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Man who stopped Microsoft dies

by on17 June 2013

Thomas Jackson ended Redmond’s monopoly

The man who arguably did more to stop the rise of Microsoft than any other mortal has died. Thomas Penfield Jackson, a federal judge who ruled in 2000 that Microsoft was a predatory monopoly and must be split in half. For one moment the world stopped spinning and Microsoft looked completely doomed.

However he saw an appeals court reverse his order because he had improperly discussed it with journalists, but from then on it was all downhill for Microsoft. Judge Jackson, who served in the District of Columbia, stopped the anti-trust action dragging on for decades by limiting each side to 12 witnesses and forced lawyers to submit testimony in writing. The main court proceedings took 76 trial days.

A technology luddite, Jackson refuted Microsoft’s assertion that it was impossible to remove the company’s Internet Explorer Web browser from its operating system by doing it himself. When a Microsoft lawyer complained that too many excerpts from Bill Gates’s videotaped deposition famously punctuated with the phrase “I don’t remember” were shown in the courtroom, Judge Jackson pointed out that the problem is with the witness, not the way his testimony is being presented.

Jackson fell down because he gave too many interviews with journalists during the trial and, after it ended. To be fair they were great quotes. But when Redmond went to appeal they were his undoing. A year later, the Court of Appeals in Washington said Judge Jackson’s comments gave the impression of bias, removed him from the case and vacated his order to divide Microsoft.

But the Appeals court let stand much of his April 2000 ruling that Microsoft was a monopoly because he had written that before most of the interviews. That was the end of Microsoft's case and it was a very different Redmond which evolved in the aftermath. The appeals court sent the case to another federal district judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, to sort things out. By then George W. Bush was in and was not going to demand the break-up of any successful business. In the end there was a negotiated a settlement in 2002.

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