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CBS Poll: Americans OK With Microsoft

At the moment Americans are not fazed by the prospect of Microsoft dominance in the software business, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times Poll.

While support for the U.S. Justice Department's decision to pursue an anti-trust suit against Microsoft may have increased in the last few weeks, when it comes to choosing sides, Americans—and especially computer users—still side with Microsoft. That's even though a majority believe that Microsoft is, in fact, a monopoly.

One reason for public acceptance of Microsoft may be that the public is divided on whether or not large companies should be forcibly restricted. Sixty-nine percent say that one or two companies have too much control in some industries. But only 49 percent think that those same companies should be broken up into smaller ones for the good of the country.

Another is that computers in general, and Microsoft [along with its CEO Bill Gates] are seen positively by most Americans. 59 percent of Americans say computers solve more problems than they create, while 29 percent say they create more problems than they solve. But for older Americans, as well as for the third of the country that has no access to a computer, either at home or at work, feelings are different. By 43 percent to 34 percent, those 65 and older say computers create more problems than they solve. Those without computer access agree, 49 percent to 33 percent.

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Bill Gates, Microsoft's CEO, is popular too, and he is especially favored by computer users who have Internet access. Among that group, his favorable rating is 57 percent, while only 11 percent have an unfavorable view of him. Microsoft as a company does even better. Among those who use e-mail, 77 percent have a favorable view of the company, and only 14 percent an unfavorable.

There may have been some slippage in support for Microsoft vs. the U.S. Justice Department in the last few weeks. By two to one, the public wants the Justice Department's investigations into Microsoft to continue. By 47 percent to 37 percent, those aware of the anti-trust suit think the Justice Department did the right thing to bring the suit. Last month, the public was evenly split. Computer users are evenly divided now. Last month, they thought that the Justice Department was doing the wrong thing in bringing the suit.

But when it comes to choosing sides, Microsoft still wins. Overall, 34 percent take the government's position, while 45 percent side with Microsoft. Support for Microsoft is even greater among computer users.

Most Americans [and most computer users] don't view Microsoft's marketing tactics as either illegal, unethical, or unfair. By 54 percent to 14 percent, Microsoft is viewed as using legal marketing tactics, by 48 percent to 27 percent the public describes those tatics as ethical, and by 47 percent to 27 percent, they're thought of as fair. Still, 53 percent overall agree that Microsoft is a monopoly.

Microsoft may also be insulated from negative public reaction to its perceived monopoly by the fact that 77 percent believe its products are of high quality. Only 4 percent disagree. Nine out of 10 computer users think Microsoft makes high-quality products. And most of those have experience with Microsoft. Eighty percent say they used a computer that had a Windows operating system. But so far, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, about which much of the Justice Department suit is about, hasn't had that kind of penetration. Only 18 percent of those who use the Internet say they use Microsoft Explorer to do so.

As of now, those differences are reflected in questions about whether Microsoft dominance is good or bad for consumers. By 49 percent to 39 percent the public says its current software dominance is good for consumers. On the browser side, however, there is less positive feeling if Microsoft were to dominate there. And in both cases, if Microsoft were to have 90 percent of the market for either software or browsers, the public would be more likely to think that was bad for consumers.

There are still huge gaps in access to computers. Two out of three Americans have access to a computer at home, work or school. Just over half have a computer at home. But only 19 percent of those 65 and older have a computer at home. There are also income, education, and racial differences in computer availability. One third of the public has an e-mail address—that is, about half of all computer users. But there continues to be income, age and racial differences in access.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,126 adults, interviewed by telephone June 7-9, 1998. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample is plus or minus three percentage points.font>

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