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Opinion: Yesterday's men conduct the virtual trial

Ignorant lawyers and yes-men execs are circling to little end

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Microsoft and the United States government are engaged in a virtual trial. The professional witnesses are for the main part yesterday's men, and in the case of Microsoft, its witnesses are mostly virtual executives who act as comforting yes men in Gates' bizarre empire, rather than being knowledgeable and logical people who could bring Microsoft to maturity. The witnesses are mostly supported by teams of lawyers and technicians who craft the direct testimony so that the result is often unfamiliar under cross-examination. The law is archaic and insufficiently dynamic to deal with the Microsofts of this world, which is why, in the end, Microsoft may well escape sanctions on appeal, especially given the political inclinations of the higher courts. Microsoft's downfall is most unlikely to result from a legal proceeding: the conqueror will be new technology, and Microsoft will be overwhelmed because it is now a legacy marketing company rather than a technology-led one. The lawyers are most of the time insufficiently aware of the facts, and seem to believe that they can wing it by virtue of cross-examination skill. Nor are judges immune. To be sure, Judge Jackson has done sterling work in trying to conduct the case according to the rules, and he will decide the District Court case. But the skill of his law clerks will play a major role in deciding how watertight his Opinion is on appeal, and in deciding the remedies. More important than even the legal outcome is what is happening in the court of public opinion. Even a year ago, criticism of Microsoft was akin to a vicious attack on motherhood and apple pie. Now, pro-Microsoft articles are so few that they are even referenced by Microsoft on its trial Web page. The open source movement has enthused the digerati, and may yet embrace typical users to a significant extent. If Microsoft significantly increases prices, large-scale piracy is likely. The heats are still being run for Java and network computers: the main races are yet to come. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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