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U.S. v. Microsoft: The Inside Story of the Landmark Case, by Joel Brinkley and Steve Lohr (McGraw-Hill, September, 335 pages) Remember the antitrust trial against Microsoft Corporation? If not, it’s all there in “U.S. v. Microsoft: The Inside Story of the Landmark Case” by Joel Brinkley and Steve Lohr. They give you Bill Gates’ mumbling, uncooperative depositions, during which he had difficulty understanding such common terms as “market share”; internal e-mails full of bravado; the company’s threat to stop development of software for Apple Computer, Inc.’s Macintosh computers unless Apple supported Microsoft’s Web browser. The software giant also played hardball with allies, in one instance allegedly threatening to pull Compaq Computer Corporation’s Windows license if it didn’t withdraw its support of Netscape’s browser. These incidents are portrayed so vividly, it’s as though they happened yesterday — which they just about did. In fact, it happened so recently that New York Times reporters Brinkley and Lohr’s instant book is cobbled together from their daily coverage of the case, starting with the government’s unsuccessful attempt in the mid-1990s to rein in the Redmond, Wash., monster and concluding with federal district judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s order earlier this year to split the company up. Journalists call such efforts a “cut and paste” job, and they don’t mean it kindly. But immediacy is both this book’s strength and weakness. “U.S. v. Microsoft” is structured like a case study: Clips from the Times’ coverage are reprinted, in two columns, along with new material that explains a facet of the case or provides biographical information about the players. For example, the authors describe the courtly but insistent William Neukolm, general counsel of Microsoft, whose steely resolve may have helped seal his company’s fate. (One puzzle is that they never explain exactly how; Neukolm stayed pretty quiet, even though he attended every session of the trial.) Then there’s David Boies, the cagey trial attorney who outmaneuvered a star team from megafirm Sullivan & Cromwell and managed to make the most successful U.S. corporation look like a group of menacing, but bumbling bullies. It’s not always an easy read. The clips slow the narrative both literally (those two columns are tough on the eyes) and more subtly: Although the accounts have been edited for the book, the reader still must wade through such repetitive material as the ever-present “background graf,” (that short explanation early in an article summing up the facts for those who’ve been on Mars since the last article.) Unsurprisingly, readers will find themselves skimming the articles to get to newer material; but that may mean missing some of the book’s better passages. The clips make it clear how the Times’ coverage of the trial was consistently good — and often excellent. They manage to make antitrust law and arcane software concepts understandable. And for this feat alone it’s worth owning Brinkley and Lohr’s book. Both sides in the Microsoft trial believed that they were defending high principles. The government’s lawyers hoped to strike a blow for free-market competition — whether or not it would lead to an easier computing experience. Microsoft thought it was defending the right of business to innovate as it sees fit. What consumers think about this dispute is still unclear; regulated monopolies are beginning to look good, given the experience with airlines and electricity. The final legal disposition of the case is anybody’s guess. The appeal is before the Supreme Court. But already it’s clear that Brinkley and Lohr’s book will be read by students of business. It is a lively step-by-step account of how even the biggest, richest, smartest, and brashest companies can stumble.

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