- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

It has to be one of the more reluctant endorsements Microsoft has ever received. Under questioning from reporters at her weekly briefing last week, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno acknowledged that the Justice Department relies heavily on Microsoft's Windows operating system. That's the cyber platform from which computer users launch applications like word processing and accounting.

The agency's choice in operating systems is an awkward subject these days because the Justice Department is suing Microsoft on antitrust grounds, saying the company illegally blocked competition to Windows to promote a monopoly. But legal theorizing is one thing; finding an operating system on which the agency can rely to construct its case against Microsoft is something else. Irony of ironies, Miss Reno defends the use of Windows on pretty much the same grounds as any customer might: It's efficient, and it's relatively inexpensive. Not that she wanted to admit that to a bunch of reporters. Consider her exchange with journalists Thursday:

REPORTER: Attorney General Reno, excuse me, if I might return the subject to Microsoft. On April 28th, when the government when the Antitrust Division first proposed the breakup of Microsoft, we asked Assistant Attorney General Klein if in fact the U.S. government was one of the mainstays of the Microsoft monopoly because you know, the FBI has 24,000 [personal computers or PCs] and the Antitrust Division has 11,000 PCs, the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] has oh, what is it? 23,000 PCs, and they all run on Microsoft Windows. And he said well, that's a matter of procurement. He couldn't answer that. And so we're wondering if we could take it to the top with you. Do you think it's likely in the future that the U.S. government will be procuring other types of operating systems apart from Microsoft?

MISS RENO: What we want to do, just aside from the Microsoft case, so let me answer your question generally, is in procurement buy the best equipment possible at the lowest price possible to benefit the American taxpayers. We think we can do that more effectively if we have greater competition.

So apparently Microsoft has the best equipment possible at the lowest price right now. It's nice of Miss Reno to say so, but the reporter wanted to know if she would do her part to break up Microsoft's "monopoly" by buying other operating systems. The reporter tried again:

REPORTER: Ms. Reno, if I can sneak one more in, isn't the government's purchase of machines operating with Windows software tacit admission that at least for the moment, this is the lowest cost and best system for government use? I mean, aren't you tacitly endorsing Microsoft?

MISS RENO: Under I don't want to get into a discussion of the Microsoft case because I think that should be litigated in court. But let's go to another case. I don't think that you endorse something by purchasing it, if that's the only game in town.

REPORTER: There are alternative operating systems.

MISS RENO: If that's the only game in town in terms of an effective machine, low price, the lowest price available. I'll ask [an aide] to give you whatever you need in terms of procurement policy.

The reporter doesn't need a lecture in procurement policy. The question is why the Justice Department continues to use Windows when there are other operating systems available. Maybe it's because when it comes to price and effectiveness, the agency, like consumers, believes Microsoft really is the only game in town. Why would Miss Reno want to protect consumers from a system like that by breaking up the company?

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