You can tell somebody is in trouble nowadays when the national news media begin referring to him by his full name: William Jefferson Clinton, Orenthal James Simpson, Thomas Penfield Jackson.
That third three-name man is, of course, the U.S. District Court judge whose finding in the Microsoft case sent frissons racing up spines from Silicon Valley in San Jose, Calif., to Silicon Alley in New York City. As our front page story details, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson found that Microsoft is indeed a monopoly, did take predatory action against potential rivals, and has harmed consumers with its monopolistic practices.
What might be notable here: It’s the judge being called three names. In Redmond, Wash., to be sure, Judge Jackson is being called even more names than that. That’s understandable. But remarkably enough, the same might be true even in towns that are not the world headquarters of the software Goliath.
More people own Microsoft stock, financial analysts say, than any other company on the planet. In fact, if you have retirement money in mutual funds, you probably own shares of Microsoft yourself. So central to the U.S. economy has this behemoth become that the firm recently bumped off other blue-chip corporations to become one the companies whose stock prices are tracked to compute the Dow Jones Average.
Reactions to Judge Jackson’s finding are worth pondering. To the folks at the Justice Department, the finding comes as a much-needed win amid recriminations about the conduct of federal officers and incessant calls for the head of Attorney General Janet Reno. One look at the beaming faces of Reno and her top trust buster, Joe Klein (see Page One), tells you all you need to know about the reaction at Justice.
The denizens of the digital domain and those technofiles known collectively as the digerati seemed, by and large, to take a not-so-secret glee in the prospect that the king might lose his heador at least some prized parts of his corporate anatomy.
Yet on Wall Street, the Microsoft news caused barely a ripple. The software maker’s stock price dipped momentarily but by only a few dollars per share. Then Microsoft stock righted itself and continued to cruise along, hovering calmly just above the mid-range of its best and worst daily prices for the year.
Among the elite of education technologythe readers of eSchool News and the visitors to “eSchool News Online”the reaction was fluid. Immediately following the news of the judge’s finding, according to the straw poll we conducted on our web site <www.eschoolnews.com>, school technology leaders weighed in on the side of Microsoft. That plurality shifted in intervening days until, at press time, the plurality of responding educators wanted the courts to break up the software giant. Yet, even then, the second most favored reaction out of four possibilities was to “do nothing” about Microsoft’s monopoly.
The public at large appeared still more supportive. In a November 10 Gallup poll, 68 percent of those questioned had a favorable impression of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, compared to 19 percent whose opinions were unfavorable. Those findings were roughly comparable to the post-Halloween ratings Americans gave front-running presidential candidate George W. Bush.
More to the point, over two-thirds of the American public saw Microsoft in a favorable light right after the judge’s finding, the highest rating since Gallup began keeping score. Among computer users, 78 percent backed Microsoft.
More than half (54 percent) of those polled said they would oppose any move to break Microsoft up into smaller companies. Among computer users, the percentage opposed to a breakup was 58 percent.
Nobody really knows what might be behind such findings. Some believe the sympathy for the mega-monopoly is inspired by its unpopular adversary, the U.S. Justice Department. Others think it’s because people are worried about the adverse affects meddling with Microsoft could have on their investments and on the U.S. economy as a whole. Still others suppose the public supports Microsoft because of its role in imposing a semblance of order on previously unweildy and incompatible software. Microsoft makes high tech safe for the masses, say the pundits.
Or maybe it’s just Bill Gates. He seems like such a nice boy, kind of like the slightly bemused but well-meaning math teacher just down the hall.
Whatever accounts for the public support, Microsoft’s backers probably don’t need to worry for a whileat least not until the news media begin referring to Microsoft’s CEO as William Goliath Gates.