RUN! The Redmond Invasion Has Just Begun...Again!

In Eight-Legged Freaks, (Yeah, I watched it. What of it?) Doug E. Doug plays a paranoid renegade radio owner/operator/host of a nameless radio show on which he relates his latest theories on alien abduction and government cover-ups. I thought of that while reading about how the governmentis case against Microsoft and its monopolistic practices have been pretty much denuded of any real meat, and how the resulting punishment amounts to barely more than a stiff slap on the hand. In fact, Iim thinking of becoming Mr. Dougis character and buying me an old Air Stream and some radio equipment, and setting up shop somewhere out West (preferably a place with no resident spider farms and toxic waste dumps), so that I can spew my conspiracy theories about government cover-ups, collusion, and what-not.

This past week, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly gave the wink and the nod tentatively OKing the settlement between the Federal Government and Microsoft. Judge Kollar-Kotelly pretty much ignored the objections by the nine states and D.C. and said, "The court is satisfied that the parties have reached a settlement which comports with the public interest."

Comports with the publicis interest? Huh? I had to double check the meaning of comport because the judge is either saying that the settlement is conducive to public interest or that it must be borne by public interest. Since the latter statement makes no sense, I am forced to believe that Judge Kollar-Kotelly actually believes that letting Microsoft off the hook is in the best interest of the public, and make no mistake, Microsoft is getting let off the hook.

According to the settlement, Microsoft will agree to stop muscling PC makers into selling Microsoft products. Thatis pretty much it. No fines, no break-up, no apology from Bill Gates. Nothing! Thatis like briefly thinking about closing the flood gates after the seeing your neighboris herd of cows and his barn float by your window. Microsoft is left intact, its products are left intact, and, worst of all, its business practices, for all reasonable intents and purposes, are left intact. The only recourse are appeals by the nine remaining states and D.C., and a separate legal action by those nine states.

Now, hereis where the conspiracy theories come in. Not too long ago, in fact, just before the last presidential election, the DOJ had MS on the ropes, so much so that it was painfully obvious to anyone that Microsoft had not been playing fair. Judge Penfield Jackson may have committed a technical error in the process of deciding the case against Microsoft, but no one could deny Big Redmondis guilt. Things changed, however, not long after the presidential election 2 years ago. In 2001 the DOJ decided to settle with Microsoft.

Before the election; MS is on the ropes, people are talking about breaking them up; after the election, the DOJ settles. What gives? Collusion? Some handshaking and back slapping on an exclusive golf course somewhere? Some eye-winking at a US$1000 a plate fund raiser? Nothing anyone can prove, but geez-louise, you really donit have to, do you? You only have to be a tiny bit paranoid to see that something just ainit right about this deal and that no real public interest is being served by letting Microsoft skate.

Or could it be that the Judicial Branch of our government has been taken over by evil aliens from the planet Redmond? Does Judge Kollar-Kotelly have some little alien caterpillar -- that turns into that MSN butterfly after the incubation period is over: About 4 years -- attached to the base of her skull that is forcing her to claim the public good is being served by merely slapping Microsoftis hands? I think I read somewhere that there were mysterious lights over Washington D.C. not too long after President Bush was sworn into office. It could be that The Executive and Judicial Branches of Government have been supplanted by alien politicians and judges from the Pachydermian Nebula.

Before you write me off as just another MS basher who has been abducted by aliens once too many times, and has too much free time and not enough medication, let me say that I actually donit mind MS. They are just another entity in the free-market and are just as deserving to be there and selling products as much as the next guy. Heck, if MS actually felt that way about its competition, I wouldnit have a complaint against them. Iim upset not because MS did a bad thing (OK, many bad things), Iim upset that our current version of the Department of Justice is a hobbled and neutered sham of what it was when it first brought the case against MS, and that it has become so ineffectual because of our current Administration. Iim angry because the public has been seriously harmed because of the way Microsoft did business, and now it looks as if there is nothing to keep it from continuing to harm the public.

Oh, I hear the voices in my head yelling, "name one incident where Microsoft has done serious harm to the public."

Thatis easy! All I need to say is OS/2, and I say that while admitting that IBM could have mounted a harder fight to save their truly innovative OS, but whimped out. (Or aliens did a number on the OS/2 marketing team.) Back in the day when the public actually had a choice of OSes, IBM was selling OS/2, a product that was far superior to anything Microsoft or Apple offered at the time. Due to Microsoftis predatory, monopolistic practices, relying on the publicis sheep-like consumerism for help, the company managed to squash a truly innovative OS.

Hereis where the harm comes in: if there where other choices in OSes, companies and the public may not be as harassed by computer viruses as they are today, the healthy competition between OSes would have resulted in real innovation at competitive prices, and the PC buying public would have had a real choice instead of trying to decide what flavor of Big Redmond they have to put up with on their next PC. The years between the demise of OS/2 -- to be accurate, OS/2 never really died, IBM stopped selling it to the general public via retail outlets and had drastically scaled back its support of the product, though there are still many large companies and several pockets of die-hard OS/2 users around -- and the slow rise of Linux and OS X all belonged to MS. During that time, Apple nearly became a historical footnote, and other computer and software makers were either assimilated or crushed. Was the public harmed? Yeah, Iid say that the publicis interest was harmed, and thatis merely one incident in a long list of such actions from Microsoft.

Now itis business as usual for the company.

Remember that old SF movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Well, donit be too surprised when, in the not-too-distant future you go to bed one night with a nice shiny Mac on your desktop and wake the following morning to find a PC running some weird version of XP.

Hey, it could happen.

Vern Seward is a frustrated writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. Heis been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.