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Antitrust trial becoming an 'entertainment bonanza'

November 16, 1998
Web posted at: 4:30 PM EST

by Industry Standard staff

(IDG) -- Even with the Microsoft antitrust trial's molasses-slow pace (four witnesses in four weeks), the media is finding plenty to keep it occupied - and its readers awake. Newsweek's Steven Levy said the government had a bounty of material useful for sound bites, from the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" to a "knife the baby" reference - a virtual "entertainment bonanza for those who get off on seeing the wealthy and powerful get knocked around" (and who doesn't?). Levy said the DoJ has focused on "cracking eggs on the buffed noggins" of MS execs rather than hitting heavy economic issues - a strategy Levy termed "Microsoft porn," i.e. juicy tidbits perfect for the press. He wondered if the justice system is the right forum to address lofty issues like Internet economics and the network effect, though he admitted expert witnesses are on the way for the gov's side.

Meanwhile, most outlets were still sifting through the detritus of the Wintel civil war in court last week. The New York Times' Steve Lohr gave a long, detailed view of the Microsoft-Intel rift of '95-'96 through the e-mails and testimony presented at trial. Though most of it was merely a recap, there were some interesting Bill Gates e-mails, including one in which he comes across as whining about Intel's software efforts to honcho Andy Grove: "In software you have a group that won't allow us to lead and has all the prestige and profits of Intel to drive them forward." Gates later slams Grove in an internal e-mail, saying "it is amazing what he doesn't know."

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MSNBC's Barton Crockett looked ahead to upcoming testimony from an IBM exec who could be seeking revenge for Microsoft gaining its fortune at Big Blue's expense. Crockett gave a nice capsule background on IBM's early choice of MS-DOS and the later falling out over OS/2. His legal experts were split on Intel's McGeady, with one saying Microsoft came off as more credible, and another saying McGeady held up under the courtroom onslaught.

The San Jose Mercury News' Dan Gillmor wondered whether McGeady was or wasn't representing the views of Intel (a question the judge asked at trial), and got an "artful dodge" from the company. Gillmor said McGeady's testimony might aid Intel in its FTC case since it shows the chip giant wasn't *so* dominant that it couldn't be bullied. And he pointed out that McGeady is certainly not in any doghouse, since he's heading an initiative on online health care, a pet project of Grove.'s James Cramer gave a withering view of Gates, saying the lasting legacy of the trial would be that people would think of him as a "tyrannical bully" instead of a "brilliant genius." He compared Gates' performance as the equivalent to Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny," with "the steel balls in hand replaced by that mindless rocking back and forth." Cramer was upset at the lack of outrage by everyone because Microsoft was actually stopping innovation by holding back other companies in the marketplace - branding MS as Luddites. It's an interesting, if uneven, read, especially questionable is Cramer's claim that developers will soon be inundated with funding to take on Microsoft in operating systems.
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