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I'm sorry, says Microsoft exec

Extending an olive branch to the software industry, a Microsoft exec apologizes to members of the SPA for the company's arrogance in the past.

    CHICAGO--Extending an olive branch to the software industry, a Microsoft executive in charge of relationships with Windows developers today apologized to members of the Software Publishers Association for the company's arrogance in the past.

    "This is a sincere and heartfelt apology," Tod Nielsen, Microsoft's general manager of developer relations, said in a keynote address. "Let's build a relationship going forward so you and Microsoft can be successful."

    Microsoft issued similar apologies back in January, days before a contempt of court hearing in the antitrust suit later filed by the Justice Department .

    "One thing we have to do is first of all respect the Department of Justice and respect the judge, and we're sorry if we have made any statements that would suggest we do anything but respect them," chief operating officer Robert Herbold said then.

    In a sometimes-funny and low-key pitch, Nielsen outlined both Microsoft's position on its role in the industry and the company's defense in the antitrust lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department and 23 states, now scheduled to go to trial next month.

    The venue was notable because SPA has become increasingly critical of Microsoft since early this year. The software trade group has encouraged the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, backed RealNetworks in a dispute with Microsoft over streaming media, and twice spurned a top Microsoft executive in his bid for an SPA board seat.

    In another keynote address today, Kevin O'Leary, president of the Learning Company, warned that unless the private sector regulates violent and pornographic content on the Net itself, it risks government censorship.

    "Unless we regulate ourselves in the same way that radio, television, and other industries do, I smell trouble," said O'Leary, whose acquisitions strategy has built Learning Company into one of the largest U.S. consumer software firms. "I don't like government regulation, but here it's going to be required if we don't regulate ourselves."

    Microsoft's Nielsen sought to debunk what he called "myths" about Microsoft's position in the market today, including the belief that once a platform vendor like Microsoft wins, it becomes invincible forever.

    Citing historical example like IBM's dominance in mainframes in the 1960s and Digital Equipment's 50-plus percent market share in minicomputers in the '70s, Nielsen argued the history of platforms is the history of change.

    "If you don't embrace the next platform, you will die, you will be out of business," he said. "Once you achieve success, you look at the world through the bias of your own platform."

    The second myth is that Microsoft is an exception because it cannot be threatened, he contended.

    "The world is trying to take us down, and competitors are focused on Microsoft," Nielsen said, citing comments from Oracle's Larry Ellison, Netscape's Marc Andreessen, and Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealy.

    "We think competition is healthy, and we want to compete with the same intensity and devotion to customers that others can," he added.

    Nor is Microsoft infallible, Nielsen said, pointing to a "Hall of Shame" that includes consumer software Bob, a print version of online magazine Slate, and Windows 1.0 and 2.0.

    "When we succeed, it's because we keep with them," he said.

    Nielsen also cited statistics to indicate the software industry is strong and healthy today, and not threatened by Microsoft. Indeed, he said, Microsoft has a positive impact on the industry, with some 40 percent of Silicon Valley software and Internet firms engaged in Windows-related business.

    "In our industry, regardless of whether you make educational software or a platform, you innovate or you die," he said.