2nd > April > 2000 Archive

MS guilty verdict looms as mediation talks collapse

MS on TrialThe Microsoft antitrust case mediation talks collapsed unexpectedly last night, with official mediator Judge Richard Posner saying in a statement that his efforts have proved fruitless, and that the differences between the two camps "were too deep-seated to be bridged." So unless the judge is playing DEFCON poker, it's back over to Judge Jackson, whose findings of law were ready to roll last Tuesday, but who stayed his hand at Posner's request because he thought a negotiated settlement was still possible. At that time Microsoft had put a number of interesting sounding proposals on the table, but the government side felt that there were too many loopholes, and that it wasn't clear how the restrictions Microsoft was willing to accept would be policed. In addition, although the DoJ and Microsoft might have been able to agree, the US states attorneys general in the government camp present huge difficulties for a settlement. Many of them are hawks, pushing for break-up, and a lot of them haven't been keeping up to speed on developments. As Judge Jackson had only backed off for ten days, getting this little lot to all face the one way was always going to be hard. Posner's announcement is nevertheless something of a shock. Did he pull the trigger of his own accord, or did it happen in response to a 'take it or leave it, no surrender' Microsoft gambit? Maybe it was Bill who pulled the trigger - again. Microsoft must now brace itself for the opening of the markets tomorrow. It's not yet clear whether or not Judge Jackson will still wait until the end of the week before issuing his judgement, but it seems unlikely that this would serve any purpose, so long as the talks are finally and iretrievably dead. Letting fly on Monday would actually be a kindness for Microsoft, given the kind of week the company would have otherwise, and if he's prepared to work Sundays (some of us, thank you Richard Posner, have no choice), he could even do it now. Microsoft itself thinks he'll rule sooner rather than later. But we're now moving back into the spin wars. Microsoft's proposal had been presented by the company as consisting of major concessions, and Steve Ballmer's "leaked" email last week spun this up further. Bill Gates last night said the government was at fault over the breakdown of talks, as it "would not agree to a fair and reasonable settlement." He also said the states and DoJ weren't working together, and although we don't usually agree with Bill, he surely has a point here. ® Related stories: Judge attacks 'leaking and spinning' in MS deal talks Ballmer plays to gallery with message to MS troops MS trial: there ain't going to be a hanging - yet Special announcement: Yes folks, we finally update the trial coverage index. Here it is: Complete Register Trial coverage
John Lettice, 02 Apr 2000

Judge attacks ‘leaking and spinning’ in MS deal talks

MS on TrialJudge Richard Posner has lashed out against the "good deal of leaking and spinning" that has plagued his mediation talks in the Microsoft case since November. Judge Posner ended his search for a negotiated settlement yesterday via a prepared statement, and the content of this is intriguing, in a Delphic sort of way. He makes it clear that the statement will be all he has to say on the subject, and says "I do not intend to make any public or private comments on the merits of the litigation, the negotiating positions of the parties, the individuals involved in the negotiations, or the content of any of the communications between the parties’ mediation teams and myself." But he says that the "leaking and spinning have given rise to news reports that have created a misleading impression of several aspects of the process and that should be heavily discounted by anyone interested in hewing to the truth." Posner doesn't name the culprits, and there's clearly been leakage from both camps; Microsoft's lobbying activities, the escape of at least some of the bullet points of the Microsoft proposal last weekend, and Steve Ballmer's suspicious email to staff could all be thought of as leaking by proxy. Nor are the DoJ's hands entirely clean, as it's been willing to go on the record with taciturn observations, if only in response to alleged Microsoft leaks. But maybe this is significant. Posner says: "I particularly want to emphasise that the collapse of the mediation is not due to any lack of skill, flexibility, energy, determination, or professionalism on the part of the Department of Justice and Microsoft Corporation." No name-check for the states? They haven't been in the forefront of the mediation talks, of course. The other interesting thing that Posner has to say is he wishes to correct the misleading impression that "there were no serious negotiations over possible terms of settlement until two weeks ago." He reveals that over the months a possible consent decree went through "almost 20 successive drafts." This means a deal was a lot closer than the outside world knew, but for some unspecified reason "it became clear late last night [i.e. Friday] that the case would not settle, at least at this stage of the litigation." Posner's statement begs numerous questions, none of which he's going to answer. First of all, if the drafting of a consent decree was well advanced, why did Microsoft make fresh settlement proposals just days before Judge Jackson was due to deliver his verdict? The confusion in the government camp last weekend, where the proposals were both rejected and described as a basis for negotiation, certainly made it clear they were new. But were they intended as a supplementary offer to whatever was already on the table in the draft decree, or as a replacement? And then there's the spinning itself. Posner says there were leaks, but clearly they were being spun into a misleading position, giving the impression that there was no likelihood of a deal. So who was it spinning in order to wreck the talks? The hawks pushing for a break-up that Microsoft wasn't going to accept? Or did Microsoft switch over to a PR spin approach a week ago, having concluded that it wasn't going to shift the hawks, and should therefore grit its teeth for the verdict while telling the world how many huge concessions it had been prepared to make? "We went the extra mile to resolve this case, but the government would not agree to a fair and reasonable settlement that would have resolved this case in the best interests of consumers and the industry," said Bill Gates in his prepared statement. But then if the offer was just PR spin, Posner surely wouldn't be lauding Microsoft's "flexibility" and "professionalism," would he? And he would have asked for, and got, that extension from Jackson. So after last Tuesday, they came close in the following days, until it all fell apart on Friday night. At the moment we've only got Bill for raw material on this, but although he'll be entering spin overdrive now, it has a ring of truth to it: "Microsoft offered significant concessions in the interest of ending this case. Ultimately, it became impossible to settle because the Department of Justice and the states were not working together. Between them, they appeared to be demanding either a breakup of our company or other extreme concessions that go far beyond the issues raised in the lawsuit." A breakup, or maybe an open source Windows as one of the "other extreme concessions"? Is that the bottom line the government cobbled together, and Bill Gates rejected on Friday night? ® Related stories: MS guilty verdict looms as mediation talks collapse Complete Register Trial coverage
John Lettice, 02 Apr 2000

