High Noon for Microsoft, and Introducing ... aBay?

Plus, more from AOL and Sun in Jim Seymour's tech news roundup.
Publish date:

Heads-ups from around the technology world:

High noon for Microsoft

: On the heels of its 2-for-1 split Friday,


(MSFT) - Get Report

faces two big dates this week. Tuesday, it meets with

Justice Department

antitrust honcho Joel Klein and his team to review Microsoft's current offer to settle. And the next day, Wednesday, both sides meet with Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson -- who, you'll remember, strongly urged both sides to work on a settlement before the trial took a break last month.

Although all players at the table -- including the fractious band of 19 state attorneys generals' representatives who have joined the action -- understand the Microsoft offer was only the first move in what will undoubtedly prove to be a complex chess match, the offer's relative unresponsiveness to Justice's charges at trial does not augur well for progress.

The problem is simple -- and vexing. Microsoft has offered to clean up some of its business practices, by loosening restrictions on its PC-OEM licensees, for instance. But that was only a part of the DOJ's case: It wants to limit Microsoft's power to act in the future in what it claims have been illegal ways.

And as I

said here Friday, the states want to hand out the source code and trademarks for Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 2000 (


Windows NT) to two or three additional companies, which would have the right to modify and sell them as they wished.

It's not clear whether Klein & Co. support such a radical restructuring. But the AGs' hand is strong here, whatever DOJ supports: The AGs are expected to make their own, additional demands for relief, apart from whatever the DOJ and Judge Jackson accept.

Put simply, Microsoft is between a rock and a very, very hard place. It cannot rationally risk the even-worse Armageddon of having the company completely broken up -- call that the "lose your company" bet -- and yet these proposals to strip it of the rewards of billions of dollars spent developing Windows over the past decade are breathtaking.

Bill G., this is going to be the most important decision you've made yet, for your shareholders, users, employees -- the entire Microsoft community.

I'm glad I don't have to make it.

With almost any other company, I'd say the firm will settle. But the operating style of Microsoft (read: attitude with a capital A) and the profound sense on the Microsoft campus these days of harsh and unjust treatment make me unwilling to forecast that outcome.

By the way, the best reporting I've found by far on the state attorneys generals' demands and the overall prospects for a settlement was in James Grimaldi's excellent

Seattle Times

story Sunday. Grimaldi got his hands on the state AGs' report and quotes generously -- and sometimes, frighteningly -- from it. Great job.

Whither Thou Goest?

Also on Tuesday, look for details from a NYC press conference from


(SUNW) - Get Report




, detailing just how they're going to handle the software assets acquired in the



One of the continuing enigmas in this transaction has been how the Sun-AOL joint venture will blend its software product lines. As I wrote here at the time of the acquisition, Sun's earlier (and expensive) acquisition of NetDynamics and Netscape's earlier (and expensive) acquisition of Kiva bring two products with essentially identical capabilities -- application servers -- head to head.

Sun promises to clear the air on that Tuesday. If customers (and thus investors) are lucky, Kiva's product will be the survivor, with life support for the NetDynamics product gradually phased out over the next couple of years, as Sun's coders blend the best of both worlds.

Maybe a bigger issue and one less amenable to press-conference pleasantries: How will the ISPs around the country, important customers to which Sun has spent so much time cozying up, swallow Sun's partnership with AOL, which those ISPs see as Darth Vader's evil brother?

Watch for movement in Sun after the press conference. Maybe AOL, too, though it's much less involved in these decisions.


Almost lost in this morning's headlines from Kosovo was


(AMZN) - Get Report

announcement Sunday night -- in a one-paragraph press release, rushed out after

NationsBanc Montgomery

analyst Alan Braverman said Friday he thought it possible -- that it's going to begin running personal auctions,

a la


(EBAY) - Get Report

, on its site.

With eBay and



running high profile Web-based auctions, with many smaller, specialized sites doing so as well, and with new Web-auction-enabling software coming to market almost every week, it looks like auctions are becoming a must-have on portals and major e-commerce sites.

Again, watch for movement in both Amazon and eBay Monday in response to the announcement, which clearly came before Amazon was ready to tell us about its auction plans.

How about Jim.com next?

Did you see the knee-jerk reaction in the market last week to tiny


(UBUY:OTC BB) announcement that it had been accepted as an Amazon.com associate? You know, the Amazon program that allows sites (such as


) to post a little button on their sites, so their visitors can click through to Amazon and buy something ... on which the referring site can collect a small bounty? The program that's so exclusive that Amazon already has more than 200,000 sites enrolled?

Yep, that one. But the market didn't catch that. Once auctionanything.com sprinkled the pixie dust of the Amazon.com name all over its announcement, traders pushed up auctionanything by 40% Thursday, 34% more Friday.

Umm ... research? Caution? Good information?

Naw. Just more Internet mania.

Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, neither Seymour nor Seymour Group held positions in the companies discussed in this column, although positions can change at any time. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at