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Nov. 21 1997 3:30 AM

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The Case Against the Case Against the Case Against Microsoft

In "The Case Against the Case Against Microsoft," Rick Rule wrote: "[M]ore convenient, seamless access to the Internet from the desktop will help people to use the Internet. It is hard to see any anti-competitive danger that justifies denying people these benefits."

I completely disagree with the implication and reasoning here. It is the purpose of antitrust law to look to the future. Microsoft is giving away Internet Explorer 4.0 now, but who thinks they would have acted this way if Netscape had not existed? Would Microsoft have added such rich features if they were not emulating Netscape? I think that industry watchers know the answer is no. If Microsoft can eliminate their competitor's viability by flooding the market with a free product, the long-term result for the common person will be a loss. The whole point of this area of law is to examine such patterns. If Rule's idea were right, then companies from other countries, which, for example, flood the chip market with underpriced products, would simply be acting in the consumer's interest, even if they are seeking a stranglehold on the market. The challenge of antitrust law is to grapple with such questions.

--Rhett SavagePortland, Ore.



I found Rick Rule's "The Case Against the Case Against Microsoft" to be an insulting farce. There are numerous misleading statements that, to me, demonstrate a merely superficial understanding of the situation. Rule describes Microsoft's rise to prominence as being a result of an economic phenomenon known as "network externalities." I believe that although he understands the economic phenomenon, he completely ignores how Microsoft relates to it.

Microsoft dominates the PC operating system market. The next paradigm shift was supposed to be the emergence of the Internet. Microsoft is leveraging the power it has in the PC OS market in order to minimize the damage to its core business (the Windows software). How is this possible? Well, browsers are not full-fledged operating systems. They were never intended to be the software that gives fundamental directions to a PC, and I doubt that they ever will be. They still run as another layer on top of the PC OS, the most dominant of which is Windows 95. Rule mentions that browser software is already--or in the near future will be--competing with the OS market, and he interprets that to mean that the OS and the browser are the same in a functional sense.

That is false! The browser software circumvents OS considerations by having a common interface no matter what OS you're using. That was the beauty of it (and the nightmare in Bill Gates' mind, because you don't have to be running Windows software to run it). You could be using a DEC, a Sparc Workstation, a Mac, or a PC, and Netscape is still Netscape. It works the same and is compatible with Netscape running on another system. What Microsoft is trying to do is latch a separate functionality (Internet functionality) onto its existing OS, and claim it is a modification of the OS. How intelligent people can buy that argument is beyond me. As far as I understood it, Windows didn't run on my Mac. Windows didn't run on a Sparc. Yet now MS IE will run on my non-PC computer? Do the two products sound even vaguely similar? Rick Rule, you are a fool for buying that argument. It is this very basic misunderstanding that allows you to delve into lawyer-speak arguments as to why MS is just a maligned giant.


Through a decade of good luck and leveraging its lead in the PC OS market, Microsoft has unfairly eliminated competition. The only real test that this company has faced in recent memory is due to the emergence of the Internet, and Microsoft is once again trying to eliminate this threat unfairly. Shame on you for defending this unfairness.

--Venkatesh Abboy

Shrink Rap

Larissa MacFarquhar's "Diagnosis: Totally Sane," on criticism of the DSM, does a nice job of answering frequently leveled charges. However, she did neglect to mention a more interesting controversy within the mental-health community regarding the nature of diagnosis. The DSM is a categorical model--either ya got it or ya don't. However, many mental-health professionals argue that a dimensional model makes more sense and would more closely mirror the real world. Of course, such a diagnostic system may prove to be more unwieldy in the end and to annoy insurance companies (who hold frightening sway over all health-care endeavors), and it is politically unlikely that such a dramatic shift will occur any time in the near future.

I must also take exception with MacFarquhar's use of the term "disease" in referring to mental disorders. By definition, a disease is an entity that has a known etiology, and as she noted early in her article, the DSM avoids such issues, choosing to focus almost exclusively on description. Mental disorders should not be considered "diseases," though many may have some biological underpinnings.

Laypersons should realize that the DSM and its diagnostic categories are a human construction, created in order to describe the variety of human emotional and mental disturbances. Such a system provides mental-health professionals--who, in addition to psychiatrists, include psychologists, social workers, and a number of other disciplines--with 1) a common language by which they may communicate with one another and 2) a logical starting point for therapeutic intervention. Without some guiding framework (even a framework troubled by more political maneuvering than MacFarquhar reported), mental-health work would be an intellectual wilderness.

--Mike Tabacchi

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