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The persecution of Bill Gates

Bill Gates doesn’t need me to fight his battles. And that’s not what I’m about to do.

Rather, by speaking out against the federal government’s unprecedented persecution of the billionaire Microsoft founder, I’m really defending my own rights and the rights of every other American — especially those who don’t have the resources to take on Washington.

What am I talking about? The U.S. Department of Injustice, headed by the ever-vigilant Attorney General Janet Reno, recently accused Microsoft of violating U.S. antitrust laws and asked a federal court to fine the company $1 million a day until the unproved violations cease.

What was Microsoft’s crime? To include its Internet Explorer software program as an integral component of its Windows 95 operating system and to offer it to computer suppliers as an all-or-nothing condition of sale. Reno accused Microsoft of “coercion.”

“Forcing PC manufacturers to take one Microsoft product as a condition of buying a monopoly product like Windows 95 is … plain wrong,” she said.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let me say, at the outset, that I own no Microsoft stock, I receive no funding — directly or indirectly — from Bill Gates, in fact, I don’t even use Windows 95 or Internet Explorer. Nevertheless, I take this attack by the federal government very personally. Because this is not just an attack on Bill Gates, it’s an attack on the whole notion of private property rights.

You see, Microsoft isn’t resorting to any form of “coercion.” It’s the federal government that is guilty of coercion.

And don’t believe, for a minute, that this action has anything remotely to do with consumer protection. Microsoft isn’t stopping anyone from using any other browser. It is simply bundling its own browser in a software package. It can’t dictate that the consumer use it.

Furthermore, Reno’s action coincided with a two-day conference in Washington, “Appraising Microsoft and Its Global Strategy,” led by Ralph Nader in November. Despite all the rhetoric about consumer protection, the major participants in the event were Microsoft competitors — Netscape Communications and Sun Microsystems.

Now, think about this. Netscape currently commands 70 percent of the browser market. If there were any monopolies — or near monopolies — involved in this case, you would think it was the one that dominated the marketplace. You would think that consumers would be grateful that Microsoft is offering them a viable option. In fact, anyone who has ever browsed the World Wide Web knows all too well that you can download Internet Explorer, Netscape and other browsers from thousands of sites — all free of charge.

So, why shouldn’t Microsoft be allowed to bundle this product along with its operating system? It would seem illogical if they didn’t.

The big question I have about all this is with regard to motivation. Does Ralph Nader really have this much clout in the Justice Department? If so, why? Or is there more to this story than meets the eye?

Conventional wisdom suggests that the reason the Clinton administration is attacking Microsoft is to punish achievement. The company is being targeted because it is good at its business, because it is competent — that the Clintonistas cannot tolerate business success.

But this doesn’t ring true with me. So often, in the last five years, we have seen this administration cut deals with the big corporations. Clinton speaks endlessly and glowingly about the benefits of “public-private partnerships.” Why has the administration chosen to draw this arbitrary line in the sand with Microsoft? Why here? Why Microsoft? Why now?

I don’t have the answers, yet, but I’m determined to search for them. Some of the questions that need to be investigated are how much Microsoft’s competitors contributed to the 1996 Clinton re-election effort as opposed to Bill Gates? Is political retribution involved?

With this administration, such questions that must be asked.

But, even more importantly, if Bill Gates loses this battle against of the titans between Microsoft and the federal government, we all lose. If the government can nail someone with as much money, power and influence as Gates, are any of the rest of us safe from its long reach?