Every email message you send can and will be used against your company. That appears to be the lesson from the first few days of the Microsoft antitrust trial.
The dangers of 'trial by snippet' are becoming ever clearer, as the court battle between MS and the Department of Justice gets bogged down in endless discussions about whether or not a certain email quote was taken out of context, and whether or not it represents official company policy.
The government?s original complaint against Microsoft, filed in May, contained a wealth of quotes from Microsoft employees, delved from thousands of email messages and from newspaper stories. These included an email message from Microsoft vice president Jim Allchin, saying ?[W]e are not investing sufficiently in finding ways to tie IE and Windows together?.
This prompted Microsoft to subpoena even more thousands of documents from its detractors, which it has been sifting through over the summer.
And it did not come up empty handed, as became apparent on Wednesday, when attorney John Warden launched the first bombshell - an email message sent at 3am on 29 December 1994 by Netscape co-founder Jim Clark to two Microsoft officials. Clark informed them that Netscape did not intend to make money on the client side, and offered Microsoft a share in the company.
On Thursday, Warden followed up with a quote from a newsgroup posting by fellow co-founder Marc Andreessen, on 24 November 1994, saying: "We are absolutely committed to giving 1.0 away for personal use. Watch us." (This appeared to contradict Netscape's claim that it only gave away its browser for free because Microsoft had started doing the same with Internet Explorer.)
By this time, it had become clear to everyone involved that quotes from employees ? often low ranking and frequently anonymous ? can be construed to mean virtually anything. If it is Microsoft?s strategy to discredit all snippet based evidence, it is succeeding admirably.
All parties, including Netscape, have discovered by now the universal response to all accusations based on such quotes - ?The speaker was giving a personal opinion and his comments do not represent company policy?.
Sometimes, this claim is hard to believe. For instance, both founders of Netscape are now on the record as having said - before Navigator 1.0 was even launched and before current CEO Jim Barksdale joined the company - that Netscape intended its browser to be free, at least to certain users. Which begs the question that if the opinions of the company?s founders and top executives don?t represent company policy, whose opinions do?
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