Monday, May 18, 1998 Published at 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Microsoft takes its turn in monopoly game
Combat continues: Bill Gates is pitted against US Attorney General Janet Reno
Microsoft's all-pervading dominance of the computer software market is under sustained assault.
Despite last-minute talks, it was unable to prevent the US Department of Justice and more than 19 states from starting new, wide-ranging, anti-trust lawsuits.
And there are several lawsuits already outstanding.
Company appealing against earlier decision
While all the details of the case would test the memory of a powerful desktop PC, there is just one central issue at stake: Does Microsoft wield too much power in the IT industry?
Critics say it does. They want the US government to rein in the company. Their argument is based on the belief that monopolies pose a danger to the healthy running of a competition-based, capitalist economy. Their case is bolstered by the fact that IT is now so important to America's economy.
Hi-tech industry accounts for 30% of the increase in US gross domestic product since 1994, making it a major factor in the country's 1990s economic revival.
The prevailing wisdom is that monopolies stifle creativity and innovation, crush competitors or buy them up. And if, for whatever reason, the market leader collapses, there is no major rival to step in.
Microsoft's critics say the software juggernaut poses a danger not just to the stability of the software sector, but also to the US economy and the world.
But Microsoft and its supporters have hit back with their own forceful argument: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The software industry is like no other, they say. It functions best around a single, standard operating system - in this case Microsoft's Windows. The system is used on 90% of desktop computers.
Supporters also say that Microsoft is no traditional monopoly because it does not rest on its laurels. It continually updates products and spends more than most of its competitors combined on research and development.
But Windows upgrades have more than doubled in price since 1990. The US courts will be the final judge.