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'Net Insider:

A confluence of events

By Scott Bradner
Network World, 07/09/01            

All sorts of things seem to be happening right about now. We've just celebrated Independence Day, the judgment that Microsoft is a monopoly has just been upheld, it looks like the Bell-etts have won the game, we have had two successive evenings of Texas-intensity thunderstorms in the Northeast, and the country music station plays soft, but there's nothing - really nothing - to turn off.

I'm sitting here with's Sunday night oldie's show waxing nostalgic in the background ("You're just a Coca-Cola Cowboy" is playing) wondering if there is a connection between monopolies old and new; freedom; and torrential rain highlighted by more lightning and thunder than I've seen and heard in a while.

A few days ago the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a split decision on Microsoft's appeal of its conviction on acting like a monopoly. It upheld the conviction, but because the original judge was a bit too forthright in expressing his personal opinion of what he had seen, the appeals court sent the case back to have a different judge figure out what penalty should be assessed for the transgressions. So Microsoft has a monopoly in operating systems? Shocking indeed, I say as one of the less than 10% who uses a Macintosh.

The economic theoreticians are saying this is some kind of new monopoly - a product of the network effects on the Internet. I don't quite know what that means, but I'll refrain from starting a software company that aims to sell some little software gadget to use on Windows machines.

But not all monopolies are new or the product of the Internet. The Boston Globe recently reported that now that the dust has mostly settled, the telecom winners in the new world are the guaranteed-by-regulation winners from the old world. Looking back, this should not be too big a surprise. We were all blinded by the cluelessness of the regional telephone companies. They seemed too dumb to live. We forgot that it does not take all that much of a clue to win if you own the air. And the air for telecommunications is the connections to the customers.

But the fundamentals of these two types of monopolies are as different as can be. I don't know anyone who looks to the Baby Bells for innovation (don't hold your breath for aggressive deployment of broadband Internet connections), but Microsoft has been anything but static - often being in the forefront of adoption of new, Internet technology.

There was a lot of bombast out of Redmond, Wash., after the latest court decision, but it did seem a bit like hot air-spawned thunderstorms that blow over quickly. Sadly, I doubt that the outcome there or with the Bells will be all that compatible with individual or national freedom, but I could be surprised.

Disclaimer: Harvard has plenty of hot air, but not so many storms. But the above linkage is my own.

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