Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates came to court yesterday bearing a meticulously prepared, 155-page testimony, complete with charts, graphs, and graphics. He was polite in court, even chatty, laughing and smiling when appropriate. He was also in command of the facts and often presented detailed, technical explanations during his direct answers to questions. He was, in other words, nothing like the person we saw in video deposition clips almost 4 years ago. He was also nothing like the real Bill Gates, a fiery and spirited competitor who harbors little patience for people less intelligent than himself.
Yes, Gates came to Washington yesterday, providing a star-studded interlude in the middle of Microsoft's antitrust remedy hearings, in which nine nonsettling states and the District of Columbia seek to impose harsher remedies on the company than the US government and nine other states have agreed to. The drawn-out affair will last 2 or 3 months, and its conclusion--however it turns out--will be bathed in controversy because the judge overseeing the case also has to determine whether she'll enter Microsoft's government settlement as law.
Gates' appearance was supposed to be the most interesting part of the hearings. But in some ways, his performance was the most predictable. The Gates testimony was almost too well prepared, and it read as if an army of lawyers and public relations people had written it, which probably was true. On the stand, Gates sat erect, answered questions quickly and decisively, and knew his facts. Gates was somewhat hobbled by having to stick to the letter of Microsoft's "Chicken Little" defense, in which the company claims that the nonsettling states' request to create a modular Windows version is impossible and would irreparably damage the company and its products. Gates made some good points, including a request that any court-approved remedy be clearly written, with terms such as middleware concisely defined.
"Microsoft is committed to complying fully with court orders, including any remedy that may be ordered in this case," Gates said. "We can do that only if the remedy is clear as written and its terms feasible."
Despite the absence of theatrics, Gates did make several interesting comments in his testimony and under cross-examination yesterday, including:
- Microsoft cloned the functionality of other company's products, including those of Netscape Navigator, AOL's online service, and certain interactive TV software. Gates said this behavior was acceptable as long as Microsoft didn't improperly obtain the source code to the product it copied or otherwise infringe on intellectual property rights.
- The company purposefully designed Microsoft Office so that its Web page output would render correctly only in Internet Explorer (IE). "Allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by other people's browsers is one of the most destructive things we could do to the company," Gates wrote in his testimony. "This is a case where Office has to avoid doing something to destroy Windows."
- Gates said that a Windows version hobbled by the nonsettling states' requirement would set the product back to "1992-era functionality" and freeze it there, giving competitors a chance to continue to add features to their products and surpass Windows. This action would kill the market for Windows, Gates said, and require Microsoft to lay off half the 15,000 employees who work on Windows.
- Requiring Microsoft to release source code to competitors as requested under the nonsettling states' plan would amount to an "historic theft" of intellectual property. "This \[plan\] is a dream come true for somebody who wants to clone Windows," Gates said, noting that AOL Time Warner, Gateway, Novell, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems, specifically, were eagerly awaiting such a code release.