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BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : OCTOBER 9, 2000 ISSUE
  BOOKS

Microsoft Wars


U.S. v. Microsoft: The Inside Story
By Joel Brinkley and Steve Lohr

McGraw-Hill -- 349pp -- $24.95

In an era of 24-hour cable news, authors often feel compelled to write books about events that are still in flux. U.S. v. Microsoft, by reporters Joel Brinkley and Steve Lohr of The New York Times, is a case in point. Out just three months after Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered the breakup of the software giant, and months or years before we learn whether Jackson's handiwork stands up on appeal, the book certainly wins the race to market. It also adds a twist to the instant-historical-analysis phenomenon: It may actually have an effect on the case.

The authors had extraordinary access to Jackson, speaking with him not only at the time of his breakup order, June 7, but during the trial and in the weeks that followed. Some of Jackson's musings appeared in a lengthy narrative that ran in the Times on June 9. But the book includes new details. We learn, for instance, that Jackson's findings that Microsoft Corp. ( MSFT) ruthlessly quashed rivals were meant in part as a signal of the judge's seriousness. He compared his findings to the efforts of a mule trainer who got his charge's attention only after he ''whopped him upside the head'' with a two-by-four.

Microsoft's lawyers no doubt are poring over these comments. Findings of fact are not supposed to be exercises in punishment or discipline. Seeing them as such could color the opinion of the appellate judges or U.S. Supreme Court justices who hear the case as it wends its way upward. In a best-case scenario for Microsoft, Jackson's comments could prompt a remand or reversal.

But the book will be of less interest to those who don't make their living off the case. Most of it is reprinted Times articles, set off with introductory notes and profiles of key players. Beginning with opening arguments in 1998, and ending with the fight over whether the case should go directly to the Supreme Court, the narrative is little more than a series of snapshots.

The volume is maddeningly short on answers, even for a rough draft of history. Why did Microsoft fail to prepare its witnesses better? Why did it treat the Justice Dept. with such defiance? And most important, why didn't it avoid the case altogether via some relatively modest behavioral changes years ago? The best we get by way of answers is the analysis of Justice's hired-gun trial lawyer, David Boies. His explanation is that, having grown up too fast, Microsoft lacks mature leadership. Perhaps he's right. But it's an assertion that warrants further analysis.

Rich in detail about who said what on the stand, U.S. v. Microsoft is perfect for someone who has an abiding interest in the trial but who didn't follow it at the time. I recently recommended it to a reporter who needed a crash course on the subject. But for most readers, it may be best to wait--not for the paperback, but for the appeal.

By DAN CARNEY

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Microsoft Wars

PHOTO: Cover, ``U.S. v. Microsoft''



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