Jesse Berst: After Microsoft: What's next and what it means to you

'It's likely that Microsoft will buy its way to safety'

It's strange to write you this morning in the aftermath of the antitrust ruling. Because the legal impact is much less than everybody imagines. And the business impact is much more. Just in case you've been hibernating in a bat cave this weekend, here's what I'm talking about: US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued a preliminary finding of fact in the Microsoft antitrust trial. He came down strongly that:

  • Microsoft is indeed a monopoly and

  • the company abused that position.

    To understand the implications, you need to separate the legal issues from the business issues.

    The best analogy I've heard compares the government's victory to "jumping 80% of the way across the Grand Canyon." Yes, it's an impressive achievement. But it doesn't mean anything unless you make it all the way. And the government still has to get past the appellate court and the Supreme Court.

    As a result, the current ruling will have little immediate impact at law because...

    ... Microsoft is likely to win on appeal. I won't bother you with the details. Suffice it to say that the government's victory was based more on emotion than on logic. The appeals courts will not be swayed by that emotion. And the appellate and Supreme Court judges are more conservative and more pro-business.

    ... the case will drag on for years. Unless there's a settlement (unlikely), this matter won't reach final resolution for at least two years.

    ... the matter may be moot by then. It's possible the market will shift away from Microsoft so strongly that penalties won't be needed. It's far more likely, however, that Microsoft will buy its way to safety. Even if the court extracts a penalty on Microsoft's PC business, it will have shifted its money into new markets. Today, we pay a "Bill Gates tax" on every PC. Tomorrow, we'll pay a similar toll to Bill for satellite systems and cable systems.

    Take me to the DoJ/Microsoft special .