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McNealy, Microsoft and the Bully Pulpit

The Sun CEO takes the stand tomorrow. Plus, enough of those Qwest-Global Crossing conspiracy theories.

The Joint Economic Committee's "technology summit" got off to a good start in Washington Monday, with most of the opening-day press attention going to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's "it can't last forever" comments. (Thanks, Alan; we really needed that.)

But watch closely on Wednesday, when

Sun Microsystems

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CEO

Scott McNealy

gets his turn at the plate. Rumors have been swirling in the computer industry for several days now that McNealy is going to use his tech summit time slot to offer his set of remedies for

Microsoft's

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penance in the

Justice Department

antitrust action against Big Redmond now underway in

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's

court not far away.

You can bet that sparks will fly if McNealy, the longtime leader of the pack barking at Microsoft's heels, does use this bully platform to peddle the notion of what you can bet won't be a genteel slap on the wrist for Microsoft.

The Softee Exemption

Elsewhere at the tech summit, Microsoft's hardly private agenda has been to start lining up support for case-by-case exemptions for technology companies from exactly the kind of antitrust rules Justice says Microsoft has violated.

The theme of the whole conference has been that the government should get out of the way of high-growth, wealth-creation engines, such as successful high-tech companies. We heard that Monday from such tech stars as

Lou Gerstner

,

Craig Barrett

and

Jim Barksdale

. But Microsoft wants to go beyond that, to specific legislative remedies. And this tech summit is turning into the coming-out party for Microsoft's political agenda.

We can expect to hear some of this, if perhaps indirectly, in

Bill Gates'

speech to the group Tuesday.

Behind the scenes, Microsoft has been suggesting to other high-tech giants that they, too, could benefit greatly from such a system of on-request exemptions from traditional U.S. antitrust law. After all, Microsoft argues, the high-tech industry has done wonders for the U.S. economy over the past two decades; now it's time for the government to recognize those special contributions with legislation more closely attuned to the purported special needs of the tech business.

Though many companies Microsoft has spoken with find themselves more than a little uncomfortable climbing in the boat with Microsoft on this one, they tell me they do agree with the underlying principle ... and anyway, they say, if anyone's going to get this kind of bye into the finals, they want to have a shot at it, too.

This is, of course, a sublime moment for Microsoft to be recommending antitrust exemptions, given the crosstown legal circus in Judge Jackson's court.

Chutzpah, never lacking in Microsoft corporate behavior, reaches new highs ... or lows.

The Qwest for an Answer

The range and depth of the conspiracy theories abroad in the land never cease to amaze me. I got a few emails from

TSC

readers, and a couple of calls from otherwise sober friends in the business, regarding my column

Monday on the offer by

Qwest

(QWST)

(which I am long) to buy

U S West

(USW)

and

Frontier

(FRO) - Get Frontline Ltd. Report

-- all asking if I knew that the earlier

Global Crossing

(GBLX)

offer last week for the two companies was actually a carefully engineered ploy by U S West Chairman

Solomon Trujillo

. They say Trujillo prevailed upon his friend

TheStreet Recommends

Bob Annunziata

, CEO of Global Crossing, to make the phony offer as a way to goad Qwest into bumping up the price on the hostile acquisition bid Trujillo "knew" was coming soon from Qwest.

I'm as skeptical as anyone about the motives and maneuvers of corporate America. But that's one I just can't swallow. To suggest that Annunziata would put his team -- Global's workforce, its investment bankers, its holders and its rep on the Street -- through a phony acquisition offer, especially one as certain to run into ridicule and hostility as was this one, to deliver a favor to a friend is simply nuts.

Several of the letters assured me that Annunziata's willingness to go along grew out of his longtime grudge against his fellow former

AT&T

(T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report

exec, Qwest CEO

Joe Nacchio

. (I'm long AT&T.)

There may have been lots of wrong reasons for both the Global Crossing and Qwest offers. But a Global Crossing feint to trick Nacchio is truly beyond the pale.

Where do people get this stuff? Was it fostered by Nacchio's dissing of Global Crossing last week? Did this start on the message boards? In a bar in Denver?

Beats me.

What Compaq Needs

Rumors are also hot and heavy about

Compaq's

(CPQ)

efforts to find a replacement for dethroned CEO

Eckhard Pfeiffer

. My longtime favorite for the job, ex-

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

exec

Rich Belluzo

, now fighting an almost hopeless battle to save

Silicon Graphics

(SGI)

, doesn't look ready to move to Houston any time soon.

One of the goofiest stories I've heard is that Compaq executive

Ross Cooley

, who retired a few years ago to move to Austin -- where he shortly was charmed out of retirement and into the chairman's job at

pcorder.com

(PCOR)

-- is on Compaq's short list.

I think the world of Cooley, whom I don't believe could be pried away from pcorder.com -- or out of Austin -- with a crowbar. But he'd be a poor choice for the CEO slot at lumbering Compaq. His job there was always focused on building dealer-channel relationships and structures. Working in the turbulent wake of predecessor

Sparky Sparks

, who undertook that responsibility for Compaq shortly after its founding and built a fantastically strong, loyal dealer network for a company no one had ever heard of, Cooley did a great job for Compaq.

But what Compaq needs now is attention to the opposite of its traditional dealer network: the antimatter, "undealer" side of the equation, principally building robust direct sales efforts for corporate and individual buyers.

My sense: To reinvigorate Compaq and get it back on track, Compaq's board needs to take the same kind of bold gamble that

IBM's

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board did when it installed industry outsider Lou Gerstner. All the talk then was that Gerstner, a veteran of

American Express

(AXP) - Get American Express Company Report

and

Nabisco

(NA)

but a computer-industry neophyte, could never successfully run a major high-tech company like IBM.

Heard anyone say that lately?

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, Seymour was long Qwest and AT&T, although positions can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are consulting clients of Seymour Group, or have been in recent years. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at

jseymour@thestreet.com.