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Students of economics rightly question whether monopolies are even bad -- and if you have never seriously thought through this question yourself, I encourage you to read Hayek, von Mises, or Milton Friedman

After that, then you can read Paul Samuelson and other more mainstream economist and get their views on monopolies and their impact. Hayek, Von Mises and other economists of the Austrian school are hardly mainstream. Milton Friedman is a mainstream economist these days, but his prime expertise is in monetary policy.

Obvious Microsoft present-day head-to-head competitors today include Intuit, Real Networks, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, AOL, and Apple, and several of those are beating Microsoft handily -- a few of them for a long time

Note about Intuit: MSFT actually tried to buy them at one time to get Quicken. When MSFT can't dominate an area through its technology, it picks up a checkbook fattened by years of DOS and Windows and tries to buy that area. Doesn't strike me as head-to-head competitive. MSFT has the ability to take losses and hold on for year after year, while producing inferior products because of their huge cash cow (DOS, and now Windows, and Office). Eventually, their competitors are forced out, and then MSFT dominates that area. And MSFT's dominance ensures that new companies don't come up easily. Sun, Oracle, Apple, AOL etc. are all old companies -- they aren't new competitors that have spring up the challenge MSFT, because that is practically impossible.

. Even within its supposedly most monopolistic market -- operating system software -- alternatives exist via Red Hat and others distributing Linux (on the PC platform)

One or two small companies distributing a free OS is serious competition indeed.

What those who are really arguing for, in calling for Microsoft to be prosecuted (strung up, burned in effigy or otherwise, et cetera) is state intervention into business

Talk about hyperbole. Strung, burned in effigy indeed.

David, we dont have a pure free Enterprise system ala the Austrian school. If you're indeed supporting a pure free enterprise system, then I await a rant from you on why the SEC should be dismantled. Ditto for the Federal Reserve

Do we want our federal government to spend millions trying to "improve our lives" further by making it harder for these gigantic, profitable, and world-class American companies to compete domestically and internationally, to do business

Rather than wrap yourself in the American flag, consider this. Every company impacted negatively by MSFT's monopoly tactics is American.

. , the critical point that most people miss is that Microsoft made its diverse products -- word processor, spreadsheet, database, etc. -- compatible with each other, in a world in which previously the top market entrants whizbang products did not communicate effectively with each other.

MSFT did not invent the Spreadsheet: that came from VisiCalc and then Lotus. MSFT did not invesnt the word processor: that came from WordStar. MSFT did not invent the desktop database: that came from Ashton-Tate. And MSFT did not invent integration, either. They did not really have an integrated suite until Office 97 (integrated as in working together, rather than packaged together). They achieved their dominance largely through their superior staying power (thanks to the cash cow Windows) and yes, competitor's mistakes. But MSFT's cash cow help it to recover from mistakes, while most competitors could not get away with shipping one poor version, let alone 2 or 3 as MSFT does.

Microsoft's efforts to standardize software greatly accelerated business productivity, the eventual growth of the Internet, and the dominance of American technology. These things are indisputable.

Actually they're very disputable. MSFT didn't even come to the Internet till late 1995 and didn't have a useable browser till 1996. And that they originally bought from Spyglass. They didn't have a TCP/Ip stack of their own on Windows (non NT) till 1995. Practically every important piece of technology that was crucial to the formation of the Internet came from someone else. Heck, Stanford University was more crucial than MSFT.

As for business productivity, the biggest contributor to that was probably Novell, which was able to network PCs and provide File and Print Sharing --- something LAN Manager failed completely at.

Do we not realize that on the whole business and capitalism serve the common man, while goverment and socialism (and those who may unwittingly endorse it) ruin him?

Say David, are you sending this out via smoke signals ? No, you're using the Internet. Created by DARPA and NSF, two government organizations. Are you "ruined" yet ?

I fully support capitalism and the free market, as it generates incredible wealth, innovation. On the other hand, some government intervention may be necessary at times. The original trust busting by Teddy Roosevelt and the others helped to protect the free market. Heck, even MSFT probably benefited from the original IBM antitrust trial.

The best example of this can be seen in the breakup of AT&T. Far from being harmful, its been a bonanza for consumers, for other long distance carriers, for business and has even been good for many parts of ATT, including Lucent.

And as a consumer and an American, I'm darn glad they exist and that they exist on our shores.

So am I, but its hardly a one-sided blessing. MSFT benefits from access to the US's technology and management pool, from access to its capital markets (a lot harder from overseas), its stable and largely honest government (compared to say India), its generally pro free market government (compared to most of the other Western democracies), its solid business infrastructure (compared to say Mexico), its excellent Universities (most of which receive government grants), its distribution and marketing channels, its liberal immigration policies (the most liberal, after Canada, in the world), its consumer base and not least, its coffee shops.

And while it may be passe in the virtual world, MSFT doesn't even provide that many jobs directly (30,000). Far less than its Seattle companion Boeing. Its a much smaller exporter than companies like GE or even Intel. The pre-breakup ATT employed something like 1% of the US, by contrast.

And it has enriched its shareholders (of which I am one, incidentally), but a lot of its shares are held by insiders who benefit immensely. Again, I don't begrudge them this wealth at all, but in this light, MSFT could also be seen as less of an American Crown Jewel and more of a heavily profitable, monopoly company whose profits benefit a small group of insiders most. If the company were not to use illegal tactics, this would be perfectly reasonable, but to the extent that it does, I don't find this acceptable.

And I value them far more highly -- as, I sense, do most Americans -- than the constant intervening "help" on offer from our federal government.

Well, I think all the folks in North Carolina and other east coast places who are getting help from FEMA after the floods may value that help more than MSFT. I also think that most Americans feel that MSFT would be of less than the army in the event of a war.

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