If a remake of the movie Patton is ever made, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer would be a dead ringer for George C. Scott.
Wrapping himself in the mantle of the American way, the software giant's executive vice president of sales and worldwide marketing declared that the company's business tactics have been a model, as well as a driver, of the domestic economic picture.
In an interview with CNET's NEWS.COM that at times sounded like a stump speech, Ballmer also said he does not view the current legal action by the federal government as a competitive threat.
"I think what we're doing is right, lawful, moral, proper, and competitive. I might even say it's the American way. We're innovating, adding value, driving down prices, competing, serving our customers, and we're doing it well. A lot of other companies in the United States are benefiting because they're building on top of our platform and thriving," he vaunted. "I might start playing the "Star-Spangled Banner" if I went too long."
A hearing on Microsoft's business practices was held in Washington today, but what actions would be taken by presiding U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson remained unclear.
Ballmer refrained from attacking the Justice Department and defended the company's practice of bundling and/or integrating products--taking two separate products, combining them into one package, and selling the amalgamation as one item. One of the chief issues in the current action brought by the government is whether these practices exist to benefit consumers or whether Microsoft illegally uses them to drive out competition.
"I believe in the government and I think that it's got to do its job," Ballmer added. "I happen to think this is a misguided investigation because what we've done is right, but nonetheless I would never call the Department of Justice a competitor. They're trying to do their jobs, even if I don't think this is particularly an area where they happen to have a case.
"It is our hope and expectation that the judge will concur with us--that what we've done is right and innovative and pro-competitive because it serves the consumer very well.
"We expect the judge to agree with us that we have a right to sign contracts with our partners that say that they cannot convolute our product in the distribution process. That they can't take pieces of our product out."
The Justice Department brought an action earlier this year against Microsoft, alleging that the company violated terms of a 1995 consent decree. The DOJ claims that the company has, among other acts, required PC vendors to install the Internet Explorer browser as a condition of licensing the dominant Windows 95 operating system, a practice that the department maintains is expressly forbidden by the consent decree.
The DOJ is also examining whether the incorporation of IE 4.0 into Windows 98 as currently proposed by Microsoft was designed to drive competitors out of the market, rather than merely benefit consumers.
Microsoft has denied exacting such demands out of computer makers. The company has also taken the tack that IE 4.0 is an integral part of the upcoming Windows 98 operating system.
In any event, Microsoft does not have a current contingency plan if the court orders it to unbundle Windows 98 and IE, according to Ballmer. Presumably, however, it could be a fairly easy trick to accomplish in that IE is currently sold separately.
"Who knows what will happen?" he mused.