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Sometimes smart people say dumb things. And sometimes, very smart people say
dumb things. Case in point:
comments in the May 15 issue of
magazine, on the newsstands this week, in which he argues in public his case against the
proposed "remedies." (You can read his screed
online, if you can't find a copy of the magazine.)
It's an odd, rambling defense, with irrelevant analogies to
development of new Lincoln chassis and a touching note of concern about how the Justice Department's actions could "impair the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of independent software developers who depend on constant innovation in the OS to make their products more attractive."
Pass me the Kleenex. And an air-sick bag. Fast.
I use and like -- mostly -- several versions of Windows. I use and like -- mostly -- Microsoft Office. Heck, I like Bill, who over the years has become a lot more interesting, outgoing and personable than his thoroughly obsolete 1980's rep as a pasty-faced
I also concede that
managers need to be doing a lot of posturing, spinning and cheerleading. I even understand
nutty promise to the Microsoft troops a couple of weeks ago that "Microsoft will not be broken up" -- though he could no more promise that than I can promise
10,000 by Labor Day. He has to keep 'em fired up.
It's part of a Microsoft exec's job. It goes with the turf, etc.
But when this spinning and spamming rewrites history, reverses course on what have supposedly been fundamental principles at Microsoft, and makes bizarre and ludicrous claims for the company, then somebody's gotta blow the whistle.
With Microsoft's response to the government due to be filed in Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's court in Washington, D.C., today, it's worth taking a close look at what Microsoft's Maximum Leader says in
I read at least four whoppers in Bill's piece:
- Gates claims that without having developed Office, Microsoft could never have developed today's Windows. The specious proof for this is that the Office team developed the notion of "toolbars," those collections of action-item icons along the bottom edge of your Windows display. (Perhaps there's a case to be made the other way -- that without having developed Windows, Microsoft could never have developed Office -- but that applies to practically every piece of applications software on the market today. So what?)
Dear Bill: If those toolbars had been developed anywhere else, you'd have ripped them off just as fast as you "borrowed" them from the Office team. To say that you couldn't have done Windows without Office is just silly. Gates claims that the government's proposed separation of Windows and applications software into two separate companies will kill Microsoft's work-in-progress tablet PC, saying that the tablet PC "simply won't happen" because developing such a product "requires real-time collaboration between OS and applications developers," and that can't happen if the two sides are not under the same roof. Huh? One of Microsoft's long-time defenses against charges of unfair competition has been that it has always maintained a Chinese Wall between its operating-system and applications-package developers. Neither, Microsoft has always said, had any idea what the other was doing. Outside app developers learned about new features the same minute in-house app developers did -- when the OS was essentially finished, not in anything like real-time.
Dear Bill: Whether the "Chinese Wall" deal was true or not, you just made yourself, and hundreds of other 'softies who have made this argument in public over the years, look like fools or charlatans. Or, to put it plainly, liars.
Gates claims that the Justice Department's proposals would ban future productive talks between Office developers and Windows developers, "because it mandates that no technical information can be discussed that is not 'simultaneously published' to the entire computer industry, which would be a practical impossibility." Fascinating. Excuse me, Bill, but have you ever heard of the World Wide Web? Let me recommend it as a fine publishing medium for information like this. Indeed, talk with your friends down in Santa Clara, at
Intel (INTC) - Get Report. They've just announced that because they know it will encourage innovation and support of their new Itanium 64-bit CPU, they're going to publish all internal technical information about the chip on a special Web site, so anyone from a Linux developer to an application coder can understand how best to use Itanium.
Dear Bill: Get a grip. Whether on the Web, or through technical conferences like WinHEC and other existing Microsoft programs, it's easy to make that information available simultaneously to all interested parties. Gates claims that "The DOJ scheme permanently prohibits any further improvements to the Internet software in Windows. It would mean no improvements in browser technology and no support for new standards or technologies that would otherwise have helped protect your privacy or the safety of your children online." Quick: Gimme another Kleenex. C'mon, Bill, not so, and ridiculous on its face.
Dear Bill: You've got plenty of titles already, from World's Richest Human Being to a well-deserved reputation as the most generous supporter of public charitable causes in history, through your William and Melinda Gates Foundation. Don't add "King of the Whoppers," too.
It must have been irresistible when
offered its bully pulpit to defend Microsoft's views in this ugly, unnecessary case. And no doubt someone else wrote much of this piece -- but with Bill's name on it, that's no excuse.
Dear Bill: This was unnecessary, and beneath you. You're a smart guy with a brilliant record of achievement, and with a great deal of public sentiment behind you in fighting the DOJ's misplaced worries. Don't squander that with half-baked efforts at digital revisionism.
Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, neither Seymour nor Seymour Group held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are current or recent consulting clients of Seymour Group. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at