Glaser breaks the silence

After a week of silence on its bug battle with Microsoft last week, RealNetworks' chief executive talks to CNET News.com.

4 min read
SEATTLE--Rob Glaser, chief executive of RealNetworks, went to Washington last week and walked into a firestorm.

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Glaser testified that Microsoft's new Media Player disabled beta versions of RealNetworks' next RealPlayer--software that plays audio and video files streamed over the Internet.

It's not often that ex-Microsofties like Glaser go up against their former employer. Nor do many software companies publicly call the Redmond giant on its actions.

Microsoft, already beleaguered in Washington because of the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit, struck back. After a somewhat ineffectual response last week, RealNetworks went into a quiet period until Glaser spoke to CNET News.com yesterday at RealNetworks' Seattle headquarters.

News.com: Microsoft claims that the problems you testified about were caused by a bug in RealNetworks' software. Is that true?
Glaser: They disabled our product in 10 of 16 scenarios--different versions of our product for Microsoft and Netscape browsers. You can see it on our Web site. In two cases, we made a set of changes. They are not disputing that in 8 cases they intentionally disabled our products. They say it's their right to do so.

So why did you post a software patch [for RealPlayer]?
We said specifically that we would make it so our products aren't disabled. There are important principles at stake. We should help consumers have the best possible experience.

You also joined, or maybe led, this alliance calling for standardized ways to tell users when software being installed on their PCs conflicts with what's already on the machine.
We thought this was a broad industry issue. Consumers have a right to know what is being done when they install software on their computer. We in the [software] industry should pledge to tell consumers what they're being asked to do. If we stand on each other's shoulders, not each other's feet, then we can do that better for the customer.

Are you comfortable being associated with traditional opponents to Microsoft--Netscape Communications, Sun Microsystems, Novell, and NetManage?
If a group of companies raises an issue, doing it dispassionately, then we are wholly comfortable being associated with that group. We would love for everyone to stand up and say these are good principles. We hope everybody who cares about this issue would sign onto this process and principles.

You and RealNetworks have been very careful to say Microsoft "intentionally disabled" your software. Isn't that the same as saying they sabotaged you?
I said they wrote code that disabled us. I didn't say it was behaving as Microsoft intended or that Microsoft would defend its appropriateness. I was making a technical statement--that the code looks to see if it should or should not disable [our product]. If it thinks it should, then it goes ahead and disables our products.

You spent ten years at Microsoft. Even after you left, you were involved in the 1995 advising process when Bill Gates created an Internet strategy. How does it feel to go up against your former employer?
I have so much respect for [Microsoft CEO] Bill Gates and [president] Steve Ballmer and [group vice president] Paul Maritz and many, many key leaders of Microsoft. The issue is that Microsoft was incredibly well-tuned for being a very successful David in a world where IBM was the Goliath. Now Microsoft is the Goliath.

In some cases, it's not a matter of law that Microsoft ought to behave differently. It's a matter of pragmatics. In other cases, it would be a matter of law that when you have certain kinds of market power, there are certain limits that others without market power don't have.

It would be great for the industry, for Microsoft, and for the consumer if the paradigm that Microsoft operates under changes over time.

You are known as a liberal Democrat. How does it feel to be aligned with Sen. Orrin Hatch, the conservative Utah Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee? Isn't he regarded as a conservative and a Microsoft opponent?
In early July, when Hatch asked if I would testify, I was reticent to do so. But I talked to him several times, and he is a person of integrity and substantial intellect. His [attitudes about] the hearings were fair-minded.

The fact that he's fairly conservative gives him a kind of "Nixon going to China" stature. I don't think it's an issue of the part of the [political spectrum] he addresses. He legitimately believes these issues he's raising are important and that this industry is very important for the future of the country. If he has a different political philosophy, it's irrelevant because he has intellect and integrity.

Your stock price suffered after you testified, although it has rebounded recently. Did you anticipate that?
I make it a policy not to talk about stock prices. We are building what we think will be world-class company over the long haul. If you build a great business, drive the organization forward, and have the right relationship with customers--those are the most important things. We do the best job we can in building the business over the long term.