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Lost in Cyberspace

Microsoft, Justice Department stake out their positions on Web sites

This column was originally published on March 3, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service. (Updated Oct. 29, 2000.)

Like a storyline from a classic Western, Microsoft and the Justice Department are engaged in a high-noon showdown. The marshal says Wild Bill Gates and his gang been unfairly rustlin' customers from other outfits nearby. Ol' Bill, though, why, he says he's just trying to make some money and weren't causin' no harm a'tall.

Unlike a John Ford movie, though, determining who's really wearing the white hat in the Justice Department's antitrust investigation of Microsoft is a bit hard to figure out. Both sides claim they're really the good guys, and given the confusing issues involved – just what is an operating system, anyway? – the media's been unable to do much more than provide an account of each side's charges and countercharges.

So can an interested or even mildly curious bystander to this brouhaha get hard facts on this case? Finding an objective source of info on this issue is pretty tough.

Before even getting to that stage, it probably makes sense to see what each side has to say. Microsoft, of course, holds that it's doing nothing wrong in adding a Web browser as a basic component of Windows 98 – or in any of its other practices that are reportedly under scrutiny.

Microsoft has a section on its site dedicated to making this point. Be warned, though. In two hours of trying, I was never able to get in using Netscape – when I finally tried with Explorer, it worked fine. Coincidence? Hmm ... (October 2000 update: Site loads fine now with Netscape 4.7.)

To get the Department of Justice's take on the situation – that Microsoft is unfairly leveraging its grip on the PC market to drive Netscape, among others, out of business – go their U.S. v. Microsoft: Main Index. This page has links to all the legal stuff: enough writs, stipulations, briefs and appeals to stunt the growth of even the hardiest budding lawyer.

(Just to show how far Microsoft's reach is, when I originally wrote this if you did a search of the Department of Justice Web site for the word "Microsoft," every document on the site came up. Why? DOJ was using Microsoft's "FrontPage" to manage its site, and "FrontPage" inserts an html> meta tag at the top of each page with a copyright notice for Microsoft. Thankfully, DOJ's new updated search engine no longer brings up every document, and the meta tags seem to have been removed.)

Okay, back to the search for fair, unbiased info. There's very little of that when compared to the mounds of opinion you'll find, but they do exist.

One of the most extensive is the Law Journal Extra site, which has all the documents in the case, academic articles, analysis pieces and an online discussion. (October 2000 update: Law Journal Extra now forwards to the site, which does not seem to have a Microsoft section.)

Giving up the search for unbiased sources, which of the other sites offers the best information or at least the most entertaining rhetoric?

One of the better anti-Microsoft sites is run by Ralph Nader's Essential Information group. Nader has been vocal in charging Microsoft with antitrust violations. Essential Information hosts an unmoderated discussion list on antitrust issues in general, but one of the busiest threads has been on the Microsoft issue – and it's all archived on Essential's Web site. If you go to, you can choose to browse the list by thread or the default listing by date. You can also subscribe to any of Essential's discussion lists from the site.

On the other side, a group with the unlikely name of the Committee for the Moral Defense of Microsoft has a site located at Rah-rah stuff here, mostly, but an interesting take that is almost diametrically opposed to Nader's.

Fortune Magazine has an interview with Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold at; this page also has links to other sites favorably inclined toward Microsoft.

Finally, if you're a masochist there are even various newsgroups and discussion lists with current threads devoted to the issue. Try for starters. There are several thousand newsgroups dedicated just to Microsoft – with names like; there are even newsgroups and listservs in Danish, Greek and Swedish where people are arguing about the antritrust issue.