"Good morning, and welcome to the post-Microsoft world." Words many of you have been waiting to hear for years. Yesterday's court ruling didn't end the Microsoft Age, just focused attention on the fact that it's over.
The response to the ruling yesterday, in fact, defined hype. Almost all the significance was symbolic. The findings changed little in the short term, and probably even less in the long run. The most significant and blessed fallout from yesterday may be the loss not of Microsoft, but of a host of those annoying dot.coms flushed out by a NASDAQ mourning a world without Omnipotent Bill. Truth is, we are already living in a post-Microsoft world, and nobody really much cares.
Until the mid-90s, Microsoft was the technological Godhead. Everyone involved with computing or the network hated, used, exploited or feared it. That's no longer true.
The Microsoft Age began to unravel when programmers all over the earth connected and demonstrated that they could create a viable, ethical alternative operating system, sharing freely what was costing everybody else billions. It was accelerated by Bill Gates' profound and distinctly non-visionary arrogance. Anybody who has ever watched TV would have known to settle a long time ago, but Gates must have been reading his own press, thumbing his nose at the one mega-corporation on earth bigger than his.
Had the government intervened a decade ago, when it would really have mattered, yesterday's court ruling might have been as ground-breaking as the pundits and analysts were claiming last night. Who knows what kind of smothered, suppressed and acquired innovation might have been unleashed had Microsoft been reigned in at the height of its abuse and power?
As it was, the decision felt profoundly anti-climactic. It's hard to think of a single major thing on the Net that will change. Bill Gates, it was clear, had given up on this judge, first patronizing, then brazenly lying to him, finally going for the end run, perhaps in the hope that a Republican would shortly take up residence in the White House.
In a few years, after the platoons of lawyers have been as enriched as Microsoft's middle managers, it's possible that computer users will have three or four operating systems to choose from -- if there even are traditional operating systems, sold and downloaded in traditional ways, which seems less likely by the week. But even if there are, it isn't clear that any "remedies," once they are finally contested and sorted out in the courts, will have much meaning. Gates is still trying to come to grips with a political system that is slicker than he is. How odd to see him all over the evening newscasts, practicing his own annoying what-me-worry? spin, proclaiming his company the world's greatest, cheapest and most benevolent technological empowering force.
It seemed pooped and lame. Bill Gates' company hasn't dominated any of the significant technological movements and evolutions of the late 90s: open source, nano-technology, AI, genetic research, hand-held and wireless computing, supercomputers.
For those who've spent years battling and fussing over this rapacious, insatiable company, there was belated satisfaction in seeing a federal judge confirm what a lot of people already knew: Billl Gates is a monopolistic, predatory lawbreaker.
But apart from terrifying high-tech investors for a day or two, it's difficult to discern a single significant outcome from yesterday's decision, a single reality likely to change for people who use computers, the Net or the Web. The pundits couldn't even agree whether Microsoft would be more of a menace broken up or left alone. And the hysteria about lawsuits was laughable. Microsoft has a big enough legal budget to tie up class-action lawsuits for years, and its insurance company is already putting aside billions to start drawing interest for the inevitable day when the settlements must be paid.
Yesterday brought the odd spectacle of 21st-century economic problem confronted by a century-old law (the Sherman Anti-Trust Act) being deployed by a 225-year-old institution (the federal judiciary) and analyzed by an ancient information structure (the news media). All this was also being trumpeted endlessly by a federal bureaucracy eager to appear to curb the unchecked power of run-amok corporations, when it's far from clear it will ultimately even be able to curb one.
Perhaps the post-Microsoft world began between when Linus Torvald began his software experiment and Judge Jackson's eerily retro ruling yesterday. Why eerie? Because it pitted a string of l9th-century laws and institutions against a 21st-century economic system. And the antiquarians really thought they had won.
When all is said and done, many of the people reading, working on and joining this site had a hell of a lot more to do with this than those Justice Department pols falling all over one another yesterday to get their pusses in front of the TV cameras, trying to convince the world that they were out there fighting for the little guy.