I went to the computer store the other night to look for a new operating system for my PC. I’m having trouble with Windows ‘95 – darn thing hasn’t worked right since I installed it – so I figured it was time to try something else.

On my way in, I stopped to browse through the education and entertainment software like I normally do. Most of the time I can’t get through this area in less than half an hour. That night it was even worse because I hadn’t been to the store in six or seven months.

What is it with these software companies? They put out a game or a graphics package, and less than a year later they’re shipping a new version. I mean, here we are, not even half way though 1998, and my kids are bugging me for baseball ‘99 or whatever. And it’s not just games. Many CAD/CAM programs are reborn once or twice a year too.

It would be easy to sit out some of these software “revs” if they were merely cosmetic. You know – new look, new box, new features you’ll never use. But that didn’t seem to be the case with the majority of upgrades I saw. Nonetheless, I managed to escape the “edutainment” section without buying anything, and headed down the hardware aisle to where I thought I’d find operating systems.

I usually breeze through this part of the store, but there were so many new sound cards and graphics accelerators that I had to slow down for a peek. Then I noticed all the modems. I’ve got an antique in my PC – must be two years old – so even the cheap 28.8-bps jobs looked good.

As I was mulling over the choices, the announcement came on that the store would be closing in 10 minutes. Just then, a clerk walked by and I asked him for help.

He led me to a palette stacked high with dust-covered boxes of Windows ‘95, the same buggy program I was trying to replace. “If you’re interested in something else, we’ve got this,” he said, pointing to a shelf on which sat a lone copy of Unix shedding its shrink-wrap.

“That’s it?” I asked. “You have choices upon choices in every aisle, and this is your selection in operating systems? This stuff is ancient even by hardware standards.”

Then I remembered something I read. “What about that new Windows?” I asked. “I heard it was coming out soon.” With that, the clerk picked up a copy of Windows ‘95 and, using a magic marker, scribbled an ‘8’ over the ‘5’. “Here it is,” he said, handing me the box. I think I knew what he meant.

As you probably know, Microsoft, the maker of Windows, is the target of an antitrust lawsuit. Prosecutors claim the software company is illegally using its chokehold on operating systems to gain control of the web-browser market. They say this violates the Sherman Act of 1890, which says a business can’t leverage a monopoly in one market to gain a monopoly in another.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the government is going after Microsoft simply to uphold a 100-year-old piece of legislation. If that were the case, prosecutors could have taken action 10 years and hundreds of software companies ago.

No, the antitrust suit is a way to reel in one man who has too much power and influence in the information domain. It’s not as much a browser war, as it is a battle for mindshare – and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is playing right into their hands.

Only days after being sued, Gates ran a full-page letter in newspapers across the country, trying to persuade the world to see things his way. The letter, part of an all-out PR blitz, paints Microsoft as a defender of innovation and choice, and the government as a meddler trying to stifle competition and deprive PC users of “cool new technology.”

Microsoft can spew out all the rhetoric it wants, but I don't see anything “cool” about a pile of two-year-old operating systems. If this is “choice,” I can’t feel sorry for the software giant, even if it is being railroaded.