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Justice turns a blind eye toward Microsoft?

By Paul McNamara on Sun, 06/10/07 - 6:15am.

A decade ago the United States government appeared determined to do unto Microsoft what it had done earlier to AT&T: blow up a monopoly and send the pieces scattered to the wind.

Ten years and a change of administration later and the only explosives used by Justice Department antitrust watchdogs eying Microsoft are those being lobbed by regulators in defense of the software giant and in the direction of its opponents, according this story.

"With the change in administrations there has been a sharp falling away from the concerns about how Microsoft and other large companies use their market power," said Harry First, a professor at the New York University School of Law and the former top antitrust lawyer for New York state who is writing a book about the Microsoft case. "The administration has been very conservative and far less concerned about single-firm dominant behavior than previous administrations."

Of course, the fact that former Microsoft lawyers now in key government positions have played leading roles in the change may be merely a coincidence.

Even mighty Google has been on the receiving end of this shift in regulatory emphasis, according to the story. Google’s complaint about Microsoft Vista making life difficult for its search engine not only fell on deaf ears at the Justice Department, it prompted an assistant attorney general to pen a memo urging state authorities to abandon their pursuit of Google’s claim, too. That the official sending the memo was once a lawyer in a firm that represents Microsoft did not go unnoticed.

"Eyebrows were raised by this letter in our group, as much by the substance and tone as by the past relationship the author had had with Microsoft," said (Connecticut Attorney General Richard) Blumenthal, one of the few state prosecutors who has been involved in the case since its outset. "In concept, if not directly word for word, it is the Microsoft-Netscape situation. The question is whether we're seeing deja vu all over again."

It certainly doesn’t appear to be that way relative to the mindset of those minding Microsoft in Washington.

Note: For an opposing, pro-Microsoft point of view, check out Microsoft subnet blogger John Obeto.

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