So it has been quite a week for merger and monopoly news. First, we had the massive America Online-Time Warner merger, creating a company that will own everything from Netscape and CNN to MovieFone and World Championship Wrestling. With the merger, dull Steve Case of AOL has suddenly become a media mogul overnight. Hand out a few million free disks, and apparently you can have the world. Who knew? (Not that I should complain. For a while there, almost every blank disk I owned was an erased AOL disk.)
With this latest merger, we're down to about six major media companies. Of course, while I'm writing this, a few more could always merge. You never know with them. It is a bit disconcerting for so few companies to be owning so much, but Steve Case and Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin are spinning this deal as one that will help the consumer more than anyone else. As Levin told PBS' Jim Lehrer, "We're going to try and make a better world."
In the future, for example, we will be able to buy a product that we see on television with just the click of a remote. In the future, we will be able to watch a movie on our Palm Pilot while stuck in traffic. In the future, we will be able to surf the net in the corner of our television while watching a sitcom as the price of all our stocks crawls across the bottom of the screen. In the future, we could also have a massive headache.
Meanwhile, as all this was going on, the Department of Justice started leaking news that it may try to split up the Microsoft monopoly. Essentially, we were given one new monopoly this week (AOL Time Warner) while an older one (Microsoft) may be taken away. On the whole "getting screwed over by massive corporations" scale, I guess the week was pretty much a draw.
The very latest gossip calls for Microsoft to be split into three companies -- one for software, one for operating systems, and a third company that will concentrate exclusively on annoying the hell out of you with tons of error messages and that damn paper clip. As you can imagine, it's the third company, which will probably end up being the biggest.
Actually, the real plan is for Microsoft to be split into one software company, and two competing companies that would sell operating systems. This way, no one company will be able to control our desktops with Windows. But amidst all this speculation is one confusing question: Which company gets Bill Gates? It's a problem that no one knows how to solve.
Theoretically, the company with Bill Gates will have an unfair advantage, though I would argue the opposite. Most consumers hate Bill Gates so much that they will probably flock to the non-Bill Microsoft in a heartbeat. I only hope that Microsoft doesn't try to solve the problem by cloning Bill.
Then again, this may no longer be important. On Thursday, Bill Gates actually gave up day-to-day control of Microsoft, probably hoping that, without him officially in charge, Microsoft won't be hated quite as much. Bill will, of course, remain the de facto leader, but, instead of CEO, he's now the "chief software architect." Whatever that means. His new job will be to concentrate on Microsoft's future business strategy and to find new ways in which Microsoft can enrich all of our lives.
"Hey, guys, how about if we have the paper clip pop up every single time they start their computer? Wouldn't that be great?"
One final note about Bill Gates. On Friday, the Washington Post listed his net worth as "close to $90 billion," while Reuters would only say that he's worth "over $80 billion." Whatever you think about Bill Gates, you have to admit one thing. It's rather impressive when the rounding error on your net worth is about $10 billion.
That's just the kind of rounding error I'd like in my bank account.
|Copyright 2000 by Joe Lavin
Joe Lavin's Humor Column is published every Tuesday at: http://joelavin.com
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Submitted By: Joe Lavin
Jan 19, 2000 12:32