Government lawyers in the antitrust case against Microsoft went to the tape of Bill Gates' deposition again today, showing a segment in which a government lawyer sparred with the uncooperative chairman and CEO over Java technology and confronted him with sometimes damning e-mail suggesting Microsoft planned to start "pissing on" Java.
The segments were displayed before James Gosling, the creator of the Java programming language, was sworn in as a witness in the case.
In the video segment of the August 28 deposition shown yesterday, Gates professed ignorance over the details of the lawsuit filed by Sun Microsystems against his company over its implementation of Java, claiming that he did not know the contentions made in the suit. He also maintained that he was uncertain when Microsoft began developing J/Direct, a way of allowing the cross-platform Java code to use advanced Windows functions.
Gates said that he didn't recall being told that Netscape Communications' browser was a major distribution vehicle for Java foundation classes, despite US Justice Department lawyer David Boies presenting a July 1997 e-mail to Gates from Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Maritz indicating the contrary. "If we look further at Java/JFC being our major threat, then Netscape is the major distribution vehicle," the Maritz e-mail stated.
Gates disputed the meaning of Java in that context, suggesting that Maritz didn't really mean Java, but rather some runtime APIs (application programming interfaces).
"Did you believe in July 1997 that JFC (Java Foundation Classes) was a major threat to Microsoft?" asked Boies.
"In the form that it existed as of that day maybe not. But if we looked at how it might be evolved in the future, we did think of it as something that competed with us for the attention of ISVs in terms of whether or not they would take advantage of the advanced features of Windows," Gates replied.
An exchange that provoked giggles in the courtroom and extensive discussions outside the courthouse was a back-and-forth between Boies and Gates over the precise meaning of "pissing on."
The discussion centered around an e-mail that a Microsoft developer wrote to Gates and others in May 1997, which said in part, "JDK 1.2 has JFC, which we're going to be pissing on at every opportunity."
"I don't know if he's referring to pissing on JDK or JFC, nor do I specifically know what he means by pissing on," Gates said.
Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray took issue with the government's decision to display the excerpt, which included a dozen or so questions "discussing what one particularly colorful term means." "It was occasionally amusing, but largely irrelevant to the case," Murray said.
Murray maintained that the substance of the entire 20 hours of Gates deposition supports Microsoft’s position in the case, including regarding the claims over Java. "For a period of several years, it wasn't clear what Java or the predecessor to Java were and what they meant to Microsoft," Murray said. "Microsoft has never in any way restricted the distribution of the Java technology."
He said that companies in the technology field pump up their products and criticise those of competitors all the time because competition is so fierce.
The Microsoft camp is clearly irked that the government has continued to display segments of the Gates deposition before each new witness is called to the stand. Members of the company's public relations staff handed out a five page "response" to the edited deposition segments to reporters. The response accuses the government of using the depositions as a "PR ploy" "fueled by its cynical expectation that the public will ignore the substance of Mr. Gates' testimony, and will instead focus on the appearance of the deposition, which shows Mr. Gates in an unfamiliar light."
Outside the courthouse, Boies said the segments of the deposition were relevant because of certain denials Gates made which, under the law, the judge could take to imply that he had a guilty conscience if the judge finds those denials untruthful. Boies said, "It's not important to focus on one colorful phrase but the substance of what is going on." He added that the government believes that Microsoft took several actions to use its monopoly power over operating systems to prevent competitive technologies from being distributed. The judge has not yet determined that Microsoft has a monopoly.
Gates was also questioned about an e-mail sent to him on August 25, 1997 by Tod Nielsen, general manager of the developer relations group at Microsoft. The e-mail read in part, "So we are just proactively trying to put obstacles in Sun's path, and get anyone that wants to write in Java to use J/Direct and target Windows directly."
Boies asked Gates whether he recalled why Microsoft was trying to put obstacles in Sun's path.
"I don't know what that means," replied Gates.
This morning Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson also heard a motion from the government, which asked to show some video clips from depositions taken in the Sun lawsuit. The Judge ruled that they could be shown in some limited circumstances, for example if they were used to impeach a witness. However, Jackson did not allow depositions from two Caldera executives taken in regard to that company's lawsuit against Microsoft.
(Elizabeth Wasserman is Washington bureau chief for The Industry Standard.)