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Gates takes one for Microsoft

Although Microsoft's competitors no doubt chuckled to see the aggressive billionaire get an old-fashioned pie in the puss, it is Gates who will have the last laugh.

The things Bill Gates does for Microsoft!

On Wednesday, the man known for sticking out his chin took one on the chin. A pie, that is.

Although Microsoft's competitors no doubt chuckled to see the aggressive billionaire get an old-fashioned pie in the puss, it is Gates who will have the last laugh.

Gates apparently is prepared to do almost anything to further the cause of Microsoft. And if that means taking one on the chin, that's just part of his missionary work to ensure that every part of world gets the Windows religion. He crosses the seas numerous times a year to ensure his life's mission of putting "Windows on every desktop" comes true.

So it was that he was in Brussels ready to meet with government officials when the pie attack took place. I'm sure it didn't deter him from convincing his hosts that Microsoft and Windows is the best IT strategy they could put in place. As a matter of fact, Gates just sponged off the mess and went on with his scheduled speech, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

It's hard enough for the Netscapes and the Suns and the Novells to keep fighting the good fight in the market place. But now it would seem that these companies and their leaders have to surmount Bill Gates's prestige as well. The pie incident shouldn't obscure the fact that Gates was in Europe to bend ears and twist arms of heads of state, and they rolled out the red carpet for him. This royal treatment by not only the Belgian government but the European Union is surely the untold story of how Gates and Microsoft continue to make competitors eat their dust.

When was the last time Netscape's Jim Barksdale was written up by The Times of London for the "regal style of his latest tour to meet European leaders?" When did you last read about Sun's Scott McNealy meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom? Or when was Novell's Eric Schmidt last treated like the head of a State on a visit to India? Or, for that matter, when have any of them hosted a CEO summit in their homes, with U.S. vice president Al Gore in attendance?

Needless to say, Gates has been there, done that. He seems to be on the calendar of virtually every president and prime minister around the globe.

If he isn't visiting No. 10 Downing Street to pose with PM Blair (who subsequently declared that he would recommend Microsoft products for Internet projects in schools), he's in South Africa, or India, or Belgium, cutting deals with those countries' leaders. After all, in many of these countries the telecommunications industry and many others are still nationalized, and what the head of state decrees to be the IT standard will be the standard. Guess what Gates invariably recommends to them?

You can talk all you want about Microsoft's business practices, its $9 billion war chest, its 24,000-person in-your-face army of employees. Overwhelming as these factors may be, they are tangible and can be battled against, either in the market place or in the courts. But how can rivals fight the Gates-factor?

It's little wonder why Gates is possibly the only one of them who gets to have his cake and eat it too. That catapulted custard pie must have tasted sweet to him as he strode into yet another meeting with more heads of state in Brussels this week.

Jai Singh writes about news of the week on Fridays in Perspectives.