Gates pitches Armageddon scenario to court

And has some interesting things to say about bloat and copying


If the Unsettling States have their way, Microsoft will either have to withdraw Windows or put out versions of the product that probably won't work, Bill Gates testified at the antitrust trial yesterday. Furthermore, if I Microsoft employee had an idea, they'd be in contempt of court if they didn't immediately pass it on to the major PC companies.

Oh yes, and Microsoft would disintegrate. Bill, poised, sophisticated, in a dark suit with a light blue shirt (as the fashion correspondents tell us) was delivering the full-on Armageddon scenario, and not mumbling or being evasive once (outrageous, insufferably literal, yes). The pull out or ship broken product argument is fairly easy to follow, and has a kind of perverted merit. In his written testimony he said: ""Given the interdependencies among parts of Windows, and the complexity of the product, there is no clear dividing line between where a particular block ends and the operating system begins."

This is no more than the truth, although as we all know Microsoft has engineered a fair bit of this deliberately in order to make it difficult for them to be disentangled. But questioned about the DoJ settlement Gates conceded that the company is working on identifying where the boundaries between operating system and applications lie. The States' attorney's point here was that if Microsoft could do this for the DoJ, why not the States?

But actually, the fact that Microsoft has to put teams of coders on figuring out what's what is more telling. In many cases the company really does not know, because development has proceeded haphazardly with no clear records, no clear central control of who's doing what, and inadequate/incorrect documentation. Yesterday Bill appears to have been inadvertently confirming to us that he is a manufacturer of inadequately architected bloat, and that this is the way the greatest software company in the world proposes to continue to do business.

In the interests of good software design and civilisation in general The Register feels strongly that Microsoft should be forced to disentangle it all anyway, no matter how hard its own incompetence and mendacity has made the task. We also feel it should be ordered to design proper software, but we accept this doesn't figure directly in the States' proposals.

But back to Bill. He also had some interesting things to say on cloning Windows, arguing that the States proposals would allow rivals to clone Windows. He was then shown email dealing with Microsoft's efforts to clone aspects of Netscape Navigator. Bill accepted that Microsoft had engaged in cloning activities, but said this was OK provided you didn't have access to the source code. The notion of companies cloning Windows is however not obviously related to the States' proposals for OEMs to be allowed to do tailored versions of Windows, and for companies to have access to Microsoft source code. Microsoft's obsession with this, we reckon, must mean WABI really scared Bill all those years ago.

The States' produced one incriminating Gates email, from 1998, which dealt with stopping non-Microsoft browsers being able to work well with Office: "Allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by other people's browsers is one of the most destructive things we could do to the company. This is a case where Office has to avoid doing something to destroy Windows."

At this juncture, as we recall, Gates was still sort of favouring the screwy idea of using Microsoft proprietory file formats to dominate the Internet, so the email probably relates to stuff that's now largely abandoned.

And that contempt of court stuff? The most interesting thing about it is that it was brought up in Gates' written testimony, so despite its being a clearly demented notion, this is something he and the legal team have put forward after some consideration, rather than a nutty notion that spilled out in a courtroom blurt. Microsoft employees having ideas would be in violation of the disclosure provisions if they didn't immediately tell the relevant people about that idea: "The minute it came into his brain, the guy's in criminal contempt," he said. Asked if the provisions didn't just mean they'd have to make the disclosures when they employed the code, Bill retorted that thinking was employing.

So there you go. If this is how Microsoft is interpreting the disclosure provisions, and if the States actually succeed in making them stick, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, HP et al will be bombarded by idea disclosure alerts from Bill during his very next think week. Otherwise, he'd have to go to jail, right? ®


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