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Poll: Consumers Side With Microsoft

November 10, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The judge may have painted Microsoft Corp. as a monopolist to blame for higher prices and stifled innovation in the computer industry, but Americans are hardly feeling victimized.

A new Gallup poll suggests that consumers side with the software giant over the government, oppose a possible court-ordered breakup and respect the world’s most famous billionaire more than ever.

``It’s a natural monopoly. I don’t think there’s any ill intent,″ said Regina Obe, president of a database company in Boston. ``A lot of things Microsoft is accused of, other companies are guilty of as well.″

Wall Street isn’t exactly deserting Bill Gates, either. Microsoft’s stock, among the nation’s most widely held, dipped only slightly this week as investors wondered how the decision might affect their nest eggs.

``Everybody admires Bill Gates,″ said Robert Mager, who owns a small computer company in Lafayette, Colo., but who also bristles over some restrictions Microsoft imposes on the ways his company and others must load its software on the machines they sell.

``He’s come through with a lot of enhancements, probably brought the technology forward more quickly than anybody else has,″ Mager said. ``People who never used computers, they can turn around and do things they never were able to do before.″

The Gallup poll, based on telephone interviews with 1,011 adults, showed 68 percent had favorable opinions of Gates, 19 percent unfavorable. That’s comparable to Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush and as good a figure for Gates as any since Gallup began tracking it in March 1998, months before the government filed its lawsuit.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who helped organize 19 states suing Microsoft with the Justice Department, said he and his peers ``don’t make law-enforcement judgments based on polling.″

``We’ve got a job to do,″ Miller said. The states ``made a courageous decision to get in when it was politically unpopular to take on Microsoft, and now the attorneys general feel vindicated to do what’s right.″

Computer users, even critics of Microsoft, generally praise the company’s Windows operating system as the industry standard that allows programmers to write different software for a unified audience.

``Microsoft has done a significant amount to advance computing,″ said software executive Gordon Eubanks of Oblix Inc., who testified for Microsoft during the trial. ``When you buy a stereo amplifier, you’d be really upset if you couldn’t plug your DVD player into it. People won’t put up with that kind of stuff. They want things to work together.″

More than half those polled, 54 percent, said they would oppose any move break up Microsoft into smaller companies, one of the punishments the judge could impose. Gallup said 58 percent of computer users opposed any breakup.

``It makes sense (the judge) should consider public opinion,″ said Robert Levy of the Washington-based Cato Institute, a frequent critic of the government’s case. ``If the consumer doesn’t express any outrage, it seems a Draconian remedy isn’t justified.″

Two-thirds of Americans in the poll saw Microsoft in a favorable light, also the highest number since Gallup began keeping score. And 45 percent favored Microsoft’s side in the trial to 33 percent who agree with the government. Among computer users, 78 percent saw Microsoft favorably.

``We know this case is going to be resolved in the court of law, not the court of public opinion,″ Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said. ``But we’re very pleased the American public clearly recognizes the extraordinary innovation and competition in the software industry.″

Gallup’s editor, Frank Newport, cautioned that the poll was taken Nov. 4-7, during the days before and immediately after U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his 207-page ruling and generally before the public fully digested the court’s decision.

But Gallup said there wasn’t much difference in responses over the polling period. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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