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Tech Industry

Bill on Capitol Hill

The notoriously controlling Microsoft chairman tried to stage-manage the Senate hearings, but it was Gates who was deftly maneuvered by Sen. Orrin Hatch.

OK--so Bill Gates, Scott McNealy, and Jim Barksdale go to Capitol Hill and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) meets them at the pearly gates of the Senate. He says to McNealy: "I'm here to judge your worthiness. Tell me, what do you believe, my son?"

"I believe in open standards and thin clients," says the Sun Microsystems

Bill Gates
chief. "Enter," says Hatch, "sit at my left hand." Turning to Barksdale, he asks, "What do you believe?"

"Ah believe in the Internet and the Web and connecting people together," Netscape's chairman answers. "Enter," Hatch says, "sit at my right." Finally, he turns to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and asks, "And what do you believe?"

"I believe you're in my seat," Gates replies. Ba-dum-bump.

But seriously folks.

Jim Barksdale
The notoriously controlling Microsoft chairman tried to stage-manage yesterday's Senate hearings, but I'd suggest it was Gates who was deftly maneuvered by Judiciary Chairman Hatch.

It would appear that merely getting Gates to attend the hearing, even if Chairman Bill did choose half the speakers, was a coup for Hatch.

Despite all the back-patting and good feelings in the room, Gates--and McNealy and Barksdale, for that matter--may soon rue taking their troubles to the principal's office. Looking out for all the world like that smooth old Grinch soothing Cindy Lou Who, Hatch patted the panelists on the head while making two things clear: 1) Microsoft is a monopoly, and 2) The software industry isn't exempt from antitrust law.

"With over 90 percent market share, you seriously dispute that Microsoft Windows has monopoly power at least [in] the PC operating system or desktop market?" Hatch pointedly--but politely--asked Gates.

Gates didn't answer, but he didn't have to.

Scott McNealy
Hatch had already answered the question for him. "We have no disagreement with anyone who says antitrust rules apply to us and our industry," Gates said later in the hearing. That's what Hatch seemed to have in mind.

Of course, Chairman Bill surely was using the hearings for his own motives, too. He refused to testify until after he had met privately with Hatch and padded out the panel with Microsoft-friendly witnesses. And Gates is chronicling his trip in self-conscious diary entries in his online magazine, Slate.

"Even though [McNealy] doesn't like PCs and wants to put them out of business, he's a very charming guy," Gates wrote in yesterday's entry. Maybe the point is to improve Gates's image, tarnished by the Department of Justice investigation, but all I came away with was wonder that a man who owns a literary jewel like Slate writes like a 12 year-old reporting on his summer vacation.

I think Hatch got the best of Gates this time, just by getting Chairman Bill to show up.

Margie Wylie ruminates on the good, bad, and ugly of the Information Age on Wednesdays in Perspectives.