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Friend or foe: Gates's book backs email

Bill Gates, a man who knows what it's like to be stung by email, is sticking by the medium nonetheless in his new book.

2 min read
Bill Gates, a man who knows what it's like to be stung by email, is sticking by the medium nonetheless.

In a forthcoming book, Microsoft's chief executive urges corporations to use email whenever possible, despite the contributions electronic correspondence has made to his own legal troubles.

"I read all the email that employees send me, and I pass items on to people for action," Gates, the world's richest man, writes in the book, titled Business @ the Speed of Thought. "Personal initiative and responsibility are enhanced in an environment that fosters discussion."

Gates's advice seems to contrast sharply with remarks he made in connection with his company's antitrust trial. The Justice Department and 19 states accuse Microsoft of illegally crushing competitors to protect its alleged monopoly. In pretrial testimony, Gates frequently could not remember sending or receiving emails bearing his name, especially when they appeared to contradict key statements made in his defense.

Asked, for instance, if he explored ways to encourage Apple Computer to "undermine" Sun Microsystems', Java programming language, Gates said he could not remember using those words and doubted he had any involvement in discussions with Apple over Java.

Government attorneys then brandished an August 1997 email Gates sent to Paul Maritz and other Microsoft subordinates, in which Gates asks: "Do we have a clear plan on what we want Apple to do to undermine Sun?"

Presented with his own words, Gates said he didn't remember sending the email.

"Do you have any doubt that you sent it?" David Boies, the Justice Department's lead attorney in the case, asked.

"No," Gates replied. "It appears to be email I sent."

According to transcripts of Gates's book published in Time magazine, Gates urges large and small companies alike to "insist that communication flow through email," calling it "a key component of our digital nervous system."

The excerpts do not recommend policies for retaining email, an issue more and more companies are grappling with as the use of electronic correspondence in litigation grows. Microsoft has yet to tell its employees when to purge their systems of potentially damaging emails either, according to spokesman Jim Cullinan.

"We all have specific [space]limits on our PCs as it is," Cullinan explained. "We trust our employees to use the email system in the appropriate way."