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Microsoft workers blasé about case

The software giant faces one of the biggest antitrust threats in U.S. history, but many of the company's rank and file seem disinterested.

REDMOND, Washington--Microsoft faces the threat of one of the biggest antitrust actions in U.S. history, but many of the company's rank and file seem larglely uninterested in the high-stakes legal battle.

This mood was pervasive as workers walked through the campus headquarters of the software giant yesterday. The feeling among many was a sense of being far from the fray. Others felt the matter, being negotiated thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C., simply was beyond their control.

"I'm low on the totem pole and can't do anything about all this, so why worry about it?" said one operating systems programmer who has performed some work on Windows 98, the operating system that is at the heart of the antitrust skirmish. "In my group we talk about code, not the DOJ."

Added another who works for Microsoft's WebTV unit, which also figures in the legal case: "It's not something we discuss around the water cooler. People are busy doing their work."

"I follow the Microsoft news on CNN and am usually too busy to discuss it at work," said one staffer. "I figure there are other people here who are being paid to worry about all this."

Many Microsoft employees said they feel that their jobs are secure, regardless of the outcome, and that their stock--a key part of their compensation packages--has not suffered from the lengthy inquiry by federal and state prosecutors.

In fact, Microsoft shares have risen this year.

While Microsoft workers seem to brush aside the threat posed by the lawsuit, many Redmond-area merchants and residents are concerned, as they have benefited enormously from the company's success.

"One way or another, the government appears determined to get Bill Gates," said Dale Douglass, manager of Dirk's Fine Dry Cleaning, which is in an upper-middle class neighborhood near Redmond called Sammamish Plateau. "It could hurt the economy here."

Locals eating breakfast at Bud's Restaurant in downtown Redmond expressed similar sentiments and were angry about the Feds' inquiry into their hometown company.

"I think it's another attempt by government to stop a successful company," said Dick Shell, owner of Cornerstone Software and a Redmond-area resident for the past 20 years.

Shell, who gathers weekly to jawbone with his friends at the restaurant, said if the regulators are so concerned with Microsoft's business practices, they should go after big retailers such as Costco as well.

"There's nothing wrong with companies cutting deals with customers they do a lot of business with," he added.

Steve Depolo, owner of the Seattle Computer Exchange and a 15-year local resident, leaned across the table toward his friend Shell and countered: "I agree the government shouldn't be involved, but when [Microsoft] is saying you can't have the OS unless it's bundled with IE, that's bullying."

Down the road at Chili's Bar and Grill, a watering hole for Microsoft workers, manager Dave Thompson isn't sweating the case: "People around here feel Gates can take care of himself," he said.

Despite living deep in the heart of Redmond, others locals echoed Depolo's comments, saying that they applaud regulators' actions against the software giant.

"It's not fair for Microsoft to sell an operating system" that's bundled with its own browser, said Ray Ramsden, a clerk at Video Update in Redmond. "They should offer two types: one with Internet Explorer and one with Netscape."

Ramsden conceded, however, that his opinion is not popular in a city populated by people on Microsoft's payroll.

But one Microsoft contractor said he hopes regulators do take action against the company that employs him. He called Microsoft "arrogant" for thinking it is too big to be hurt by any antitrust action.