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Microsoft wants say in SPA

COO Bob Herbold runs for a seat on the Software Publishers Association's board, countering the trade group's assault on the software giant.

    If you can't beat 'em, join 'em--or at least try.

    Facing a lobbying assault from one of the software industry's most influential trade groups, Microsoft is taking the adage to heart, as Bob Herbold, the company's vice president and chief operating officer, runs for a seat on the Software Publishers Association's board of directors.

    In recent months, the board has authorized taking a number of high-profile positions against the software giant--even though Microsoft is a member of the Washington, D.C.-based group and says that it is the group's biggest dues-payer. This week, the SPA joined with other Microsoft foes in recruiting former presidential candidate and Sen. Bob Dole, as well as former appeals judge Robert Bork, to encourage regulators to file a broad antitrust lawsuit against the software giant. (See related story)

    SPA officials declined to discuss how the election, which closes tomorrow, is progressing, other than to say that Herbold has a good chance at landing a seat on the 15-member board. Results will be announced Monday.

    "The ballots are coming in, and he's doing fine," said SPA president Ken Wasch, noting that he welcomed the move. "I think it's great that Herbold is running. Obviously, [he feels] that the work we do is important and worth influencing."

    Wasch noted that the SPA's recent stance against Microsoft "has the nearly unanimous support" of the board. Several representatives from Microsoft competitors now sit on SPA's board, including Roberta Katz, general counsel at Netscape Communications.

    Microsoft representatives said that, aside from recent positions the SPA has staked out accusing the Redmond, Washington, company of anticompetitive practices, they share many of the same concerns as the SPA on pivotal issues such as encryption, piracy, and taxes.

    "We honestly don't know how to explain the level of Microsoft criticism there right now," said Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray. Rather than simply dismiss the group, he added, "we decided to go the more difficult route and try to become a member of the board."

    If elected, it is unclear exactly what effect Herbold would have on the board's policies. Some observers noted that Herbold's presence might make directors who are business partners with Microsoft think twice about voting for future measures opposing the company.

    "Microsoft being Microsoft, [its presence] might have more influence than others," said Kirk Loevner, president and chief executive of the Internet Shopping Network, who is chairman of the SPA's board.

    The board consists of 15 directors, 12 of whom are elected to two-year terms, two that are appointed by the board at large, and one reserved for Wasch. Each year, six members are up for election. This year, there are a total of 11 candidates vying for seats, including Daniel Burton, a vice president of Microsoft rival Novell.

    In addition to this week's founding of the "Project to Promote Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age," or ProComp, announced Monday by Dole and Bork, the SPA has taken other public positions against Microsoft. Two weeks ago, for example, it wrote a letter to assistant attorney general Joel Klein, head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, complaining about pressure Microsoft allegedly puts on computer vendors to control the content computer users first see when they power up their machines.

    In early February, the SPA released a set of competition principles that appeared to be aimed at Microsoft. SPA officials contend that the document--which included such principles as "Operating systems should not be used to unfairly favor [a company's] own products and services, or its favored partners, over those of competing vendors"--reflected the will of the majority of the 1,200-strong group. The group even took the unusual step of allowing Microsoft director of federal affairs Jack Krumholtz to sit in on the drafting sessions for the document.

    Microsoft denounced the document, claiming that of the 800 SPA members who were sent surveys to approve or disapprove the principles, only 164 responded. Of those 164 responses, only 77 supported them. What's more, the language was drafted by the group's government affairs board, which is made up of executives from Microsoft competitors such as Netscape, Novell, Oracle, Corel, and Sybase.

    "It's unfortunate that a handful of Microsoft's competitors are trying to use the SPA to drive a wedge into the software industry," Murray said shortly after the principles were released.

    Other candidates seeking a seat on the SPA's board include: Ronald Fortune, president and CEO of Computer Curriculum; Larry Gross, senior vice president of Cendant Software; Richard Hornstein, a vice president with Network Associates; Kathy Hurley, vice president of The Learning Company; Ted Johnson, executive vice president of Visio; Joel Ronning, president and CEO of Digital River; Eric Ruff, president and CEO of PowerQuest; Cheryl Vedoe, president and CEO of Tenth Planet Explorations; and Ron Verni, president of Peachtree Software.

    Microsoft said the only active campaigning Herbold has engaged in has been to complete a two-paragraph form that was included in a ballot measure mailed to all SPA members. In it, Herbold played down the recent attacks the SPA has directed at Microsoft.

    "Over the past few months, a great deal of attention has been focused on the state of competition in the software industry," Herbold wrote in the form, dated April 3. "Because of Microsoft's role in the industry, Bob would like to participate with the SPA and its member companies in this dialogue."

    Microsoft has been represented on the SPA's board before.