These suits, no matter the eventual legal outcome, could cripple Google's ability to innovate and expand. To see why, you only need look back at what happened to Microsoft when the federal Department of Justice launched an antitrust suit against it in 1998. The core of the issue back then was similar to what Google faces now. The issue wasn't whether Windows was a monopoly (it was); it was whether Microsoft used its monopoly power to harm its competitors and dominate new markets such as browsers.
Eventually, Microsoft wasn't given much more than a slap on the wrist, but by the time that happened in 2004, the company had been embroiled in the suit for six years. During that period, it spent an immense amount of time and resources fighting the suit, and it wasn't sure which newly contemplated business actions might be deemed illegal.
It's no coincidence that during those lost years, while Microsoft was distracted, Google locked up the search market and Apple sewed up the digital music market with the iPod. During that time, Microsoft was also unable to capitalize on Windows Mobile, a smartphone platform it had developed years before Apple's iOS. Before the suit, Microsoft practically owned the tech industry. Ever since, it's been playing catch-up in every important growth area.
The same thing could easily happen to Google. So if you're trying to figure out Google's future, don't look at its tech competitors -- watch the FTC.
Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).
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