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103 Nw. L. Rev. Colloquy 1 (2008-2009)

handle is hein.journals/nulro103 and id is 1 raw text is: 

Copyright 2008 by Northwestern University School of Law            Vol. 103
Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy



                                                        Randal C. Picker*

     We are once again changing how we use computers. In the past, we
moved from mainframes to mini computers to freestanding personal com-
puters. That was a powerful shift in control and organizational structure.
Mainframes were rare and, as such, were tended to with loving care and
serviced by a small caste of computing priests. In contrast, PCs were eve-
rywhere: on every knowledge worker's desk and eventually in the family
room of many homes. In the PC age, the computer desktop was the most
valuable real estate around, and for most people, that meant Microsoft Win-
     Microsoft Windows was-and is-both product and delivery system.
Product in the sense that Windows performs certain functions that all oper-
ating systems perform. Windows tracks files, sends data through ports for
printing, and tells your computer screen how to display fonts and images-
all things that we expect of our operating systems. But Windows is more
than that: Windows delivers software. Before the advent of the Internet,
software delivery was difficult. A consumer might find the software was
pre-installed on a new PC. Alternately, the consumer could go to a com-
puter store-remember those?-and plunk down her credit card, and walk
out with a large, almost empty box that had, buried within it, a CD with
new software.
     Microsoft had a special role in software delivery because it could guar-
antee delivery by just incorporating the new software into Windows. With
each new release of Windows-from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 to 98
and on towards Vista-Microsoft expanded the footprint of Windows. This
expanded footprint was not just a question of taking up more hard drive
space; Windows got bigger because it expanded its functionality. In doing
so, it killed off what had been separate markets in freestanding functions
provided by other companies. Disk fragmentation was once a separate
product category, but it wasn't anymore once Microsoft added that function

    Copyright © 2008, Randal C. Picker. All Rights Reserved. Paul and Theo Leffmann Professor of
Commercial Law, The University of Chicago Law School and Senior Fellow, The Computation Institute
of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. I thank the Paul H. Leffmann Fund, the
Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Milton and Miriam Handler Foundation for their generous research
support. I have done some consulting work in connection with some of the issues addressed in this Es-
say, but all of the views expressed are my own.

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