Remember that scene in The Return of Frankenstein where the terrified villager spots the monster, years after he's been burned alive and buried below the rubble of Victor's castle? He rushes back to town, shrieking "He's back! The monster is alive!".
"But that's impossible!," thunders the incredulous mayor. "I saw him killed with my own eyes!"
"You fool," retorts the villager. "Don't you know he can never be killed?"
Bill Gates, exposed just a year ago as a ruthless and less-than-candid corporate predator, is today the King of the Corporate Republic, the CEO of Internet, Inc. He and his company are about to launch one of the most ambitious campaigns in the history of business, one that should leave him firmly in control of the digital universe.
If everything works as planned, Microsoft software will shortly control nearly every point at which a consumer or business interacts with the Web. That puts Microsoft at the center of all computing. And soon, the company may even escape the break-up threat hanging over its head. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule momentarily on the company's appeal, and based on the questions asked during oral arguments, the court is expected to reverse Judge Thomas P. Jackson's findings that the company illegally "tied" its browser into its operating system, and acted illegally to maintain its Windows monopoly.
This, say competitors like Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, is where we started, only more so. "It appears they're doing all over again what they did when they previously went into foul territory," McNealy told congressional investigators, according to Business Week. Microsoft's new Internet strategy is the boldest move yet, he says, to leverage the company's Windows monopoly to create a bottleneck that will constrict the Internet.
McNealy might as well be talking to himself -- the Bush administration is hardly going to curb Microsoft's new juggernaut, which can proceed unimpeded for at least four years, by which time the company may well be beyond any control, if that's not already the case.
Microsoft has transcended the economic realities of our time. Even with the NASDAQ down 9 per cent, the company's stock price has risen more than 60 per cent this year. In the quarter ending March 31, MS earned $2.45 billion on sales of $6.46 billion.
And thanks in part to a media that has utterly failed to grasp or cover well the real issues involving the soft- and hardware that governs the Net and the Web, the public has no idea that they will be spending billions for years on things they could have -- ought to have -- for free.
There are now real questions whether corporations like Microsoft, Disney, and AOL Time-Warner are vulnerable any longer to government regulation, or to any other kind of curb. Microsoft seems to have convincingly demonstrated that is is, in fact, above the law, and means to stay that way.
Even bitter critics of the government's attempt to break up Microsoft concede that Bill Gates was arrogant and dishonest in his Federal court testimony, and whatever the ultimate judicial ruling, mountains of evidence presented at the antitrust trial showed how Microsoft squelched competitors and discouraged both innovation and competition. Yet it all seems to have had no more impact on the company than a pea bouncing off an elephant, or a torch on the monster.
We saw this company humbled and carved up with our own eyes, and celebrated it's being brought down to size. Boy, were we dumb. Microsoft is stronger than ever, and, as a consequence, so is Linux and Open Source.
Just a year ago, Microsoft was so embattled -- its revenue growth had slowed to 8 per cent, Jackson had ordered the company split in half, $250 billion had vanished from the company's market value -- that Microsoft called 20,000 of its employees together at Seattle's Safeco Field. There it showed a motivational video that included scenes from a documentary about the mythic l974 title fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.
But on the Net, a year might as well be a century.
So the monster isn't only alive, he's stronger than ever. It's the Microsoft Era, Part Deux.