United States vs. Microsoft

October 20, 2011 | posted in: Tech Chronicles | by

United States vs. Microsoft - Monopoly for IE by Microsoft. Image courtesy of learnersonline.com

October 20, 1997

US accuses Microsoft of violating pact forcing IE browser on computers.

US vs Microsoft was a set of civil actions filed against Microsoft Corporation pursuant to the Sherman Act 1890 Section 1 and 2. The plaintiffs alleged that Microsoft abused monopoly power on Intel-based personal computers in its handling of operating system sales and web browser sales. The issue central to the case was whether Microsoft was allowed to bundle its flagship Internet Explorer (IE) web browser software with its Microsoft Windows operating system. Bundling them together is alleged to have been responsible for Microsoft’s victory in the browser wars as every Windows user had a copy of Internet Explorer.

It was further alleged that this restricted the market for competing web browsers (such as Netscape Navigator or Opera) that were slow to download over a modem or had to be purchased at a store. Underlying these disputes were questions over whether Microsoft altered or manipulated its application programming interfaces to favor Internet Explorer over third party web browsers, Microsoft’s conduct in forming restrictive licensing agreements with original equipment manufacturer, and Microsoft’s intent in its course of conduct.

Microsoft stated that the merging of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer was the result of innovation and competition, that the two were now the same product and were inextricably linked together and that consumers were now getting all the benefits of IE for free. Those who opposed Microsoft’s position countered that the browser was still a distinct and separate product which did not need to be tied to the operating system, since a separate version of Internet Explorer was available for Mac OS. They also asserted that IE was not really free because its development and marketing costs may have kept the price of Windows higher than it might otherwise have been. The case was tried before Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Judge Jackson issued his findings of fact on November 5, 1999, which stated that Microsoft’s dominance of the x86 based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly, including Apple, Java, Netscape, Lotus Notes, Real Networks, Linux, and others. Then on April 3, 2000, he issued a two-part ruling: his conclusions of law were that Microsoft had committed monopolization, attempted monopolization, and tying in violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, and his remedy was that Microsoft must be broken into two separate units, one to produce the operating system, and one to produce other software components.

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