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Culture

McNealy, Ballmer smoke the DOJ

In the wake of the Justice Department's antitrust charges against Microsoft, responses have ranged from hysterical fits of glee to finger-chewing, foam-at-the-mouth freak-outs.

    In the wake of the Justice Department's antitrust charges against Microsoft, responses have ranged from hysterical fits of glee to finger-chewing, foam-at-the-mouth freak-outs. No, wait, I'm thinking of the last Iron Butterfly concert I attended, well before my son Vermel was a twinkle and I was a free-wheelin', Microbus-drivin', rumor-mongerin' brother. But that age of abandon is over, and my partakings in guilty pleasure range fewer and farther between. Just like Gates and company, I am nostalgic for a bygone age.

    Now that the Washington killjoys have slapped the hands in the cookie jar again, Microsoft has spun off negative responses ranging from Gates's golly-gee-whiz incredulity to top lawyer William "Duke" Neukom's tightly rolled party lines. Not to be outdone, Steve Ballmer, the rabid dog of Rancho Redmondo, took a surprising potshot at Madam Attorney General yesterday as he introduced the company's latest suite of server products. When asked if the latest BackOffice bundle might attract more federal attention, Ballmer huffed and puffed like Keith Richards backstage: "I say the heck with Janet Reno on this point."

    "Heck" isn't such a bad word, but I still say someone should slip some Prozac into Steve's smoothie. The DOJ files dozens upon dozens of suits a year, and the fact that notre ch?re Madame AG decided to make a personal appearance and statement against Microsoft Monday probably means she's paying more attention than usual. Baldie Ballmer should keep his yap shut.

    Of course, you can't be a real cyberspace cowboy if you don't shoot from the lip. Legendary loudmouth Scott McNealy couldn't help but weigh in on the matter, but not in the way you might think. Instead of falling to his knees and kissing Reno's sensible shoes, he felt compelled to spit-shine them. Speaking yesterday to Sun's manufacturing partners, McCheesy called the 1995 consent decree that Microsoft signed "an absolutely toothless, worthless piece of legislation. You can't gum Microsoft to death."

    He then warned that the Justice effort could have the unintended effect of making Microsoft stronger because, according to monopoly theory, rational customers will buy from the monopolist. Scott, I can hear you panting between the lines. Be a good boy and maybe one day you'll corner the market on network computers!

    While all eyes in das nation's kapital focus on the MS mano-a-mano, a piece of legislation is quietly working its way through the Senate that could affect the ownership of online intellectual property. As my fellow NEWS.COMmies reported, a bill under consideration to protect databases is generally seen as a compromise version of the treaty considered last winter in Geneva during the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization summit. Much to the chagrin of behemoth publishers such as Reed Elsevier, owners of Lexis-Nexis, the WIPO treaty died faster than a yodel in a straw hut.

    Educators, scientists, librarians, and other noble folk breathed a sigh of relief, as they felt the treaty would have locked up all sorts of info in perpetuity and killed "fair use." But according to Beltway blab, the current Senate bill, although promoted as protecting fair use, could eventually have the opposite effect thanks to vague language about what parts of a collection of information can and cannot be copyrighted. My D.C. dirt-dishers also say the bill has the approval of the same big publishers that were pushing their agenda in Geneva. Fair-use proponents are nervous all over again.

    Speaking of nervous, anxious Skinnophiles are still sending me the "AOL 4.0 cookie" letter. Stop it! AOL has called it a hoax, the press has reported on it, and it's yesterday's lunch meat, dig? Whether you believe AOL or not, don't send me anything else unless it's fresh.

    One company called "Network Associates" is bad enough. But three? If the proposed mind-meld of antivirus vendor McAfee Associates and network equipment maker Network General isn't tear-gassed by the Renoistas, the resulting enfant terrible will have the same name as an Oregonian network consultancy and a high-tech PR firm. When asked if he smelled lawsuit, an exec at Network Associates--the PR firm, that is--reportedly took the understated road and said only that the name replication was "um, a bit confusing." Praise the Lord and pass the irony: one of the firm's main clients is McAfee's rival Symantec. Opium may be the religion of the masses, but my spirits soar on rumors. Puff one my way, and I'll give you a tokin' of my appreciation.