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Microsoft ‘killed Dell Linux’ – States

Carry On Kempin

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Microsoft sharpshooter Joachim Kempin, who was convicted of illegally shooting antelope in Montana in 1998, has been turning his guns on a more familiar target: Microsoft's own OEM customers.

The States' remedy hearing opened in DC yesterday, and States attorney Steven Kuney produced a devastating memo from Kempin, then in charge of Microsoft's OEM business, written after Judge Jackson had ordered his break-up of the company. Kempin raises the possibility of threatening Dell and other PC builders which promote Linux.

"I'm thinking of hitting the OEMs harder than in the past with anti-Linux. ... they should do a delicate dance," Kempin wrote to Ballmer, in what is sure to be a memorable addition to the phrases ("knife the baby", "cut off the air supply") with which Microsoft enriched the English language in the first trial. Unlike those two, this is not contested.

The bullets aimed Spaghetti Western-style at the feet of the dancing OEMs translate to Microsoft withholding source code, according to the memo.

For these details we're indebted to eWeek's Darryl Taft, who unlike some his fellow reporters, appeared to stay for the afternoon session of the hearing. His account of the day's proceedings can be found here, and includes the delicious detail that late in the afternoon, Sun Microsystems was desperately trying to close the session, arguing that cross examination would reveal confidential information submitted under seal.

Reuters also mentions the Linux threat in passing, but compare and contrast with The New York Times, which doesn't. CNET and Wired simply carry the Reuters report.

Earlier memos described that it was "untenable" that a key Microsoft partner was promoting Linux. Kuney revealed that Dell disbanded its Linux business unit in early 2001. Dell quietly pulled Linux from its desktop PCs in the summer of 2001, IDG's Ashlee Vance discovered subsequently, six months after we heard Michael Dell declare his love of Linux on the desktop the previous winter.

Compaq was also mentioned in other memos, with Microsoft taking the line that OEMs should "meet demand but not help create demand" for Linux.

Kempin was Microsoft's chief OEM enforcer in the second half of the nineties, contributing a string of memorable memos to the 1998 Trial, and takes the credit for ensuring that the price of a Windows rose as the price of PCs were falling, during this period.

"The plaintiffs are not here to punish Microsoft - the plaintiffs' goals are to make Microsoft behave properly," argued a States' attorney. But how? Short of obliging the executives to wear antelope horns and race in front of an SUV under a hail of rifle fire, it's hard to see what language they understand. ®

Carry on Kempin

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