Microsoft claims Sun-Netscape carve-up

The pistol is smoking a little, but not as much as you might think

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Microsoft attorneys yesterday produced evidence that two years ago Sun and Netscape were engaged in one of the very activities Microsoft itself is accused of -- carving up the browser market. DoJ attorney David Boies dismissed the evidence -- Sun internal documentation -- as irrelevant, but an examination of the parallels and the differences between what Sun and Microsoft were up to is instructive. For Microsoft, Tom Burt produced an internal email that suggested that Sun and Netscape had been engaged in a series of meetings in order to avoid competing with one another in Internet software, and to "unify browser efforts; stop competing". There are several ways you can look at that. From the point of view of antitrust law you might reckon there's a clear difference between Microsoft doing this kind of thing and other companies doing it. If it is established that Microsoft has a monopoly position, then the construction of no-competition agreements and dubious-sounding alliances via that monopoly is clearly anticompetitive. But if a group of companies (Oracle, Sun, Netscape and IBM, as Microsoft has claimed) get together to challenge Microsoft, but don't themselves have a monopoly, then they're not necessarily doing anything wrong. They may well agree not to compete with one another, but that's different from Microsoft striking a deal (or allegedly attempting to strike a deal) whereby Microsoft got the exclusive on Windows browsers and Netscape got everything else. It's a fine point, and you can see why it frustrates Microsoft. Sun, IBM and Oracle clearly do want to destroy Microsoft's 'monopoly', and it seems obvious to Microsoft (and indeed to any rational person) that if they succeeded they'd replace it with their own cartel/monopoly. So it's not illegal to be so successful that you end up with a monopoly, it's just illegal to have one and (allegedly) abuse it. The philosophical point is too tricky for the Redmond mindset. But if we look at it another way, we can see that in the Sun-Netscape case a clear-cut definition of where the monopoly lay is a lot trickier, and that's good new for Microsoft. In 1996 Microsoft ran the desktop, and maybe we could call it a monopoly. But it didn't run the browser market. Netscape had been pretty close to a monopoly of browsers before Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer, in late 1995, and leveraging Netscape out was at least initially tricky for the company, particularly as by its own admission early version of IE weren't very good. So you could say at this point that Microsoft was the challenger while Netscape was the monopoly. Sun had been working on its own browser, Hot Java, and although IBM's browser didn't come up in court yesterday, it had one of its own too. But Sun didn't pursue Hot Java (because, said Sun VP James Gosling yesterday, it couldn't see how to make money out of it when IE was free) and IBM also abandoned its browser. In some lights, this might start to look like a smoking pistol - in an effort to stop Microsoft, the rivals put their weight behind Netscape, and it can at least be argued that they were shoring up a monopoly. Unsuccessfully, though. So is it legal to try to protect a monopoly so long as you fail? You can see why Redmond doesn't grasp that one either. But although Microsoft's case might seem superficially strong at this point, there's yet another way to look at it. The Microsoft view that Sun and Netscape were trying to protect a monopoly by decreasing competition crumbles if we remember first, that Sun and Netscape are not the defendants in the current antitrust case, and second that Microsoft is being accused (among other things) of attempting to achieve a monopoly in the browser market via unfair means. Microsoft has indisputably increased its share of the browser market, and if it can be proved that it did so via unfair agreements with ISPs and OEMs and by tying the browser to the OS (where, to labour the point, it did and does have a monopoly), then Microsoft's and Sun's alleged attempts to stitch up deals with Netscape are clearly entirely different matters. The difference between pooling efforts and agreeing not to compete with one another may be a fine one, but both of these are wildly different from using one monopoly in order to create others. Redmond must have trouble understanding that one too. ® Complete Register trial coverage

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Big Content outs piracy hotbeds: São Paulo, Beijing ... TORONTO?
MPAA calls Canadians a bunch of bootlegging movie thieves
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
Lawyers mobilise angry mob against Apple over alleged 2011 Macbook Pro crapness
We suffered 'random bouts of graphical distortion' - fanbois
Just don't blame Bono! Apple iTunes music sales PLUMMET
Cupertino revenue hit by cheapo downloads, says report
US court SHUTS DOWN 'scammers posing as Microsoft, Facebook support staff'
Netizens allegedly duped into paying for bogus tech advice
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
prev story


Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.