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Gates: Government out to "destroy" Microsoft

The chief says the government is out to get Microsoft by selectively using portions of his sworn testimony in its ongoing antitrust suit.

    WASHINGTON--Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates said today that the government is out to "destroy" his company by selectively using portions of his sworn testimony in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit under way here.

    "We're disappointed in the way they're using that deposition," Gates said via satellite to reporters at a noon press conference. Gates added that David Boies, the Justice Department's (DOJ) lead prosecutor and the main interrogator in the 20-hour deposition, is "really out to destroy Microsoft."

    Over the Microsoft's day in court past few weeks, Microsoft has seen its image tarnished in press accounts of Gates's combative and evasive performance in the videotaped deposition taken in August. The government has shown segments of the deposition on numerous occasions, often as a way of introducing new witnesses.

    The hour-long press conference, which came as proceedings in the eight-week trial were in recess for the day, appeared designed to counter the negative portrayal of Gates and his company.

    In portions

    Gates testifies via closed-circuit video
    Microsoft lawyers Rick Rule (l) and John Warden listen as Bill Gates answers a question via closed-circuit video. AP
    of depositions played so far, Gates has sparred with his interrogators over the definitions of common terms, and frequently answers questions with phrases such as "I don't know" and "I don't recall." Gates even claimed he "had no sense of what Netscape was doing" in June of 1995. At a closed-door session a few weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said Gates had not been "particularly responsive" in the sworn testimony.

    Despite the denials and quibbling over the meaning of words such as "concerned" and "ask," Gates said he would not have said anything differently if he could give his deposition again.

    "I stand by everything in that deposition," said Gates, who was sitting in front of a shelf of books and a plant. "I answered truthfully every single question that was put to me."

    Rick Rule, the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division under the Reagan administration and a paid consultant to Microsoft, warned reporters not to be fooled by the "trickery that essentially David Boies [has] tried to engage in." He added that "the things you're hearing are really not in context." Rule declined to say whether Jackson's comments signaled the judge was being tricked in a similar fashion.

    The Justice Department and 20 states allege that Microsoft viewed the Internet as a threat to its Windows franchise and used its dominance to block competitors such as Netscape Communications. The government claims Microsoft has violated antitrust law by using its alleged monopoly to shut out competitors or to build new monopolies.

    At today's press conference, Microsoft contended that the government's showing of Gates's deposition was a desperate attempt to divert attention away from its failing case. John Warden, who leads Microsoft's defense team, said the government has yet to prove that Microsoft in any way foreclosed Netscape's ability to distribute its Navigator browser, a necessary element of the trial. He also reminded reporters that a June ruling from a federal appeals court means the government will have a difficult time challenging Microsoft's integration of Internet Explorer into Windows.

    "From our standpoint, the government may think they are scoring public relations points, but they are striking out when it comes to pressing their case with the courts," Warden said.

    A Justice Department spokeswoman countered Microsoft's comments today, saying they "are another public relations effort to distract attention from the overwhelming evidence introduced in court showing that Microsoft has illegally used its market dominance to block competition from innovating technologies that threaten its operating system monopoly."

    The spokeswoman added that a separate announcement by South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon to withdraw as a plaintiff from the suit would have "zero effect" on the case.

    Separately, Microsoft filed a motion today asking for permission to conduct discovery concerning America Online's recent agreement to acquire Netscape. Microsoft says the $4.2 billion deal, which also includes Sun Microsystems, undermines the government's case and shows just how dynamic competition is in the computer industry.

    The trial will resume tomorrow when David Farber, a telecommunications professor from the University of Pennsylvania, is expected to testify that Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser is a stand-alone application that is separate from Windows. Farber's written testimony is scheduled to be released later today. Because of a scheduling conflict, Farber had to interrupt the testimony of Sun vice president and Java inventor James Gosling, who is expected to resume his testimony later this week.