View from City Road: Microsoft test for US trust-busters

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The Independent Online
Is Microsoft, Bill Gates' empire that dominates the market for computer operating systems, to be 'the next IBM', monopolising an industry so that it can dictate its future? Or will it instead be the next AT&T, the US telecoms giant prospering a decade after anti-trust regulators ordered it to be broken up?

Just as IBM and AT&T were the landmark monopolies cases of the 1980s, so Microsoft could become the litmus test of the power of America's trust-busters in the 1990s. Today the US Federal Trade Commission will vote on a recommendation that Microsoft and Mr Gates be pursued for anti-competitive practices.

The commission has several options. It can delay action once again, it can file criminal charges like those that resulted in a federal judge ordering AT&T to be dismantled, or it can drop its investigation, as the US Justice Department - under pressure from the Reagan administration - did in its multi-billion-dollar case against IBM.

The political pressure on the process this time around is from Democrats, but this is not to say the FTC will order an end to 'Macrosoft'. The casting vote on the commission is held by an appointee with close ties to the Clinton administration.

So, after a three-year inquiry, the results may be a little anti-climactic, with the FTC unlikely to force either IBM's or AT&T's future on Microsoft. Instead, the commissioners are more likely to agree on a simple court order, warning Mr Gates against trying to force his spreadsheets and word-processors on unwilling Windows users.