Technology

Letters

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Anti-Antitrust

Hurray to Joseph Bast and David B. Kopel for their common sense on the Microsoft case ( "Antitrust's Greatest Hits," November).

As one who writes for the computer industry and consumers, I find it's often necessary to underscore a really obvious point about this case: Every single customer of every single Microsoft product has alternatives. Apple sells computers and operating systems, as does Sun. Numerous versions of Linux and the BSD operating system are available for free to those who would rather not use Windows. Lotus, Sun, and Corel sell competing office suite products.

In contrast to other purported monopolies, such as Alcoa or Standard Oil, Microsoft has no ability to constrain supply in their market. If I wrote an operating system and everyone in the world wanted to buy it, I could set up an Internet site from which people could download it. Microsoft could do nothing to stop them. If you actually have a better product, barriers to entry in the software business are low.

The simple truth is that many Microsoft products have large market shares because consumers have chosen to buy them. This was even the case for Internet Explorer. It wasn't until version 4.0 that Explorer became a clearly better browser than Netscape Navigator and acquired significant market share.

We should all be thoroughly distrustful of the government and Microsoft's competitors when they tell us that we are forced to make the decisions we have been making. The surest way to lose my respect is to insult my intelligence.

Larry Seltzer
Maplewood, NJ

There are glaring factual omissions in the article regarding the Microsoft case. The authors failed to discuss Microsoft's pattern of using its operating system monopoly to steal markets from competitors in the applications software business. This distinction is crucial to understanding the case against Bill Gates & Co.

Once desktops included independent products like WordPerfect and Netscape. They are now replaced by Word and Internet Explorer. RealAudio is being consumed by MediaPlayer as you read these words, and Microsoft is fighting in the courts to replace Java with Csharp. Microsoft took none of the market risks to pioneer these products, yet they were able to clip the shoots when they were ripe by building their own versions into the operating system. A utility-minded customer is not going to re-purchase that capability separately.

The diatribe about takeover of the Internet, the article's central point, is an unrealized fear. But what about these past crimes? Information technology is vitally important to a free society, and it would be a disservice to freedom to put a single corporation at the gate of society's information flow.

L.L. Williams
Manitou Springs, CO

David B. Kopel replies: L.L. Williams is incorrect. As I detail in my book Antitrust After Microsoft, Microsoft has never been able to use its operating system to defeat superior applications competitors.

The Windows Media Player has been bundled with Windows ever since the early 1990s. This bundling did not prevent the Real Networks media players from being preferred by most consumers during the long period (by computer industry time standards) in which the Real products were clearly superior to WMP.

As Mr. Seltzer points out, Internet Explorer did not begin to seriously erode Netscape's market share until version 4.0, when most computer magazines rated it superior to Netscape. Explorer had been bundled with Windows since the day Windows 95 was released. But because early Explorer releases were inferior, Netscape was able to achieve a 90 percent market share for its $49 product, even though Microsoft was giving its browser away for free.

As for WordPerfect, this once-fine product was nearly destroyed by its incompetent acquirers, first Novell and then Corel. Windows 3.0 was introduced in 1989, but not until 1992 did WordPerfect produce a version for Windows. That version was unstable, prone to crashing, and bug-infested, as were subsequent releases.

Ground Zero

Anyone interested in American cities should read Sam Staley's nuanced account of Cincinnati's woes ("Ground Zero in Urban Decline," November). Staley looks at what other accounts have either ignored or misunderstood. Almost alone among those who have written about Cincinnati's troubles in the wake of last year's rioting, Staley recognizes the failure of large-scale rebuilding efforts in other cities.

His focus on the "Digital Rhine," the high-tech companies that have sprung up in the riot-torn neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, is similarly a welcome relief. Most other accounts stress the local corporate giants like Procter & Gamble at the expense of grassroots economic activity. My one quibble: I wish he had talked more about whether there is a connection between Cincinnati's dysfunctional politics and its economic woes.

Fred Siegel
The Cooper Union for Science and Art
New York, NY

Many decades ago, while working at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a colleague, Don Phares, and I wrote a piece on housing in Cincinnati, to see what relevance it had to St. Louis. I also worked with the late Norton Long at the university, who predicted that the then-proposed light rail system for St. Louis would hemorrhage money. Indeed it does.

St. Louis is faring worse than Cincinnati, and is facing the issue in exactly the wrong way: by seeking to build a new, unneeded, publicly financed baseball stadium. Meanwhile, the city's infrastructure continues to decline, black and white folks are leaving in droves, and bureaucrats are as arbitrary as ever.

Staley lays out a coherent and useful case. Too bad the key people in these various cities are unlikely to read it. Norton Long screamed and hollered in the '70s and everyone heard him but ignored him. They'll probably ignore Staley, too.

Tom Vonder Haar
Washington, MO

Title IX Debate

I greatly enjoyed most of Cathy Young's article on Title IX ("Good Sports?," November). But one statement tainted the article: "…most of the blame rests with the reluctance of college administrators to touch the bloated budgets and inflated rosters of football programs."

"Bloated" budgets for football programs are only half of the story. These programs not only hold their own financially, but make money for the school. I am a student at Michigan State University, whose athletic program ranks second in the nation. We hold lotteries here just to determine who can camp out to buy cheering-section tickets.If prices truly scaled with demand, major sports programs might be even more profitable.

The idea of Title IX seems to be that a person should be able to participate freely in a sport regardless of other factors. But if that's your paradigm, then men suffer the most.Many women's sports simply aren't as popular and positions are available on most teams for almost anyone who wants to play. For major sports, like men's football, the average student can only dream of being on the team.

Finally, cheating and preferential treatment are major problems that need to be addressed directly. Title IX certainly won't solve that.

Joseph Blaim
East Lansing, MI

Freedom to Farm

Michael W. Lynch hardly gets started on the subject of government involvement in agriculture ("Money for Nothing," November). I do hope he is aware of the broader picture.

I have a small farm in western Oregon and work elsewhere full time. After 40 years, I have seen a lot. During that time, the government has always controlled agriculture to some degree, with the soil bank, set-asides, subsidies, incentives, land-use laws, quotas, etc. I was there when the government paid half our costs to drain wetlands to increase wheat production because Russia surprised them with a sudden, large wheat purchase, raising the price to $6 a bushel. The government put a stop to that, making the Russians space their purchases out and schedule them in advance. Wouldn't want the farmers to have a windfall year. Russia went elsewhere for wheat, looking for the best deal like anyone else.

I looked forward to the Freedom to Farm policy. I was tired of reporting to the government every acre I planted and where. I was tired of having to grow certain plants to maintain my allotment.

Land is zoned farm-use only. It can't be divided, built on, or used for anything else. One can get stuck going broke farming poor ground that can't be sold or used for anything else. Between wildlife overlays, scenic overlays, riparian overlays, permits, and the rest, there is no private property when it comes to agriculture.

Since the government controls the land and the prices to varying degrees, and won't allow the owner to make the best, most profitable use of his land, they can find themselves in a situation where they have to put the farmer on welfare to keep him alive.

James L. Werth
Grand Ronde, OR

Attention College Students:

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