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AOL chief bizarrely predicts MS trial memory lapse

AOL's answer to Bill Gates could have trouble remembering the question

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MS on Trial AOL chairman Steve Case looks like rivaling Bill Gates in the stonewalling stakes when his deposition is taken by Microsoft lawyers tomorrow. Microsoft's defence reckons that AOL's takeover of Netscape is vital evidence (a lead lifebelt, we'd say), while Case yesterday maintained that he'd have nothing to contribute. Images of depositions gone by, with Bill Gates determinedly failing to understand the questions and suffering massive memory lapses, fly through the brain. Microsoft's concentration on the AOL-Netscape deal springs from a conviction that it shows Microsoft has real competition, and that things move so fast in the IT business that apparently strong positions can be reversed overnight. There will also be more than an element of 'everybody does it anyway' - cunning manoeuvring and sweethearts deal certainly did play a part in what was in effect a Sun-AOL-Netscape triple alliance. That's not the point, of course, as contrary to the beliefs of Microsoft's lawyers, two wrongs don't make an antitrust defence, but nevertheless they should be allowed their day in court. And here's a tip for them, if they're still wondering what line of enquiry to pursue with Case. Steve yesterday told reporters that his deposition wouldn't have anything of relevance in it because the trial is about operating systems, and as far as the Netscape deal was concerned: "Nothing there has anything to do with operating systems." Oh, Stevie! Taking this Gates-like faux-ignorance a step further he added: "We acquired Netscape because we thought it has a great brand. We thought it had a great portal with Netcenter. It had an important e-commerce business and a great team of people." Well now, we can see where he's coming from, but just maybe he got a few stations further down the track than he's letting on. AOL did indeed want Netcenter, and AOL does indeed value Netscape's e-commerce business. Especially considering the volume of Sun bucks for AOL that got tied into it as a key part of the deal. But when they signed the deal, didn't the AOL execs start going on about AOL Anywhere? We'll refresh Steve's memory - the delivery of this slogan is more than a little dependent on new platforms and, er, alternative operating systems. And then there's the small matter of NCI, aka Liberate. AOL is currently a shareholder in NCI, thanks to the stake it acquired when it acquired Netscape. Last week AOL announced a set-top box/satellite deal (Report) which involved NCI. And of course, alternative operating systems. Come on Steve, don't you remember? ®

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