NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Microsoft Corp.'s competitors came out strong Monday in their support of U.S. regulators' latest antitrust assault against the software giant. However, they emphasized there will be no quick resolution.
One of the first public reactions to the move was from Netscape Communications Corp., Microsoft's arch-enemy in the Web browser market.
The Mountain View, Calif., company said the lawsuit "marks the initial step in loosening the chokehold the Microsoft monopoly has on the computer industry."
"This initial step will begin to enable consumers to have a fair choice of products that can compete in the marketplace on its own merits. We believe government investigators have examined the case thoroughly and would not have brought action against Microsoft unless their investigations had uncovered serious violations of the law," the company said in a statement.
Netscape said it was vital that consumers and PC makers regain greater control over their products and not be restricted by stringent licensing agreements that give Microsoft products preferential treatment.
"If we are all required to use... software selected for us by Microsoft, the tool will become ever more a blunt, dull and oppressive instrument and consumers will lose a basic right -- the right to exercise choice of goods and services -- that has always been fundamental to American commerce," the company said.
The Software Publishers Association, a leading technology trade group, also applauded the move.
"Justice clearly recognizes that the restoration of a level playing field in the computer software and technology industries is critical for ensuring consumer choice and ongoing innovation," said SPA President Ken Wasch.
Wasch said the SPA also supports Justice's proposed remedies, especially since it believes that Microsoft integrated the browser, not for efficiency, "but to cut off Netscape's air supply."
"It's a very researched and supported case. We have 1,200 members. Many of these companies would love to be on the desktop, but that's largely foreclosed to them today. Justice's suit may open that up," he said.
Two other Microsoft foes expressed hope that once facts in the case come out, public opinion will turn around the software giant.
"I think what the [lawsuit] is going to do is have people realize that the government is there to protect consumers, not to protect one competitor over another," said Kevin Arquit, an attorney for computer workstation maker Sun Microsystems Inc.
Arquit said one thing that could hamper regulators' efforts is if computer makers and others with relevant information are afraid to come forward because they are so reliant on Microsoft.
Of all the major computer manufacturers contacted for reaction to the lawsuit, only Gateway Inc. responded. The North Sioux City, S.D.-based company would only say it plans to ship Windows 98 when it is made available to OEMs.
Gateway would not comment on the antitrust investigation against Microsoft or any effects it might have.
Microsoft foe Gary Reback, an attorney with the Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, said when considered alone, Monday's action doesn't go far enough. However, Reback was reassured when the government pointed out Monday's suits were an interim step.
"I don't think anyone would suggest that it's a total fix for all the problems created by Microsoft or even the optimal fix," he said.
Like Arquit, Reback said to be successful, regulators are going to have to lay out all the parts of the case to the public so more people can understand what Microsoft has done.
"I hope we will get to a situation where it will become clear that we can't left Microsoft do this. We have to something more permanent [to remedy] the imbalance of power between [computer makers] and Microsoft. They have no choice but to buy what Microsoft sells," Reback said.
One solution Reback believes might work would be to break up Microsoft into several smaller companies with equal assets and let them compete in the free market.
"We would have the children of Microsoft just like we have the Baby Bells," he said.
A break-up would alleviate the need for the government to resolve disputes because there would be enough competitors to allow market forces to work, Reback believes.
Even if the government's latest salvo against Microsoft is successful, Reback wants to see it expanded.
"If it does result in a change of behavior, the government should expand the lawsuit to include other products and markets. The government made the point that they have other investigations that are continuing. Today is a significant step, but it's just one step and should be viewed in that context," he said.
--by staff writer Cyrus Afzali