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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Microsoft's epic battle with the U.S. government from 1997-2002, the last major federal antitrust action in tech, casts a long shadow over today's Department of Justice lawsuit against Google — but the industry landscape today is profoundly different.

The big picture: Microsoft's legal ordeal came at a moment when its old competitors, like Apple, were on the ropes, and new competitors, like Google, were just launching. The antitrust case preoccupied Bill Gates and the rest of Microsoft's leadership for years and arguably gave all those competitors the breathing room to grow toward their current success.

Yes, but: Today, if Google gets similarly distracted, it has many heavyweight competitors — including Apple, Amazon, Facebook and (still!) Microsoft — ready to seize the moment.

Flashback: Beginning in 1997, the government charged Microsoft with using its dominance in the desktop operating system market to corner the web browser market.

  • The government won in court and in 2000 a judge ordered Microsoft split into two companies. However, an appeals court unanimously overturned the order and a new administration agreed to a less punitive settlement.

The Microsoft case, like the Google suit, centered on issues like the definition of a market, the power of defaults (browsers then, search providers now), and questions of "tying" — when companies make deals with third parties that leverage their monopoly power in one realm to pursue market dominance in another.

  • Both cases involve products (browsers and search) that user don't pay for, which makes it harder to prove consumer harm by the usual yardstick of price increases.

Lessons for Google:

1. Federal antitrust cases have a way of growing over time, expanding in scope, adding additional state actions and sometimes even private suits into the mix.

2. Some of Microsoft's troubles resulted from its own combativeness. Gates' defiant testimony before Congress and the company's unwillingness to admit error or find grounds for compromise pushed the case to a more definitive judgment against the company.

  • By contrast, during the same era Intel — another market dominator — found all sorts of ways to settle with regulators when they came after it.


Go deeper:

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech at war over privacy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The world's biggest tech firms are at each other's throats over how to manage data privacy, an issue that will shape the internet economy for years to come.

Why it matters: Absent any U.S. government intervention, tech companies are introducing rules that favor their own ideals and business models, sometimes at their peers' expense.

18 mins ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.

Stuck jet stream brings blowtorch December in Lower 48, frigid Alaska

Short-term climate outlook for Dec. 13-19, 2021, from the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA. (NOAA/CPC)

The Lower 48 states have seen record-shattering warmth so far this December, with temperatures running as high as 35°F above average for this time of year. The warmth has been so pronounced that during the weekend, brush fires broke out in a snowless, unusually mild Denver metro area.

The big picture: The jet stream, which is a river of air that rides at about 30,000 feet along the temperature contrast between air masses, steering storms as it goes, has been stuck in a position well north of the continental U.S., keeping storms and cold weather at bay.