Now we know: Microsoft is a monopoly. WHO'D HAVE THUNK IT.
But now what? You can't really do anything about a company that's already conquered the world at its technological core. Microsoft makes products that are essentially perfect, because they're omnipresent and invisible.
You don't want to make computers, you want to make the codes within the computers, or better yet the codes that underlie the codes within the computers. Microsoft understood this when IBM didn't. Bill Gates' DOS-based operating system turned into computer kudzu. He typed in C:\billionaire.
Microsoft Internet Explorer is a potentially perfect product, because it could turn into the generic browser. "Windows" is already a nearly perfect product. It's an "operating environment," which means that it's kind of like AIR. The true monopolist instinctively knows that you'll never become a billionaire by cornering the market on Frisbees; you have to corner the market on air.
This morning there were millions of us awaiting the opening bell on Wall Street to see how the greatest corporate monopoly of our time would fare. LINK TO LATEST STORY ON STOCK PRICE. A federal judge has declared Microsoft a monopoly among Intel-chip using PCs, and said that it bullied competitors and repressed innovation and caused our computers to be costlier and crashier. Microsoft has responded by saying that anyone who dares to criticize it will be SQUASHED LIKE A BUG.
Oh, wait, that's not true. It responded with a measured statement hoping that this business will get worked out soon, and asking customers to, and this is the real quote, "share your opinion on Microsoft's freedom to innovate." MIGHT WANT TO LINK TO MICROSOFIT STATEMENT AT http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/trial/
The stock opened this morning about 4 percent lower than Friday's close, a modest drop considering the situation. Bill Gates' net worth declined by only a few hundred million dollars. Watch how he somehow emerges from this thing even richer. The whole trial (says my one source who understands such things) has been an attempt to slap around Gates for being a jerk. But at this point he's already won the war. No matter what happens -- even if they do break up Microsoft -- all those codes, those perfect invisible products, the DOS-based operating system and the Windows operating environment and the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, and so on, are certain to survive. You can't spank the air.
It's hard for many of us to root against Microsoft, however, since not only do we use its products, we own its stock. A good time to have invested in Microsoft would have been when Gates and Paul Allen were developing the language they called BASIC, back in 1975. Or perhaps any time in the 1980s would have been good. My own strategy was to wait, and make sure that this Microsoft thing was going somewhere, that it was going to pan out. It's like this guy Tiger Woods: Are we really sure he's going to turn into a great golfer? Let's not jump to any conclusions! I chose not to buy Microsoft until its market capitalization reached $500 billion, making it the mostly highly valued, and potentially overpriced, company in the history of this particular cluster of galaxies.
At noon Microsoft was still only down about four bucks a share. For every seller there's still a buyer out there. Are you willing to bet against the ruler of the air?
Instead of checking your portfolio, here's a suggestion: Flee the office. Escape to nature. This is your duty, on a fine autumnal day like this. Just go, somehow, someway. Stand up at your desk, and shout toward the manager's glass office, "Let my people go!" Use your Charlton-Heston-as-Moses voice.
Go to the Billy Goat trail along the Potomac south of Great Falls and scramble along the rocks and wait for the sun to ignite the treetops. Or do as The Post's David Montgomery suggested last week, and visit the Arboretum, in Northeast, where there is a set of Greco-Roman columns sitting out in the middle of a field. You probably didn't even know that in the District there was once an ancient civilization of Greco-Romans.
This is a spectacular time of year in the Washington area. A couple of weeks ago the fine-print weather forecast for the Virginia mountains said, "sunny; tranquil." Tranquil! That's even better than "mild," that other term so beloved by weatherfolks. Tranquil is more intensely serene than mild. It's hypermellow. The only better forecast is "Sunny; bunnies hopping everywhere."
You might think you can't escape the office because you will be fired. Not true! Have you seen the unemployment figures? There is no one else out there to do your job. This is what the managers don't want you to know. You are a breathing, slightly sentient carbon-based organism, and are therefore utterly irreplaceable at this particular juncture. This is a good time to loosen up, practice your Funny Walk, take a lunch break as long as the Vietnam War.
But of course you won't. You'll do your duties. Ninety percent of our lives are pre-programmed. We don't even know who wrote the software.
Check this out, from "Walden," by Henry David Thoreau:
"After hoeing, or perhaps reading and writing, in the forenoon, I usually bathed again in the pond, swimming across one of its coves for a stint, and washed the dust of labor from my person, or smoothed out the last wrinkle which study had made, and for the afternoon was absolutely free. Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs."
Do like Thoreau. Flee. The leaves are rustling.
Rough Draft appears every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. except when the author is off somewhere hopping like a bunny.