It's Like A, Uh, Ham Sandwich

What do carburetors, shoelaces, credit cards and ham sandwiches have in common?

They've all been used by economists and lawyers desperate for images that will help explain their views on Microsoft's business practices.

Here are just a few of the offbeat analogies that have helped lighten the legalese of the Microsoft antitrust case:

-- Cars and tires. The government claims Microsoft unfairly bundles new products together with the dominant Windows computer operating system to boost sales of both the newer products and Windows. Microsoft counters that it's building one integrated product, just like automakers sell cars with tires.

-- Shoes and shoelaces. A libertarian economist coming to Microsoft's aid offered this combination as another example of widely accepted "bundling."

-- Coffee and cream. Another "integrated" product. You get the idea.

-- The ham sandwich. Possibly the most ridiculous of all, this picture was served up by Microsoft representatives claiming the company has the right to build anything it wants, even a ham sandwich, into its Windows computer operating system.

-- Credit cards. Usually cited by people arguing for a crackdown on Microsoft. The argument: The more stores that accept a particular brand of credit card, the more consumers will want that brand. And the more consumers that carry a certain card, the more stores will choose to accept it.

People want all their software to run smoothly together; therefore, the more people who use Microsoft's Windows operating system, the harder it is for a competitor to gain market share with an alternative.

-- The Postal Service. Microsoft argues that antitrust regulators should back off because the company's success has been good for consumers, bringing high quality at low prices. Hogwash, said one former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

"That's what folks who defend the Post Office say, too," he said. "And what do the Post Office and Microsoft have in common? They're both monopolies."