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U.S. v. Microsoft
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Ken Auletta

      . . . journalist. „Columbia Journalism Reviewš describes Ken Auletta as America‚s premier media critic. He is the „Annals of Communicationsš columnist for „The New Yorkerš magazine. Mr. Auletta‚s eighth book is _World War 3.0:  Microsoft and Its Enemies_. It‚s a look generally at The New Economy and specifically at the U.S. Government‚s anti-trust case against Microsoft, in which Microsoft was found guilty.

[This Program was recorded January 11, 2001, in New York City, US.]
Excerpts4:03 secs

      Microsoft is the paradigm for our age, according to Ken Auletta, Columbia Journalism Review‚s pick for America‚s premier communications critic. Microsoft‚s „guiltyš verdict is a tragedy as ancient as the Greeks, Mr. Auletta believes. It is rooted in hubris.

      Bill Gates and Microsoft embody much which is admirable, Mr. Auletta is quick to remind us. But having a court of law declare Microsoft guilty of having misbehaved (U.S. v. Microsoft) carries immeasurable loss, Mr. Auletta believes, whatever the outcome of the appeals process.  

      Where did Microsoft -- the stand-in for the computer industry which drives much of America‚s economic engine -- go wrong? They are still behaving like children, Mr. Auletta observes. They‚re very young (Microsoft‚s average age is 31) and often (confusingly) very rich. These are people isolated within an engineering culture which values 1‚s and 0‚s. And money. But little else. Microsoft makes no bones about it -- business is war and competitors are the enemy. Zap this guy. Kill that guy. What Mr. Auletta describes are a-social individuals for whom life is a videogame.

      The views from Washington, D.C. and Washington State in U.S. v. Microsoft could not have been more different, Mr. Auletta reports. The Government saw a predatory monopolist. Microsoft believed themselves heroes acting on behalf of the marketplace and the consumer. The verdict was a shutout, according to Mr. Auletta. The Judge (a classic conservative Republican) said, in effect, „Stop.š  Bill Gates‚ reaction? Try to imagine the richest man in the world seeing himself as a victim.

      If we don‚t want Microsoft to play God, do we want the Government to do so, asks Mr. Auletta? He believes the role of government in a rapidly-changing world economy is a key question raised by this case. Should government be the referee? (Mr. Auletta‚s preference.) The spectator? (The Reagan Administration‚s position.) Or a participant? (A possibility raised by the proposed remedy to break up Microsoft.) Stay tuned.

      What‚s the larger global communications picture? Two opposite trends rival each other, according to Mr. Auletta. The big are getting bigger and their power is increasingly concentrated. The counterforce? An uncontrollable distribution system that defies power brokers and nation states -- the Internet. It‚s a battle, says Mr. Auletta, between the elephants and the mice.

      With everyone guessing the shape of the future, what does the Microsoft case contribute? For now, at least, monopolistic, predatory behavior is still out-of-bounds.

Conversation 1

Ken Auletta tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell what the drivers were behind his eighth book, _World War 3.0_. Mr. Auletta recounts the origins of the book -- reports for „The New Yorkerš on the Microsoft trial -- and his fascination with the two radically different world views represented in Washington, D.C. and Washington State.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:33 secs

Conversation 2

Describing the world as „Rashomon-like,š Mr. Auletta tells how differently the U.S. Department of Justice and Microsoft saw the same set of circumstances, which he reviews. He illustrates how, in the end, the two parties could not even talk to each other. He explains the reasons behind his belief that the people at Microsoft often behaved like children. He describes the actions this invited and the consequences in U.S. v. Microsoft. Reminding us that truth is a liquid, not a solid, Mr. Auletta compares Bill Gates to John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Conversation 2 RealAudio9:52 secs

Conversation 3

Mr. Auletta describes the many ways in which Gates and Microsoft and their impact are not Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Mr. Auletta declares the question, „Can Gates control the distribution the same way Rockefeller did?šcentral to our age. He offers his answer. Mr. Auletta describes why he thinks Gates and Microsoft had a hard time fathoming what was happening in U.S. v. Microsoft. The role of the case‚s presiding judge is described, then Mr. Auletta gives the details of the trial itself, explaining why he considers the guilty verdict a „shutout.š Mr. Auletta generalizes from the trial to characterize the computer industry. He explains why he thinks „hubrisš is a fundamental problem both in the trial and for the industry.

Conversation 3 RealAudio13:06 secs

Conversation 4

Sharing his fascination as a reporter with a range of ethical considerations, Mr. Auletta defines „engineering culture.š  He suggests the results of a-social people working in this kind of culture. After offering his assessment of the importance of the idea of network effects in U.S. v. Microsoft, Mr. Auletta reminds us that every business person tries to take the risk out of capitalism. He portrays the presiding judge as a classic conservative Republican who was defending the free enterprise system. Mr. Auletta makes tangible the balancing act between and among private enterprise, the market and the government.

Conversation 4 RealAudio11:01 secs

Conversation 5

Mr. Auletta explains why he thinks Microsoft loses, whatever the outcome of their appeal to their „guiltyš verdict. He expands on what he sees as the much larger implications of this case.  Championing referees, Mr. Auletta considers government‚s role in the economy. He explains why he believes that the marketplace has already imposed its remedy on Microsoft.  Mr. Auletta describes two opposite, rival trends in today‚s communications world. He maintains that all of the media giants are guessing at the future and describes the consequences of that overarching uncertainty.

Conversation 5 RealAudio10:17 secs

Conversation 6

Recalling the premise on which today‚s business-as-war metaphor rides, Mr. Auletta describes a mature business person. He compares that ideal to what he has seen in the information industry. Mr. Auletta compliments ways in which Microsoft and Bill Gates are exemplary, then summarizes the tragedy of what happened to Microsoft.

Conversation 6 RealAudio4:29 secs


Mr. Auletta, once again, graciously allowed us to record this program at his home, with the help and encouragement of his extended family. We were delighted and are grateful.

Related Links:
Ken Auletta‚s World War 3.0:  Microsoft and Its Enemies is published by Random House which has a striking website for the book.

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