The largest technology company in the world won't touch your desktop computer. The largest computer company in the world--or at least, the most valuable--is no longer Microsoft. Last March, Microsoft temporarily surrendered that position, due to shifting stock prices, to another: Cisco Systems, which doesn't have any products you are likely to install on your desktop computer soon. Since then, Microsoft's stock has tumbled hard, and Cisco has solidified its leadership position even as its own stock has recently retreated a bit (along with that of most technology companies). So, in the sense that the 26 percent drop in Microsoft's stock price over the past four months is due largely to the antitrust findings against the company, the Department of Justice has, in a way, already fulfilled its mission: they have cut Microsoft down to a size in which it no longer thoroughly dominates the computer industry.
But if you feel any relief from that statistical adjustment, your next question might be about the new numero uno.
When did Cisco sneak up there? The San Jose, Calif.-based router company is far less visible than the Redmond software maker: The name Cisco does not appear on most PC screens when they load their operating system, it isn't incorporated into the name of the leading word-processing and spreadsheet and graphics applications, and it doesn't have multimedia product-launch events hosted by Jay Leno. But if you ever connect to the Internet, you are a user of Cisco products. Some estimates give Cisco as high as 85 percent of the network router market, which is ultra-critical to computer operations within large corporations, as well as to Internet function. The runner-up, Lucent, has only a 5 percent share.
Cisco has some other habits that you might expect to raise the eyebrows of the antitrust hunters...