Sun, AOL take MS HailStorm to the Feds

Raining stones

Sun and AOL have selected HailStorm as the new battleground in the ongoing antitrust case against Microsoft, according to The Industry Standard.

HailStorm is Microsoft's platform for B2C web services, only unlike anything resembling a competitive marketecture, it drives traffic through Microsoft's own servers.

Sun and AOL Time Warner appear to have got a hearing at least, according to the Standard, which reports that States generals met Microsoft's antagonists last Friday. The Attorney General for Connecticut Richard Blumenthal is quoted as declaring that "some of the same kinds of antitrust issues seem to be raised," in HailStorm.

However from Blumenthal's qualifier - "we really need to think and learn more about it before we can even reach a tentative conclusion" - it sounds like the States have done little to anticipate the Microsoft plan (even though it's a full eighteen months since Microsoft developers learned about the plumbing for .NET, and longer since Gates and Ballmer started talking about MegaServices).

With conventional wisdom suggesting that the appellate court will reject Jackson's break -up plan, and that the Bush administration will be less likely to pursue harsh alternative remedies, it appears that the States will be at the forefront of continuing action against Microsoft.

Crucially, and this tends to get overlooked, Jackson declared Microsoft a monopoly first, then ruled it had breached anti-trust law, and finally decided the punishment. Regardless of what happens to the latter two judgements, the first still stands and provides the basis for further actions.

However even given that starting point, Sun/AOL-TW will have to make some convincing arguments. Now that Microsoft is engaged in its most ambitious integration plan to date shouldn't be too difficult to prove. .NET services will be bundled into XP, and applications will become service offerings in their own right. But that's not in itself illegal.

The strongest defence Microsoft will be able to point to is that it doesn't have a monopoly of web services; in fact, no one does. And there's no compelling reason for anyone to use HailStorm services unless Microsoft forecloses other distribution mechanisms. For example, if it only lets you use Office or Windows OS services via .NET.

And the irony of AOL, which fended off AntiTrust questions about its merger with Time Warner by making the flimsiest of promises to open up its instant messaging monopoly, won't be lost on many folk. ®

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