Microsoft executives - having been unceremoniously dressed down for, among other things, plotting to cut off rival Netscape's supply of life-giving air - discussed bludgeoning Dell over the true-blue ally's embrace of Linux.
The online musings came to light this week in the antitrust case being tried in Iowa state court. In an email thread exchanged in November, 2002 - less than a week after Microsoft promised a federal judge it would mend its ways - top executives brainstormed on ways to get Dell to come to its senses and end its torrid affair with Linux.
"We should whack them, we should make sure they understand our value, we should do all of the things you and Brian suggest," Paul Flessner, Microsoft's senior VP of server apps, wrote to Bill Veghte, a corporate VP.
The Brian is Brian Valentine, most recently a senior vice president who left Microsoft last year. He was one of a dozen top brass included in deliberations over how to respond to comments from a Dell exec that signaled a growing infatuation with Linux in the enterprise. The comments, which were part of a panel discussion, came from Russell Holt, at the time VP of Dell's enterprise system group.
"I can't imagine he would be this blatant against us if he knew you were there," wrote Valentine, who previously thought Holt only had eyes for Redmond. "If he knew and he is really doing this, then we have some serious thinking to do around this relationship."
If Microsoft execs felt jilted, it's understandable. Dell dumped Linux on the desktop almost a year earlier, so word that Microsoft's most fervent of mistresses was once again bedding with a rival was particularly hard on Valentine and Flessner.
Still, at other points executives argued that perhaps it was time to accept that Dell may want to see other people. "I don't have all the answer [sic] here but Dell's behavior is predictable and it won't change," Flessner wrote in one email. Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans seized on that comment - and others he said were not entered into evidence - in arguing that Iowa attorneys were making too much out of the exchange.
"While this may sound provocative, what counts at the end of the day is what actually happened," Evans wrote. "Looking at subsequent portions of this email thread, which the plaintiffs chose to exclude from their exhibits, it’s evident that we didn’t take any retaliatory action against Dell." ®