This time the senator has seized on a white paper, recently released by the Software Publishers Association, that accuses Microsoft of attempting to monopolize the client/server market with its new Windows NT system. Designed for medium‐to‐large‐scale users, servers store data and share computing functionality with networks of individual PCs.
According to the SPA — which concedes that its paper relied on input from “member companies” like Microsoft’s arch‐rivals Sun, Netscape, Novell, Oracle and IBM — Microsoft is guilty of anti‐competitive behavior. Among the company’s more insidious practices (hold your hat): Microsoft offers discounts on other products to purchasers of NT; ties other products to its server software (like every one of its competitors); pre‐announces products, thereby chilling competition; and refuses to certify software as compliant with Windows 95 and 98 unless it is also compliant with NT.
None of those practices is illegal, of course, except that a “monopolist” can be held to a higher standard of conduct than a non‐monopolist. Yet Microsoft — which started from scratch against entrenched competition and has only 40 percent of the server market today — can hardly be characterized as a monopolist. Never mind, says the SPA paper; it’s now time to “avert the erosion of competition” before Microsoft gets a “stranglehold” on the market.
What’s really going on here, of course, is a battle royal between differing business models. Microsoft licenses its NT system to many hardware manufacturers and relies heavily on independent developers for applications software. Sun, by contrast, insists that customers use Sun’s hardware. IBM does the same and, like Oracle, bundles applications software with its server. What galls Microsoft’s rivals is that NT is winning the war — because it’s cheaper, easier to use and boasts more applications programs than the other systems combined. Apparently, that is reason enough to scurry to Orrin Hatch, and reason enough for the senator to call for new hearings. His earlier grilling sought to brand Microsoft as a monopolist in the browser wars. Since the court exploded that theory, the next round is dubbed “Competition in the Digital Age: Beyond the Browser Wars.”