In four weeks of antitrust trial, Microsoft?s attorneys have been ruthless ? and often very effective ? in portraying the government?s witnesses as whining competitors with a personal grudge against Microsoft.
But if Microsoft has been so good for the IT industry, as its defence team keeps repeating, why does it have so many sworn enemies and so few friends?
Attacking the witness?s credibility worked pretty well in the case of Netscape chief Jim Barksdale, the first witness to take the stand. Barksdale is no friend of Microsoft. Netscape dominated the Web browser market, and seemed set to dominate Internet software as a whole until Redmond started to flex its muscles. So naturally, it would be naove to take his account of the relationship between both companies at face value.
On the other hand, Microsoft?s portrayal of Barksdale as a conspirator who, together with Netscape co-founder Mark Andreessen, set up an elaborate antitrust trap for Microsoft (the now infamous 25 June meeting), strained credulity.
David Colburn of AOL and Avie Tevanian of Apple were next to take the stand. They are both top executives at companies that are close partners ? as well as competitors ? of Microsoft. And neither had much that was nice to say about the company.
This week, it was Steven McGeady?s turn. McGeady was vice president of Intel?s content group. Intel doesn?t really compete with Microsoft at all, so it?s hard to portray it as just another whining competitor. On the other hand, as Microsoft?s attorneys have pointed out at length this week, McGeady does have an axe to grind - he blames Microsoft for the termination of the department he headed, the Intel Architecture Lab (IAL).
There?s little doubt that the next eight witnesses will receive the same treatment. They will all be shown to hold a grudge against Microsoft. That?s a lot of grudges.
A key witness will be chief Java architect James Gosling. If he doesn?t have an axe to grind with Microsoft, who has? Evidence of Bill Gates?s tireless attempts to undermine Gosling?s brainchild has been piling up over the past few weeks.
Of course, the Microsoft attorneys are right - all these witnesses really do hold a grudge against Microsoft, or against Bill Gates personally. But the point is that there are so many of them. If Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson hadn?t limited the number of witnesses for each side to 12, we would no doubt have heard from such companies as Real Networks or Caldera.
So how does that rhyme with Microsoft?s insistence on portraying itself as a benevolent giant, a tireless innovator creating new opportunities for the entire industry?
If Microsoft has been so good for the industry, where are all the grateful industry leaders, ready to speak up and save Microsoft from being torn apart by its enemies?
Of course there are top IT executives ready to speak up for Microsoft. But, judging by the witness list, they?re all on the payroll. Microsoft is calling six of its own vice presidents (including Paul Maritz, James Allchin and Brad Chase), and three other senior managers.
The two lone exceptions on Microsoft's witness list are Compaq's senior vice president John Rose and Michael Devlin, the president of Rational Software. (The dozen is completed with Richard Schmalensee of the MIT, who must provide the sole counterweight to the government?s four academic witnesses).
It seems unlikely that this long list of Microsoft witnesses will be able to add much in court to their own pre-trial depositions. So why are they being called? Presumably, to testify ? no doubt at great length ? to Microsoft?s noble intentions, and to all the good the company has done for the IT industry.
Those assurances would sound a lot more convincing if they came from influential partners ? or even better, competitors ? of Microsoft.
This would have gone some way to counter the impression that rises from the first four weeks of testimony, that Microsoft has very few friends ? and many bitter enemies.
Why are the companies with which Microsoft partners so ready to inform on their ally to the DoJ?s antitrust squad?
Is it just because Microsoft is big and successful? IBM, even at the height of its power, never inspired the same level of almost universal animosity.
Even Microsoft?s staunchest supporters ? wherever they are ? must acknowledge by now that all is not well in the PC industry.
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