Monopoly with appeal

A week after Microsoft Corp. asked the Supreme Court to set aside a federal judge's finding that the company is a predatory monopoly, the firm has announced a new software product called MS Court(TM).

The program, according to Microsoft, will be bundled with the popular MS Office system used by many American businesses. MS Court is designed to automate and simplify the process of appealing monopoly rulings.

"Monopoly owners will find MS Court a convenient and useful product for making appeals more effective and profitable," said a company spokesman. "We project that over the next five years, 85 to 90 percent of all monopoly appeals will be made using MS Court."

Legislation was introduced in Congress this week that would deny standing to all monopoly appeals not using the new MS Court software. "This is another killer ap from Microsoft," wrote an industry insider employed by Microsoft, on a Microsoft-sponsored bulletin board.

Sources familiar with the program say MS Court leads users through a series of graphically enhanced pull-down menus to customize appeals. A small animated gavel named "Bill" pops up to help guide novice monopolists through the process:

• "What is the nature of the unjust monopoly charges made against you?"

• "When you imagine a competitor's gruesome death, what method do you choose?"

• "Evidence of your predatory practices should be (a) shredded, (b) encrypted, using MS Secret, or (c) used as insulation in Bill Gates's new Washington State mansion."

Future versions of the software are expected to link users directly to a virtual court, presided over by Microsoft. Programmers envision a one-stop judicial network called "e-court" offered through the online service MSN.

Analysts raised questions about Microsoft's potential to dominate the US legal system. One lawyer, who asked not to be identified, screamed into the phone, "It's people! Soylent Green is made out of people!" Then the line went dead.

A spokesman for Microsoft said, "For too long, the American legal system has been dominated by the Supreme Court. Now, MS Court provides a real choice for consumers. We welcome competition. Competitors make us stronger, as we prepare for the final conquest of this planet." Some analysts saw a connection between the new software product and Microsoft's recent efforts to vacate antitrust rulings by US district Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. In its filing last week, Microsoft said the judge "flagrantly violated judicial ethics and should be reprogrammed."

Rumors were circulating around Washington this week that Microsoft is considering a bid to buy the Supreme Court in a hostile takeover. A spokesman for AOL Time Warner said such a move, "if true, could have a negative effect on public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system."

Microsoft refused to respond, saying it does not comment on rumors that it starts.

Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor.

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