In a darkened suite in San Francisco's trendy Clift Hotel, a familiar face sat quietly while Yusuf Mehdi, the head of MSN, briefed reporters on its new music download service.
Sporting a shaved head and goatee, the looming figure during the presentation was none other than Rob Bennett, now on the MSN Music team. Bennett in the mid-'90s fought in the trenches with Mehdi in plotting the strategy for Internet Explorer.
Another name resurfaced during Mehdi's briefing. Hadi Partovi, the guy who planted a gigantic IE logo on the lawn of Netscape Communications' Mountain View, Calif. headquarters, is now the general manager of MSN Music. Partovi testified during Microsoft's initial antitrust trials in 1998, conceding that IE was separate from Windows.
What's so significant? These young bucks were on the forefront during Microsoft's all-out war against Netscape. Given an objective and an order from higher powers, these guys, along with Brad Chase, fought like dogs to beat Netscape. And won.
While waiting for the elevator, I mentioned the resurfacing of Bennett and Partovi to Mehdi. He gave a Joker-like grin and prided himself for recruiting them back into the mother ship.
Now we know how important MSN Music is to Microsoft.