Reviewed: The Microsoft File

Let me get something straight right off the bat: I own just about every book about Microsoft ever written and consider myself an amateur historian of the PC era. While many books about the Gates empire attempt to provide a simple history of the company (and some are quite effective at this), other, more recent titles present themselves more as an expose of the inner workings of Microsoft. This is such a book, and it is easily the most controversial and despicable of the bunch.

I cannot recommend it to anyone.

It's not because the author, Wendy Goldman Rohm, can't write well. She most definitely cannot. As a writer and editor, I'm disgusted by her attempts at high prose, and perhaps even more disgusted that Random House chose to publisher her writing as is. Consider the following passage, where Rohm is attempting to set the mood of a near-empty plane, at night, where Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sleeps:

"Sleeping, a low hum in the chest, skin reddened by sun, head tight, seams of the skull traced like an etching across the crown taut with the monotony of time. It seemed he'd traveled farther than his thirty-nine years. Feet crossed at the ankles, lower lip slack as if having given up: all having been spoken. Echo in the sleeping brain. Traveling across water. Miles of it. Air like water filling his lungs, dreams billowing like balloons grasped in a fierce wind."


And no, I have no idea where she's going with that. The book is liberally sprinkled with such writing, causing me to sigh out loud as I read it. It's that bad.

But that's not the problem, though it is certainly a problem.

The problem with this book, unfortunately, is that none of her wild claims about Microsoft--and there are numerous claims made in the book--can be substantiated. I'm sure that many of the stories in this book are true and had the author stuck to a simple telling of these stories, with evidence to back her claims, the book would have been fantastic. Instead, the reader is presented with incredible tales of dubious origin. For example, in a wild leap of faith, Rohm asks the reader to believe that Microsoft bugged IBM's hotel rooms at Fall Comdex in 1989, despite the fact that IBM's own executives and security team still don't feel that Microsoft was responsible. The fact that many major computer companies had executives staying at the same hotel (including Microsoft, by the way) suggests that any number of suspects could have bugged IBM's rooms. In fact, only IBM would have been paranoid enough to scan their rooms for bugs. It is possible--and likely--that other computer companies, including Microsoft, were bugged as well. We, like Rohm, will never really know for sure.

The book is full of such drivel, and it gets pretty hard to take after the first few chapters. There will always be a place in my heart for Microsoft insider information, but this book seems more like a deliberate--and dishonest--smear campaign than an attempt at revealing insight. Rohm says that Microsoft has embarked on its own campaign to belittle the book and its author and while I would normally be shocked by such events, in this case, I can only say "more power to them." She deserves all the dirt she gets and then some.

The view from the gutter, they say, offers an interesting perspective. Just ask Wendy Rohm. She knows all about it.


The Microsoft File by Wendy Goldman Rohm Random House, 1998 ISBN: 0-8129-2716-

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