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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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An Innovator In The Digital Marketplace

Special To The Times

NOW that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has issued his findings of fact in the Microsoft case and they are being debated everywhere from boardrooms to hair salons, it is a good time to examine the underlying reasons behind the company's success in the marketplace and its prospects for the future.

As an engine of our nation's high-tech expansion, Microsoft has been a key to America's economic turnaround over the past decade, securing our position as the world's economic leader. It was probably inevitable that the federal government would want to consider whether such a powerful force in our economy was in conflict with antitrust laws.

One thing is clear: There has been no consumer harm. Each year, people across the globe - from students to educators, from India to Ireland - use better computer software than they did the year before. And while software keeps making our lives easier and richer, prices keep dropping. We have more choices, with lower prices and higher quality. What was unimaginable a few years ago has now become routine.

I remember the day when everyone was using different operating systems and different applications - my computer couldn't talk to my neighbors'. You couldn't click your mouse and send e-mail down the street, much less to somebody in Sweden. Microsoft has been at the forefront of this revolutionary change and has been the software industry's most important innovator.

Whatever the outcome of the litigation in Washington, D.C., a

clear view from here in the "other Washington" shows that Microsoft has succeeded largely because it has been smarter, harder working, more customer-focused and has had a longer-range vision than many others in the industry.

Microsoft has led the software industry by recruiting and keeping the brightest, most innovative, and hardest-working computer scientists, marketers and managers. The broad spread of ownership in Microsoft among its employees has shown other firms a better alternative to concentrating compensation only among top management. These employees, in turn, have proved themselves remarkably generous and committed to improving their community.

But Microsoft has not succeeded in the marketplace because of its employees' generosity of spirit, or even simply because they have been smart and diligent. The company has grown because it has listened to its customers and improved its products to meet the needs of consumers.

Thanks to Microsoft, other cutting-edge local companies and the literally thousands of software and electronic commerce businesses growing here, Washington state is poised to be the global leader in the new digital economy.

In the end, the marketplace should, and will, decide which companies and which regions lead into the future. We in Washington state should look forward to the new century with confidence and in anticipation of the continued improvements that the technology crafted by leaders such as Microsoft will bring for our children and their children. I support Microsoft's freedom to innovate and to succeed.

Rep. Laura Ruderman (D-Redmond), a Microsof marketing manager, is vice-chair of the House Telecommunications, Technology & Energy Committee.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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