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Novell, Microsoft Turn Back the Clock with Antitrust Trial

We thought about opening this post with one of those pseudo-clever retrospectives about where we were in the '90s when Novell and Microsoft were doing battle, but frankly the '90s are getting to be so long ago that we don't remember them all that well.

If you want a throwback headline, though, look no further than this one in the Seattle Times: "Bill Gates expected to testify at Microsoft-Novell antitrust trial."

What in the name of Frasier Crane is going on here? (OK, so we indulged in one '90s -- and Seattle -- reference. We have no self-control.) Seriously, though, this has to be a joke, right? Bill Gates might testify at an antitrust trial involving Novell? What? How? Novell isn't even Novell anymore. Well, it is in name, but the company is part of Attachmate now.

And the notion of Microsoft having to endure an antitrust trial now just seems silly. Has nobody in Utah, where the trial will take place, noticed that Microsoft has under-innovated itself in the last decade or so to the point of being smaller than IBM and Apple? Does nobody involved with this trial use a search site called Google or an Android phone?

Microsoft's monopoly crumbled not so much because the government jumped all over the company in the '90s but because smarter, faster rivals found ways to compete with and beat the one-time behemoth. If Novell never did that, it's not Microsoft's fault. It's Novell's. Apple and Google, at the very least, figured it out. Even Firefox, which doesn't even come from a major corporation, has been eating away at Internet Explorer's market share for years.

The suit in question was filed in 2004. 2004! The world has changed a little since then -- right, Boston Red Sox fans? Even worse, check out what it involves. Again, we turn to the Seattle Times:

"The jury trial beginning today is to resolve the remaining issue of whether Microsoft delayed releasing Windows 95 to keep Novell's WordPerfect word-processing program and Quattro Pro spreadsheet application from gaining a place in the market. Novell is seeking $500 million to $2.5 billion in compensation."

Windows 95?! Really? Novell wants a minimum of half a billion dollars for something that Microsoft might or might not have done 16 years ago? Seriously, Windows 95. Just think about that for a while. And are we really going to drag Bill Gates into this? He's busy quite literally saving the world now. He shouldn't have to waste his time testifying in a case about an operating system that would be old enough to get its driver's license if it were a person.

Even the most venomous enemy of Microsoft -- and really, how many are left? -- would have to admit that this case actually going to court is just a little bit ridiculous. Some folks in the industry might be nostalgic for the go-go '90s, but we're guessing nobody but corporate lawyers misses Microsoft being on trial. Let's let this stuff stay in the past where it belongs.

Here's something to really put it into perspective: In 1995, relatively few consumers had Internet access. In his Framingham office, your editor has a copy of Application Development Trends from late 1994. (It just kind of turned up one day.) There's not a Web address to be found in the whole book -- not even in the ads. It's like something out of a time capsule, if those even still exist. That's the era we're talking about with this antitrust case. It should all just be part of history by now. 

Posted by Lee Pender on October 17, 2011


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