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Spying on Microsoft and unveiling its several front groups was a "public service", Oracle founder Larry Ellison told reporters during a press conference Wednesday.

"All we did was to try to take information that was hidden and bring it into the light," Ellison said. "That's a public service." The investigation was justified by Microsoft's own smarmy business practices, he added.

Ellison maintained his company did nothing illegal in commissioning the investigation, which was revealed earlier this month after the detective agency Oracle had retained, Investigative Group International, was caught trying to buy from dustmen the office rubbish of the Association for Competitive Technology, a Microsoft-funded industry front group.

To demonstrate his apparent belief that all's fair in Love, War and Corporate Public Relations, Ellison challenged Microsoft to investigate his own company in return. "We will ship them our garbage," he joked. "We will ship our garbage to Redmond, and they can go through it. We believe in full disclosure."

Two other such groups, the Independent Institute and the National Taxpayers Union, were also investigated by IGI, which began its Trashgate operation a year ago. Both organisations were financed by Microsoft.

However, Oracle has financed its own stable of front groups such as the Progress and Freedom Foundation, the Software and Information Industry Association and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which have, predictably, shown decidedly anti-Microsoft inclinations.

Microsoft has taken the opportunity to assume the moral high ground, expressing shock and indignation that its competitor should resort to such appalling lapses of etiquette.

Beleaguered by governments, and now even by their own playmates, the company's flacks can be forgiven for extracting as much PR mileage from this incident as humanly possible. And we have every confidence that they will. ®

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