The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


June 7, 2000


Antitrust ain't trusty

Well, it seems we must now urgently deal with this silly Microsoft situation.   First, the most significant and obvious question:  What the heck was Bill Gates thinking when he came up with that name for his company?

Think about it.  Nobody knew at the time that they would grow to dominate the global economy and own 70% of the known universe; he was just another hopeless nerd tooling around with glorified pinball machines because he couldn’t get any girls to pay attention to him.  So how does he label his first major public assertion of identity?  A word that unambiguously evokes both "tiny" and "flaccid" at the same time.  Can you imagine the endless snickers that he endured every time he tried to impress some woman at a party:  "I’m in charge of Microsoft."  "Yeah, I’ll bet you are."

Is it any wonder he’s taking it out on the world now?

Now in case you’re one of those people who has a life, and therefore haven’t been following the big Antitrust Case against Microsoft these past couple of years, I’ll bring you up to date.  (By the way, it’s called "antitrust" basically because the U.S. Government doesn’t trust Gates, or anybody who makes that much money and isn’t named Rockefeller or Kennedy.  It's one of those wonderful twists of linguistic fate that to be in favor of the lawsuit, one can "trust in the pro-antitrust" viewpoint.)

A few years back, Janet Reno and her evil henchmen in the Justice Department were sitting around trying to think of some way to liven up things around the office, when one of them said "I know, let’s go point machine guns at Cuban refugee kids in Florida!"  Unfortunately, they couldn’t work out the logistics on that plan right away, so they put it on the back burner and decided to sue Microsoft instead.   The official charges contained in the original Government Petition accused Microsoft of the following:

"1. Being way, way too big and huge and scary;

2. Doing all sorts of stuff much too complicated for us to understand; and

3. Just generally annoying the hell out of people."

The District Court was fairly sympathetic to these charges at first, particularly when the presiding Judge’s laptop crashed twice while he was secretly playing Solitaire during the opening statements. However, upon further consideration (i.e., when he noticed his High Tech Equity Fund dropped 12 points the next day), the Judge ordered the Justice Department to come up with "some semblance of a reason for this Court to pay attention to this tedium."  It was then that the Government lawyers really got down to business.  They sat up all night, working away at their Microsoft Windows-based computers, typing memos in Microsoft Word, running calculations in Microsoft Excel and Access, preparing presentations in Microsoft Powerpoint, conducting on-line research with Microsoft Internet Explorer.  Six months later, they reached a dramatic conclusion:  there’s not enough competition in the software business!

Fast forward a few hundred million dollars in attorney’s fees, and we arrive at the present, where the Court is about to render its final decision as to how the behemoth corporation will be neutered.  The rumors swirling around anticipate that Microsoft will be split up, just as AT&T was 16 years ago, into smaller companies (what’s smaller than micro, anyway… Subatomicsoft?) that will pose no further threat to the welfare of our children. 

The prevailing opinion seems to be that there should be two companies, one that "does Windows" and the other that makes everything else, from Microsoft Word to Microsoft Money to Microsoft Pizza.  Presumably the latter company would keep the Microsoft name. Rumors are that Gates himself would remain President of the first company, which he would wisely rename "BigHard".

But would that really solve the problem? If you break up a gazillion dollar empire into only two pieces, each offspring will still represent a half-gazillion dollars of dangerous market power.  I have some alternative suggestions, that would really curb the power of this evil giant:

  1. Break Microsoft up into 2,785,341 separate companies.  Each company would be allowed to sell all Microsoft products without limitation, but only from a cardboard lemonade stand on a designated street corner.  No operation would be allowed to expand beyond a 4-block radius.  In sympathy, Gates would be given the concession at the corner of 5th Ave. and 48th Street in Manhattan.
  2. Release all of the proprietary code of Microsoft products to the public. But, to give Microsoft a bit of a residual advantage before they lose all competitive edge, release the code only in printed form: trillions of pages of X’s and O’s, and the first hypernerd who re-keyboards it into a computer gets to sell Microsoft-clone products.
  3. Carve up the company into four or five pieces, let Gates keep one, give the others to the authors of the Melissa, ILoveYou, and Resume viruses (more on this some other time), then tell them to go after each other, no holds barred.
  4. In keeping with the spirit of #3, split Microsoft in half, and give the second half to Vince McMahon, the brain behind the World Wrestling Federation.  I don’t know if it would be good for the economy, but it sure would be fun to watch.
  5. Two words: public flogging.
  6. Seriously, this is the most obvious and effective remedy.  I’ve consulted with a number of top antitrust attorneys, as well as software experts and economic specialists, and we have devised the perfect plan for the Court’s consideration.  It would have the irreversible effect of dismantling the Microsoft empire, while driving down prices for all software products, and ensuring that Gates would no longer wield significant power in any corner of the industry.  In fact, the plan is so simple that my advisors are confident it can be accepted and implemented in almost no time, and it is virtually appeal-proof.  In brief, what the Court should order is >>>>@@@%///~~*###…….$%$%

<<Windows System Error; File has been deleted>>



Recent ramblings:             

Reform This (2/20/00) Hearts in the Right Place (4/9/00) Illegal Elian (4/17/00)
As Campaign 2000 lurches toward new lows of incivility, silliness, and tedium, we bring you the final hope of the American voter: No, not cyanide, I'm talking about the Reform Party. Speaking of impending geriatricity... I must tell you about my latest uncontrollable psychotic obsession -- I mean, hobby. By now, I'm sure you're all anxiously wondering what is my opinion on the moving and controversial case of little Elian Gonzalez, the refugee Cuban boy who's the subject of the most publicized custody battle since Oedipus.

(Click Elsewhen for the complete list)

  2000 David N. Townsend

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