer Chris Taylor says this is the quixotic act of a genuinely bitter man. "This is a revenge measure, for all the years he's spent hearing Microsoft argue that their browser isn't software, but part of the operating system," he says. "Splitting the company into two, in Jackson's view, would only start that argument all over again — which company would Internet Explorer go to? — and he's probably thoroughly bored with it. With this plan, he's hoping to get around the problem by making the browser separate from both the software and the hardware entities." Problem is, judge, the browser is no longer the thing. "Nobody's making money off browsers anyway," says Taylor. "It's beside the point." Besides, nothing would stop the Windows operation from building its own browser and starting the whole mess all over again, again. What the judge needs to do, says Taylor, is keep focused on the big problem, which is Microsoft's thuggish leveraging of its Office software. "A two-way split would be logistically messy enough. Three ways would be a nightmare, and really not necessary any more," he says. "Jackson's fixated on the browser issue, when it's not even the most egregious thing Microsoft has done."