As the Microsoft trial wound down to its inevitable conclusion--guilty on virtually every charge--last Spring, some analysts began musing about a future Republican presidential administration that could conceivably lob a final blow at the departing Clinton administration and simply throw out the case, reversing Judge Jackson's decision. And as the summer months waned, this eventuality became more possible as George W. Bush ran neck and neck with Democratic challenger Al Gore in the polls. So now that the closest election in U.S. history is behind us, and George W. Bush is our president elect, analysts are once again musing over the possibilities for Microsoft. Will Bush come to the software giant's aid?
Antitrust experts think not. There are political reasons for this, of course, but as Microsoft's appeal drags out over months and then, possibly, years, it's quite likely that much of its sentence will be reversed, or that its guilty verdict will indeed be overturned. The Microsoft of today isn't exactly a hollow shell compared to the industry giant that faced Judge Jackson in 1999, but it has certain lost a lot of its luster. Microsoft's stock price is languishing in the $50 range, far below its high of almost $120 a year ago. And few software companies admit to fearing Microsoft as they have in the past.
Bush has other problems to deal with as well. He lost the popular election and squeaked into office with a slim legal victory that will be debated for generations to come. Bush will probably want to pick his battles carefully as he attempts to garner bipartisan support for a shaky mandate. So political rational aside, it is really the Appellate Court that holds the key to Microsoft's fate, a fact that won't change when Clinton leaves office. And as Microsoft hoped, the court is proceeding quite slowly, helping the company rush its next-generation .NET software out the door in the unlikely event that a breakup rendered those plans impossible. The company may indeed find that it has a friend in the U.S. government, but that friend is unlikely to be George W. Bush