Two Microsofts are better than one. That's the solution proposed by the Justice Department to prevent Microsoft from once again being the bully of the digital age.
What Justice and 17 states did not propose last Friday to a judge, however, is to hand over Microsoft's operating system to new companies as a way to break up the core of software monopoly. That's too radical.
Windows will remain unbroken. But its computer code will become more open for software developers, and the company's major application program, Office, will go to a new company to stop Microsoft from being a predatory monopolist.
That's a more measured and more humble approach as the government tries to tinker with the most dynamic, jobs-producing sector of the economy.
Both Justice and US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson walk a fine technological line: They must make the computer world safe from the worst of Microsoft's behavior while not destroying the best of its software.
Microsoft's offense in muscling out an Internet software competitor (Netscape) was serious enough to take the risk of letting the government reshape Microsoft's role in the market.
While the final remedy imposed by the courts may reduce the current convenience for consumers of having easily compatible software, the greater benefit will be in ending Microsoft's ability to stifle innovation and competition. Already, the government case has spurred companies to compete with Microsoft head-on.
Breaking up is hard to do for any major corporation, and Microsoft plans to drag this case out, perhaps in hopes that a Republican president might squash it. That would only hurt consumers. Judge Jackson was right to recommend that an appeal of his decision be sent swiftly to the Supreme Court. Microsoft opposes that, too.
Will this proposed remedy actually work in this industry's nano-speed evolution?
It's the cleanest solution with the least government meddling. And like the antitrust cases against Standard Oil and AT&T, it sets a precedent for preventing another monopoly in what has become a basic utility of daily life: computers and the Web.
Allowing this government intrusion in the marketplace is not perfect, but like many of Microsoft's products, it's good enough.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society