Software

Gates testimony a PR jewel

Slow-written over a hardwood fire to bring out the natural shine

I hope that if I should ever turn to a life of crime and am eventually prosecuted for my wrongdoing and found guilty, I'll be allowed to dictate my punishment to the federal government, just like Microsoft. I hope as well that I'll be permitted to reject state-imposed punishments based on some irrelevant set of purely speculative consequences.

Now you're thinking, 'what rubbish -- punishment is adapted to suit the crime, not to accommodate the criminal.' But if you read Bill Gates' committee-written prepared testimony in answer to the nay-saying states, you'll see that this is precisely the treatment he expects.

Microsoft must not be punished severely for its antitrust violations because it single-handedly liberated the entire computing industry from domination by a handful of malevolent corporate giants, Bill explains.

It was MS that brought about a 'standard computing platform' and so rescued us from the sledgehammer-usury of IBM on the one hand, and the naive anarchy of the Homebrew Computer Club and the commercial chaos all that implied.

Terrifying stuff to be sure; but the Great Leader wisely pioneered a safe route between the bondage of giants and the anarchy of consensus. A virtual Shackleton he was.

"[MS] was not much of a business in its early years -- just Paul, me and a small group of developers we hired banging out code day and night in spartan offices in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But it was a labor of love," The Chairman says, borrowing liberally from his official hagiography.

And so it came about that cheap but not free software and cheap but not free ISA hardware should beget an industry now crucial to the survival of the world's leading commercial powers.

But all this self-promotion is mere preparation for the core hustle -- not, as we might expect, a review of past good works to negotiate leniency, but an appeal that the proposed remedy of de-linking Windows from its 'middleware' and opening its APIs is simply too inconvenient.

Such punishment would damage irreparably the entire high-tech industry, we're told. The OEMs which MS has carefully pruned like bonsai trees into mere stunted mechanisms for the propagation of Windows would be free to indulge in all sorts of mischief, like customizing their offerings of OSs and applications -- like making outrageous demands on MS to develop versions of Windows which suit their needs.

Of course we can't have this. "If the Windows platform were to fragment, the primary value it provides -- the ability to provide compatibility across a wide range of software and hardware -- would be lost."

Forget that the de facto 'computing standard' was established not through consensus but through Microsoft's monopolistic behavior. The fruits of monopoly are good; thus the monopolist is, if not innocent, also good.

Fragmentation will discourage developers, and that in turn will retard the evolution of Windows. Once that happens, the entire industry will stagnate and another Great Depression will occur.

"Absent steady advances in operating systems and applications, consumers have little reason to buy new software products since software never wears out. That is why it is especially important in the software industry that new product releases provide consumers with new capabilities."

This is why an operating system or an application can never be good enough. This is why Windows now has to be married to a particular machine. And this is why products and services no one wants must be integrated into Windows, and force-fed to consumers Passport-wise.

Fragmentation is bad. The 'standard computing platform' developed by MS is the key to prosperity for the entire tech sector. We know this because Billg said so under oath. The states' proposed punishment can't be accepted -- not because MS deserves it or doesn't deserve it for the wrongdoing it's been convicted of, but because it will cause problems. We're expected to believe that punishments and corrective constraints must not cause problems.

If the states should have their way, "Microsoft would be greatly devalued as a company. Microsoft's market capitalization is based on the market's well-founded belief that Microsoft is on a path to deliver a wide range of breakthrough technologies that will generate new sources of revenue," Gates warns the court.

Gates comes as close to taking credit credit for today's 'computing ecosystem' as his perjury-conscious lawyers will allow. He doesn't quite say it, but we're clearly meant to credit MS rather than Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan with free-market Capitalism and the consequent freedom and prosperity the world is enjoying today. (You're enjoying all that freedom and prosperity, right?)

But evil lurks. Gates characterizes the NSPR (the non-settling States' proposed remedies) as a Communist plot to annhilate the Capitalist free-market system.

"With free access to Microsoft's technology, competitors could build a clone of Windows -- a product that mimics the key features of the operating system," much the way Windows mimics the key features of the Mac, The Chairman explained.

"Providing Microsoft's technology to its competitors so they can build 'functional equivalents' of our products now, and match all our future innovations for ten years, is in fact one of the central objectives of the NSPR."

We like that wording: 'central objectives'. It reminds us -- no doubt intentionally -- of 'central planning', which we now know kept us on the road to serfdom since the conclusion of the Second World War.

We have another problem. "Many key aspects of the NSPR, particularly its definitions relating to 'middleware,' are vague and ambiguous, providing Microsoft with no clear statement of its obligations," Gates says.

We're meant to forget that the same can be said of the DoJ's little gift. (The only difference is that in one case MS heartily approves of the ambiguities, whereas in the other case it doesn't.)

But Billg's staff writers are careful not to mention the DoJ settlement anywhere in the testimony, lest the states' lawyers introduce it in court and draw such unsettling comparisons.

In all, Gates' testimony is a long, tedious advertisement for Microsoft. It's not a defence; it's a justification.

It repeatedly implies that we should all be grateful enough for the company's wise shepherding of the technology industry to overlook its criminal behavior. His handlers hope the judge will fail to notice that this has nothing to do with whether or not Microsoft violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and deserves to be, 1. punished, and 2. effectively constrianed from doing it again.

When we see irrelevant screed proffered as a legal defence, we see as well how tragically out of touch with reality The Chairman has become. We're reminded of another famous defendant who lost his grip on the real world, and who hammered out an equally irrelevant, long and tedious justification for his own criminal acts. His name was Theodore Kaczynski, and fortunately in his case the judge wasn't fooled. ®

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