The New Economy buzz may have come and gone, but Microsoft is always with us. So it isn’t surprising that members responded energetically to Tim Landgrave’s recent column “What’s next for Microsoft, and how will you be affected?” Readers agreed that Microsoft has had and will have a significant impact on all of us. But the nature of that impact—and especially the balance of benefit and harm it carries—was a matter of some dispute.

Landgrave’s article analyzed Microsoft’s future in light of a federal appeals court’s June 28 ruling in the Microsoft antitrust case. The ruling reverses an earlier court’s stipulation that Microsoft be divided into two companies. However, the impact on Microsoft of the 100-page ruling’s other points is still in dispute. Landgrave sees the ruling as favorable to Microsoft, claiming that “the court of appeals’ decision reversed most of the harmful portions of the district court’s conclusions of law against Microsoft.”

Landgrave admits the appeals court upheld one major point against the company—that “Microsoft is a monopoly in the desktop operating systems market.” But he added that “simply holding a monopoly isn’t illegal….[To] be in violation of the law, the company must act in overt ways to maintain its monopoly at the expense of consumers.”

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In the future, as envisioned by Landgrave, jealous competitors will continue to bring suit against Microsoft, but these legal events will be overshadowed by the company’s business successes: “How will Microsoft respond? Like they always have. They’ll continue to add innovative features to their products….”

Here is what some members had to say about Landgrave’s leanings. See if you agree—and join the spirited discussion to share your own thoughts.

What did the ruling really say?
Readers who disagreed took issue with varying aspects of Landgrave’s argument, beginning with his interpretation of the court’s ruling.

“Did we read the same decision?” asked TechRepublic member Sean Smith. “The decision I read…said that Microsoft was a monopoly and tried to illegally leverage this monopoly into other areas.”

Smith also questioned the claim that Microsoft was an innovative company. “Innovation isn’t copying features added to your software by third parties (Netscape, Real Networks). True innovation is coming up with something new, practical, and useful.”

Member Kairee supported this point, saying that “Microsoft has never been innovative. They’ve copied. They’ve purchased. They’ve stolen. But they have always been late to the party.”

Kairee sees the legal action in the same light. “This was never a case about a company’s rights to add ‘innovative and new’ features to their products; this was about companies designing their products and ‘innovations’ in such a way as to deny the consumer choice and to protect their monopoly.”

The OS question
Several members believe the complex legal issues before the courts boil down to the question of Windows. “The real issue is the packaging of Windows as the default OS with new PCs,” argues mark.davies. He thinks many consumers, given a choice, would opt for a “different, cheaper” OS, such as Linux.

But rgilbert and Chris Hoff disagree. Although they concede it’s cheaper, they question whether Linux is a better OS, since they believe Linux is much more difficult to learn to use.

Some readers see the competing attributes of Windows vs. Linux as irrelevant. “The fact is that some consumers like Linux and want to use it,” argues m.zeini, whose husband had difficulty finding an affordable laptop that would run Linux. Many of the computers were “specially made for Windows,” so that “some things, such as the sound card, do not work under Linux.”

The big picture
A few members see the Microsoft legal issue as indicative of the current state of capitalism.

“Microsoft has done and probably will do some questionable things as it tries to continue to be the biggest and best software company in the world,” writes Buckshot, but “[so] does every other ‘big business.’” Buckshot offers this simple advice: “Let ‘em alone and let ‘em make products. If they can’t make good products, [consumers] will dictate a change.”

But a member called development sees events in a different perspective. “A hundred years ago, capitalism used to mean aggressive competition on a more or less even playing field. Now it seems to mean wealth and corruption….There is nothing better than Windows to run the bulk of the world’s software—not because Windows is the best choice, but because for 99 percent of applications, it is the only choice.”

Microsoft has asked for a new hearing on one part of the court’s ruling—the conclusion that Microsoft’s blending of codes for Windows and the IE browser was illegal. The U.S. Department of Justice, in a July 26 filing, urged the court to deny the request to reconsider. The issue may determine how the court’s ruling impacts Microsoft’s Windows XP, which is due out next October.