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Because the Internet is still developing so rapidly, reporters and politicians are easy prey for manufactured panics. It would be much more difficult to create such a fright over a more familiar product, such as automobiles. Nobody would believe today that if General Motors opened its own chain of filling stations, GM would take over all American transportation. But on the Internet, folks who can't tell the male end of a dongle from a TCP stack are often suckers for silly claims about chokeholds.
Merely asserting that a company is a "monopolist" has allowed many of Microsoft's competitors to get a free ride from reporters and policymakers who ought to know better. For example, Jim Barksdale, then-CEO of Netscape, said this to Congress in 1998: "I was struck by the fact, in the response of Mr. Gates to the question about whether or not he was a monopoly, he talked about how short-lived the products were, and we all understand that. That doesn't negate whether or not it's a monopoly though. Even if it went away six months from now, it is a monopoly today." The hypocrisy of Barksdale's claim is astonishing -- since Netscape's browser at its height held a larger market share than Microsoft ever had for Web browsers or for operating systems.
The scaremongers appear not to have suffered any loss in credibility. Steven Levy, the writer who warned that we'd all be using "Bill Dollars" by now because of the Microsoft Network, is still sharing his expertise with Newsweek's readers. In June 2000 he penned a cover story advising Bill Gates to capitulate to most of the government's demands. Similarly, Sun's Chairman Scott McNealy applauded Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's Microsoft breakup order as a tool to "protect Internet technologies from becoming the proprietary presence of any one company."
A close look at antitrust's greatest hits -- the cases of Standard Oil, Alcoa, and even AT&T -- reveals a pattern of arbitrary rulings, disregard for consumers, and political interference with the administration of justice. The much shorter history of the Microsoft case has exposed the same injustices, along with the series of embarrassing exaggerations and falsehoods espoused by Microsoft's critics. Where are Microsoft Network, Channels, and Sidewalk today? All have disappeared, become irrelevant, or been radically transformed by competition and changing technology. The Internet remains free and decentralized, and for good reasons: Microsoft cannot "leverage" its dominance in a few markets into control over Internet access or content. To claim otherwise might sell newsmagazines or flummox congressmen -- but it is hardly realistic.