- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

A federal judge's decision upholding the Justice Department's proposed antitrust settlement with Microsoft Corp. was sweet vindication for the agency yesterday.
At an afternoon news conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft quoted from U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's decision that praised government and Microsoft officials for their "intense efforts at reaching a settlement and their willingness to do so in the face of previous failures."
For a federal judge to include such commendations for the efforts of Justice and Microsoft in her order, Mr. Ashcroft said, "is a matter of great gratification to me."
The Justice-Microsoft settlement was accepted with only slight modifications, involving how issues would be brought before the court in the future for review. Mr. Ashcroft said the deal provides "certainty and stability" to the computer industry and will enhance competition for consumers.
"I think the substance of the case is the reason to celebrate the outcome," he said.
The effort was led by the department's antitrust division under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Charles James, who altered the course of the long-running Microsoft case by pushing for the settlement and abandoning previous proposals for harsh penalties such as a breaking up the company. President Bush had strongly favored a settlement, a departure from the case's direction under President Clinton.
Early corporate reaction to the ruling was mostly either reserved or nonexistent. Only consumers, it seems, had clear opinions.
"It's business as usual," said one of the more outspoken executives, Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive of Opera Software ASA in Olso, which makes a competing Web browser.
"It isn't very much of a settlement at all," he said. "Microsoft was found guilty. There were no real remedies, no actual punishment. I'm not too surprised."
Microsoft was found to have violated antitrust laws, illegally maintaining its monopoly over computer operating systems by strong-arming competitors.
Nine states, including California, had argued that the settlement didn't go far enough in protecting consumers and giving competitors a fair chance to compete with Windows products that are found on more than 90 percent of home and business computers.
"We've seen the future; it's Microsoft," said Bob Lande, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, who characterized the decision as "either a total victory for Microsoft or close to it."
"They ought to be celebrating in Redmond tonight. The states just didn't convince the judge of the bulk of their issues," he said. "The judge didn't buy their story; it's going to be really hard for the states to appeal this successfully."
At the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, relief settled in as employees learned that the company's antitrust struggle with the federal government was coming to an end.
It wasn't "like when the stock splits," said Randy Ramig, a software-design engineer in Microsoft's mobile-devices group, which works on software for wireless products. But he said workers were feeling relieved.
"It just has been a cloud hanging over our heads for a while now," said Mr. Ramig, a 33-year-old Seattle resident who has worked at the company since 1997. "The last four, five years have been long; it's been a long, drawn-out process."
Mr. James at Justice said the decision "confirms our view that the settlement was both an appropriate resolution of the case and in the public interest." But he said the antitrust lawyers, led by his successor, would keep close tabs on Microsoft's compliance with the settlement.
"We intend to be very aggressive in enforcing this court order," Mr. James said.
Some of the consumers shopping at Fry's Electronics in San Jose, Calif., a popular computer store in the heart of Silicon Valley, were hoping for a tougher ruling.
"I like Microsoft products, and I don't have a vendetta against Bill Gates, but they really needed to be slapped down," said Mark Banks, 41, referring to the company's chairman. "Only time will tell if [these sanctions] are enough, but it sounds like a good start."
Kevin Wallace, picking up a computer with the Windows XP system, said, "There is just too much Microsoft and not enough of the little guy."
"Windows is not an open operating system, like Linux," said Mr. Wallace, 28. "It doesn't seem like anything is going to change with this decision."
Others expressed relief that the judge didn't take drastic measures.
Preserving the status quo is fine with Ernest Yu.
"I have tried a lot of different things out there, and I haven't seen anything that can run the number of applications that Windows does. I haven't seen anything that is perfect. I like Windows."
High-tech corporate America seemed to take the decision in stride, and those who reacted did so in measured terms.
Mike Maher, a spokesman for Dell Computer Corp., one of the nation's largest PC retailers, said officials had not yet had a chance to thoroughly read the judge's decision.
"We've said all along that it's a Microsoft matter and not a Dell matter," he said.
At the same time, Dell, which custom-builds computers, has improved its Linux and other non-Microsoft operating system offerings.
Eastman Kodak Co., which has expanded into digital cameras and had been among companies seeking to convince the judge that the proposed antitrust settlement was bad for Americans, was careful as well.
"We did resolve many of our concerns with Windows XP directly with Microsoft, and we're pretty pleased with how they addressed some of our concerns, and we continue to work with them in trying to make the digital photography experience better on XP and Kodak products," spokesman Anthony Sanzio said.

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