Note to Gates

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The judge may have delivered his decision in U.S. vs. Microsoft, but the antitrust case is far from closed. In all likelihood, there will be a new president in the White House before the appeals are over. So, as frustrating as it may be for Microsoft, it has to keep planning for the future, even if its future isn't entirely in its control.

Still, there's never been a better time to get its advertising act together. For one thing, if Microsoft is all for competition, then it should start showing a more competitive nature in its ads. Rather than parading Messrs. Gates and Ballmer in front of the cameras to bemoan the Justice Department's case, the company should tell consumers why its products stand out in the marketplace. Its headquarters may be in Redmond, but Microsoft's advertising seems to be in a vacuum.

Consumers aren't interested in open letters and talking heads; they want to know why Windows is better than Linux or the latest Mac OS, and why they should consider dropping America Online for MSN. Besides, the antitrust case and the ensuing appeals process are not being decided in a court of public opinion. Where consumers weigh in is at the checkout of their local software retailer.

Putting its ad focus on individual products will benefit Microsoft even if it loses the appeal. A year from now, "Microsoft" may not mean what it does today. But the company -- or companies -- will still want consumers to run Windows, use Office and surf with MSN.

So how about it Microsoft? Where do you want to go now?

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