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David 1, Goliath 0
by Elizabeth Weaver Engel

Amazingly enough, it seems that some federal judges somewhere actually have a minimal understanding of technology issues. Yes, dear readers, Microsoft just received a holiday lump of coal courtesy of US District Judge Whyte. As you no doubt know, Microsoft has been given 90 days and three options: dump Java altogether, dump its Java-esque product in favor of Sun Java, or bring its faux-Java in line with Sun's regulations. And there was much rejoicing as someone on the bench finally got a clue in regards to technology.

This strikes me as fairly important for two reasons. Number one, as most techhies are aware, Java could kill Microsoft. At this point, Microsoft can compel us to use their operating systems because if we want to run the latest and greatest software, we don't really have a choice. Sure, Linux is free (or at least really cheap), but, the argument goes, it's so hard to configure and administer, and then it's not GUI unless you add X-Windows, which adds another layer of configuration issues, and even then, many popular software packages won't run on X. The only other realistic option is Macintosh, and then anytime you want to deal with anybody on a PC (which is just about everybody - see above argument), you run into all sorts of conversion issues. Of course, the genius of Java is platform-independent software. Then all of a sudden, learning to administer UNIX, or switching your PC to OS2, or ditching your PC in favor of a Mac starts to look better and better. OF COURSE Microsoft disobeyed the licensing agreement and tweaked up the code so it would be proprietary. The only way they know how to do business is kill or be killed. So score one for the good guys.

Which brings us to issue number two: the antitrust lawsuit. Yeah, I know they aren't necessarily related, but the Java decision certainly doesn't bode well for the Seattle Big Foot. It's weird - I get the feeling that most people seem to see the antitrust lawsuit as some sort of federally sponsored personal vendetta against Bill Gates. The thing is, if Microsoft is broken up, America's best known billionaire will likely become a trillionaire overnight. Good for him. Bill and his money aren't the issue here. What is the issue is literally annihilating the competition, a practice for which Microsoft is notorious. There's a reason all those jokes about Microsoft and the Borg keep making the e-rounds.

While we're on the subject, I have to say that if I hear one more word from a Microsoft executive about the government infringing on their right to innovate, I am going to hurl. The only innovation Microsoft has ever brought about is the Operating System That Ate New York City - every time you think you've gotten a really sexy desktop that can handle it, the Redmond Mafia doubles the system requirements. Know what? Give "Start Me Up" BACK to the Stones, take the $12 million you spent on it (or was it $16 million?), and use it to make something small and slick and fast and cheap and maybe good while you're at it. If I have to take my desktop machine from 64 Megs to 128 when NT5 is released, or buy a new hard drive just to house the OS, I'm gonna have a kitten!

WHEW! Deep breath...where was I? Oh, yeah, the antitrust lawsuit. So it is still going on, and it's hard to say which way it's going to go. Some very damning information has arisen, much from Microsoft's own files (yes, your old e-mail can come back from the dead and bite you in the ass), but some fairly exculpatory stuff has come to light as well, much of it from Netscape (see above about e-mail, death, and one's hindquarters). And who knows what the ramifications of the recent AOL/Netscape merger, or of their decision to work with Sun will be. Seems to me that the settlers are circling the wagons, so to speak, just in case things don't go their way. Which is probably not a bad idea, since, Judge Whyte notwithstanding, federal judges are not universally well known for their high level of technological savvy (remember the judge who urged Microsoft to remove the desktop icon for Internet Explorer that installed with Windows as a way of removing it from the operating system?). On the other hand, does it occur to anyone other than me that, particularly if the antitrust lawsuit goes against Microsoft, the AOL/Netscape monolith is looking to be next in line?

b i o
Elizabeth Weaver Engel, besides being a budding writer, is a stealth geek, a manager (but NOT the Pointy-Haired Boss) at a non-profit association, a distance runner, a "rabid" Lindy Hopper, and a connoisseur of fine B-grade movies. 

Currently a resident of Washington, DC, Elizabeth grew up outside of Philadelphia and holds a Master's degree in political theory from the University of Virginia.  She fell into working with computers by accident and has since been struggling to pull herself out.  Writing for Mindjack is one of the steps she's taking to do so.

The writer of this article welcomes your comments: ewengel@mindjack.com