How the ’90s Lawsuits Against Microsoft Gave Us Google

Photo -

Google started as a simple research project conducted by two Stanford University graduate students, but the company didn’t stay simple for long. Google has since grown to be the most used search engine on the web across all platforms. And today, Google handles an estimated 3.5 billion searches per day.

But what if, in its infancy, Google had been forced out of existence by a bigger company? What if, before you ever heard of Google, the company was crushed by a large corporation because they posed a threat and they were competition?

It may seem far-fetched today that a company as powerful as Google could ever have been forced out of existence, but there was a time when Google’s survival was in danger, and Microsoft was the reason.

Photo –

The Lawsuits Against Microsoft

In May of 1998, the United States Department of Justice filed antitrust charges against the makers of the popular Windows operating system, the Microsoft Corporation. The charges were filed following the collapse of Microsoft’s top competitor, Netscape, which occurred because Microsoft began bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system, effectively giving away their browser software for free.

But the DOJ’s case against the Microsoft Corporation was riddled with issues, among which was the question of whether or not the charges should have been filed in the first place. The argument against the suit suggested that if Microsoft was to even be considered a monopoly, it was a non-coercive monopoly at best. People chose Microsoft’s products because of their convenience, ease of use, and price; that wasn’t a crime, right?

Well, according to the case against Microsoft, the company’s products made it difficult to an unnecessary extent to install and use any competing software on PCs operating on Windows. In short, Microsoft was accused of using anti-competitive practices.

However, despite Microsoft’s efforts to defend themselves, they lost the case in the end. The ruling, which took place in April of 2000, called for the Microsoft Corporation to be divided, with one half comprising the Windows operating system and the other half Microsoft’s software.

However, before the penalty could be achieved, the ruling was overturned on appeal, and Microsoft was never split. But did they really win?
Photo – GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
While Microsoft may have publically brushed off the effects of the lawsuit, insiders say that the attitude within the company was a different story. As the U.S. government sued, it’s been said that Microsoft executives became so anxious that they began to basically undermine their own monopoly out of fear that they might be sued again.
So it wasn’t the court decisions that changed Microsoft, according to multiple former and current Microsoft employees, it was “the constant scrutiny and being in the newspaper all the time,” Gene Burrus, a former Microsoft lawyer, told The New York Times in an interview. “People started second-guessing themselves. No one wanted to test the regulators anymore.”
In public, Bill Gates was celebrating a victory, but inside Microsoft, executives were demanding that compliance officials (the kinds of people who were routinely ignored previously) be invited to every meeting.
And most importantly, as the Microsoft Corporation lived under constant government scrutiny, employees abandoned what had been budding internal discussions about crushing a new emerging competitor: Google.
Before the lawsuit began causing anxiety for Microsoft executives, there had been informal talks about the possibility of reprogramming Microsoft’s web browser, Internet Explorer, so that anytime someone typed in “Google,” they would be redirected to MSN Search. Or maybe a warning message might pop up, such as: “Did you know Google uses your data in ways you can’t control?”

The Lawsuit Saved Google

Photo –

“Condemning Microsoft as a monopoly is why Google exists today,” a lawyer named Gary Reback told The New York Times. “If Microsoft hadn’t been sued, all of technology would be different today.”

Because Microsoft was so powerful and Google was new at the time, it would have been easy to kill off the young search engine. But there was a new practice of compliance, and Microsoft didn’t want to get into trouble again, so nothing happened.

There’s a myth that Google destroyed Microsoft’s monopoly on its own, but that’s not true. Without the government’s antitrust lawsuits, Google would have been crushed by Microsoft and likely wouldn’t exist today.

Many people question the influence of antitrust laws in modern society, but if history has shown us anything, it’s that antitrust laws have helped nurture a culture of innovation and allowed competition to flourish when it otherwise wouldn’t have.