Victim Nation

There is a witch hunt under way in U.S. District Court in Washington. A team of Justice Department lawyers is set upon destroying Microsoft in what is nothing less than the manifold expression of the government giving in to the voices of Victim Nation.

That’s where we live today: Victim Nation. And what a great place it is. No one needs be responsible for his or her actions. There always is something in the past or an uncontrollable element in the environment that causes aberrant behavior. Kids don’t misbehave in school because they like being a pain in the teacher’s butt. No, it’s society’s fault, or TV, or El Nino. But it's never the fault of the individual.

The same holds true in this case, as well as other actions being mulled over by the Justice Department against solid corporate citizens like Intel and Cisco. These companies represent to Justice uncontrollable elements in the environment that cause harm to others, like Sun, Oracle, and Netscape to name just three.

And controlled they must be, because we have a federal government today that craves control and disdain bigness -- unless of course it’s big government.

Why should I bother with a column that covers a topic you’ve already seen in umpteen variations in just about every publication you read? Because this column will ask you to do something, and that is to consider the points below and then take action. That action is this: Write a letter and e-mail it to your congressman -- senator or representative -- and tell your representative how you feel. You, as an IT buyer and IT practitioner. You, as a voter. You, as a citizen doing your duty in a meaningful way.

Yes, I know the Justice Department is a separate entity from the legislature in our system of checks and balances. But in today’s political climate it’s all pretty much the same.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you been personally harmed by anything Microsoft has done in the market? If your answer is yes, can you document this or quantify it in some meaningful way?
  • Were you as an individual or was your company harmed by Microsoft’s giving away its Internet browser while Netscape continued to sell its browser? Again, if so, how?
  • Assuming you are a Microsoft customer, likely for several products, do you not have viable options to buy the products of other vendors in most if not all product categories? If is "yes," why do you buy Microsoft?
  • As Microsoft’s market share in languages, applications and operating system software has risen, approaching the de facto monopoly the government alleges, have the prices of these products gone up or down? Hint: When WordPerfect dominated word processing, prices rose steadily and often; under the hegemony of Microsoft Word, prices have plummeted.
  • If prices have gone down, is that how a monopolist acts?
  • Do you really believe Microsoft, or any company, can "dominate" the Internet?

Now let’s spend a moment with the chief instigators: the city council of Victim Nation. Has Microsoft beat unfairly upon them?

Well, Sun is the only major systems company in existence without an NT strategy. This at a time when NT is clearly poised for major gains once the bugs are ironed out of Windows 2000. A smart move would be to roll along with the market and sell NT hardware. But why do that when the government can be brought in to push your own would-be monopoly, called Java?

Oracle is smarting both from slowing database sales and several failed efforts, like network computing. I don’t know what Microsoft did to prompt Oracle into some bad decisions, but the Justice Department doesn’t care much for the facts these days.

And Netscape. They somehow managed to convince the brain trust at Justice that the browser is the key to the Internet. Think about that for a moment. Forget about all the truly business-critical Internet and Web development products and technologies that really matter. To Netscape and to Justice, it’s the browser. And by giving its browser away, Microsoft has made Netscape a victim.

Consider the questions above. Then ask if you and your company would be better off with a neutered Microsoft and empowered and enriched "victims." Then get to that keyboard and start writing. -- Bill Laberis is president of Bill Laberis Associates Inc. (Holliston, Mass.) and former editor-in-chief of Computerworld. Contact him at bill@laberis.com.