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What if Gates loses? – A treacherous WSJ considers

Even Microsoft's supporters are starting to think the unthinkable

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Just over a year ago Bill Gates wrote in the pages of the Wall Street Journal in defence of "innovation," and in the intervening period the WSJ has been one of the stauncher defenders of Gates and his company. But this morning the paper says: "The way things are headed now in the Microsoft Corp. antitrust trial, the government might actually win." In anticipation of this possibility, the WSJ has started picking over the carcass, looking at the possible remedies the DoJ might demand in the event of a victory. It appears that the government lawyers, who certainly look well ahead on points in the trial so far, are already starting to rough-up the requests they'll make to the judge, and it seems inevitable (in the event that Microsoft does lose, of course) that they'll try to go a lot further than the minimum. Here the ante has already been upped from earlier clashes. In 1994-95 it boiled down to a consent decree that would at least theoretically keep Microsoft on the straight and narrow, while a year ago it was just a matter of splitting the browser and the OS (although that covered only one aspect of the ongoing investigation). Now, just splitting the company in two, with Gates running one side and Steve Ballmer the other, is starting to look inadequate. The two-way split might be asked for, but with the proviso that both companies got Windows, and that the APIs be opened up. Opening up the API, or even putting them into the public domain, might be a requirement even if the company didn't go two ways. The DoJ might also try to put a limiter on Microsoft's ability to add features, and/or to give products away for free. Or then there's the Baby Bill route, unleashing a clutch of little Microsofts, each with rights to Windows code, and each theoretically competing with the others. As it happens, none of these may turn out to be relevant in the end. Microsoft says it's not going to lose, and even if the initial decision goes against it it will fight hard through the appeals procedure. Then, even if that goes against it too, there would no doubt be years of wrangling as the UN inspection force toured Redmond deciding what should be broken up or dismantled. The WSJ meanwhile offers another little snippet which frankly, we have trouble believing. It quotes someone it claims is a former White House economist and whose name is - Aaron Edlin. They'll be quoting Darren Drivespace next… ® Complete Register trial coverage

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