A look at Microsoft v. U.S.
Microsoft v. U.S. or United States v. Microsoft Corporation 253 F.3d 34 (D.C. Cir. 2001), as the case was officially filed, was an antitrust case in the United States initiated by the DOJ (Department of Justice) against the then and arguably the present market leader in personal computers and operating systems. Microsoft Corporation was accused of monopolistic practices, effectively creating an anticompetitive environment that led to clear discrimination against third party internet browsers, to an extent of creating a barrier for entry.
Microsoft Windows, the most popular operating system in the world, was preloaded with Internet Explorer at the time and users could access the default browser to surf the internet. There were other browsers available then, such as Opera and Netscape Navigator, that people could not access because they had to be purchased separately or they had to be downloaded which took a lot of time because of the prevailing internet speed. The Department of Justice argued that the practice of Microsoft was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The case was eventually settled.
The primary focus of the plaintiffs was that Microsoft was using its market leading position to create a monopoly by not allowing other browsers to be loaded on personal computers running on Intel processors. In the nineties and earlier, internet browsers were not free as today. They had to be purchased and Microsoft started offering Internet Explorer for free or within the operating system for no additional charge, thereby rendering the whole possibility of anyone buying a browser a nonstarter. Effectively, Microsoft was killing a fledgling segment of a major industry and preventing technological innovation.
The case has been widely debated over the years with popular voices in favor and against the action of the justice department. Many people argue that Microsoft did not commit any crime or even practice monopoly since the internet browser was an inherent need of the consumers. It was in fact the consumers who expected the browser to be preloaded with the operating system and Microsoft merely delivered the same. However, critics of the practice argue that Microsoft should have allowed third party browsers on its system just as its browser was allowed on Mac or Apple computers. This is where Microsoft lost its argument that the internet browser was an inseparable part of the operating system. Internet Explorer did not need Windows to run as was evident in Mac or Apple computers. Hence, the browser and the operating system were not the same or conjoined products.
Microsoft has been accused of monopolistic practices time and again, most notably for its rebates to original equipment manufacturers that prevented them from working with startups or new players. Such practices are still rampant and it is not just Microsoft. Many cite the fact that Microsoft did not really change its ways so the whole purpose of the case was effectively futile to begin with or that it did not accomplish anything substantial. Some people feared that the case would set a precedent for increased governmental regulation in information technology, computers and internet but such has not been the case.