Mr. Gates Goes to Washington

The most eagerly awaited spectacle of the Microsoft remedy hearings will begin this week when Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates takes the stand so that lawyers can cross-examine him about his previously recorded testimony. Gates has a big cross to bear; his embarrassing 1998 videotape testimony in the original Microsoft antitrust trial was responsible for removing any shred of credibility that the company might have held with the judge. But this time around, observers expect Microsoft's spiritual and intellectual business leader to perform in line with the public perception of the man who turned the PC industry into one of the world's largest industries.

Gates' original videotaped testimony remains a source of controversy. In it, he appeared sullen and uncooperative, questioning the meaning of simple terms such as "compete" or "consider." Gates and his handlers have said that the videotaped testimony was never supposed to appear in court, but the government's lead lawyer at the time, David Boies, was able to use select clips from the testimony in court, alleviating the need to call Gates to the stand while being able to show only those parts that were most embarrassing. In the video clips, Gates often appeared completely out of touch with the company's day-to-day operations and products, and Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who presided over the original trial, could barely contain his disdain for Gates and his testimony.

This time, however, the situation is different. The government that sued Microsoft for sweeping antitrust violations has now settled with the company after inexplicably narrowing the case significantly, and only nine US states and the District of Columbia remain, hoping to stick the company with stricter remedies. For the prosecution, the brilliant David Boies is gone as well, although he'll be replaced by one of several lawyers the nonsettling states have retained (they won't say which one will question Gates until it happens, in a bit of courtroom intrigue designed to keep Microsoft guessing). The Gates appearance could very well make or break these hearings. If Gates does well and convinces Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that a fettered Microsoft would be unable to continue the innovation that guided the PC industry for the past 20 years, the importance of other witnesses will be diminished significantly, legal experts say. However, if the states hammer Gates to show him to be disreputable or dishonest, the judge might give more credence to claims from Microsoft competitors and the nonsettling states.

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