Internet & Society: Ballmer says his focus isn't DOJ lawsuit

To hear him tell it, Microsoft executive vice president Steve Ballmer is not focusing his attention on the antitrust lawsuit filed against the company by the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general. Speaking by cybercast to the Harvard Conference on Internet & Society, Ballmer claimed -- with a straight face -- that he is spending his time spreading the gospel according to Microsoft to customers.

To hear him tell it, Microsoft executive vice president Steve Ballmer is not focusing his attention on the antitrust lawsuit filed against the company by the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general.

Speaking by cybercast to the Harvard Conference on Internet & Society, Ballmer claimed -- with a straight face -- that he is spending his time spreading the gospel according to Microsoft to customers.

"I don't really have much to comment on," he said regarding the lawsuit when he was asked about it by one of the moderators during the discussion portion of his keynote talk. "The lawyers are off focusing on that ... I don't really focus on the lawsuit very much."

Instead, he's busy letting it be known that "what we're doing is very much pro-consumer. Our company and our industry has served consumers well," Ballmer said.

Far from being anti-competitive and using its 90 percent share of the operating system market to try to dominate other markets, including Internet browsers, Microsoft is all about opportunities and choice, he said.

"Our goal is to open up opportunities, not to close down opportunities," Ballmer said.

Internet users are free to pick a browser other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which is a key part of the antitrust case because the government argues that the company should not be allowed to bundle its browser software with its Windows operating system. Windows 98 started shipping to PC makers last week and hits retail shelves June 25.

Part of Ballmer's prepared remarks were given to outlining Microsoft software and World Wide Web content, but during questioning the second in command to Bill Gates said the company does not seek to be the "gateway to content" on the Internet.

"We don't have a content agenda," Ballmer said.

Asked by a moderator for his definition of an operating system, he said that that piece of software amounts to "core technologies" that are of importance to software users.

Given Microsoft's dominance of the operating system market, any audience of computer users is likely to be weighted heavily with the company's customers. Even so, it has been clear from comments made during the conference and after his speech that Ballmer was not necessarily preaching to the converted.

"It sounded like a commercial," said Joya Balfour, "directrice" of Webgrrls Montreal, an online technology resource for women, of Ballmer's speech. "With Ballmer or any CEOs, they all give vague generalities. They don't tell me anything."

The moderators seemed to toss in a couple of questions about the lawsuit "as an aside," she said.

What Microsoft has done is make it "difficult for the little entrepreneurs" to compete, Balfour said.

The Harvard Conference on Internet & Society concludes today. More information on the conference is available at http://cybercom98.harvard.edu/.

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