Government plays cybersquatter

How many synonyms for annoyed can you squeeze into an eight-paragraph press release? UK Online, a consumer subsidiary of Easynet, the AIM-listed ISP, manages seven. Run these together and you find the company is "deeply dissatisfied, angry, appalled, incredibly upset, outraged, concerned and disappointed" with the Government's decision to brand a new e-commerce initiative UK Online. The government is also setting up a Web site for the service, which goes live in the summer, using the address ukonline.gov.uk. UK Online is irritated with the government for trampling over its trademark. It has every right to be concerned with this egregious example of 21st Century British imperialism. (We may have lost our overseas dominions, but by gad, that won't stop us from colonising cyberspace.) Let's hope the Government does the decent thing – and selects another brandname for its scheme. Time now to return to UK Online's press release. Does Grahame Davies, managing director of Easynet, really begin his sentences with commercial breaks, as opposed to English? Here is an example from the release: "We can fully understand why others may covet this brand-name, as our users enjoy the high quality of service, peace of mind through our UK Online Childcheck filtering system and many other features..." And why does his underling, UK Online boss Geoffrey Fenton, have the same affliction, to wit: "As the longest established UK Internet Service Provider with a dedicated following of family users, we are appalled that the government has used the name of our respected brand..." ® That press release in full: UK Online leads the Government by six years UK Online (www.ukonline.co.uk), the UK's leading free Internet service provider for the family, today expressed deep dissatisfaction and anger at the announcement that the Government plans to launch a new e-commerce initiative in the summer to be named "UK Online" ukonline.gov.uk. Geoffrey Fenton, UK Online's managing director commented today: "As the longest established UK Internet Service Provider with a dedicated following of family users, we are appalled that the government has used the name of our respected brand to launch their new e-government initiative. "We agree with the Government that the UK needs to become more web-aware and that we should encourage more ebusinesses and widespread take up of the Internet, but using the name of an established UK Internet company, UK Online, is surely not the way forward! We are incredibly upset by yesterday's announcement." Grahame Davies, managing director of Easynet Group Plc owner of UK Online, added: "UK Online has been established for many years and the brand has developed a high reputation, representing value for money, high quality Internet access. "We can fully understand why others may covet this brand-name, as our users enjoy the high quality of service, peace of mind through our UK Online Childcheck filtering system and many other features, but we are outraged that the Government has chosen to do so without our input. Not only are they using an identical brand-name, but even the logo is similar!* "We have a trade mark on our UK Online brand which we are keen to protect. Naturally we are concerned that there should be no confusion caused. "Easynet have recently contributed to a Government Think Tank on the e-society and we are disappointed that our co-operation is not being reciprocated by the Government's announcement." Notes to editors *See http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/2000/pressnotices/30mar00no10.htm for Government's press information and branding.
Drew Cullen, 02 Apr 2000

Dell bells toll for AMD – Forbes

AMD is negotiating to sell 100,000 Spitfire chips to Dell, the last Intel-only assembler in town, Forbes says. These are to be used for cheapo desktops, according to an unnamed source, cited by the magazine. Certainly there are too many of the blighters to explain away as engineering samples. And who knows, the deal could even come off. But AMD isn't counting its chickens just yet – it wants confirmation in writing before it notches up a sale, Forbes reveals. The requirement for written confirmation is a crucial caveat. The Register has lost count of the number of stories we have read - and a few that we've written - that AMD is to flog some chips to Dell. The last time we chased down an Dell-does-AMD lead, doing the system builder rounds a few months back, we were told, off the record, that no deal was in the offing. However, AMD execs keep making regular trips over to Dell's European headquarters in Dublin and, we assume, to company HQ in Austin, Texas. This is not just for exchanging pleasantries. At very least, AMD is useful to Dell AMD is useful to Dell as bargaining counter in its negotiations with Intel. That's why Michael Dell's outburst in London last month over the "fragile" Athlon platform was so surprising. What had he or his company to gain by dissing AMD in public? ® Related Story AMD's Spitfire plans revealed Link Forbes: AMD May Soon Sell Chips To Dell
Drew Cullen, 02 Apr 2000

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