Microsoft Corp. CEO and Chairman Bill Gates said yesterday that the ongoing antitrust case brought against his company by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been a most painful experience.
"[The DOJ case] has been the worst thing that ever happened to me," Gates said. "When I heard about it, I wasn't sitting there saying 'Ha, ha, I'll do what I want'." Instead, it has been a rather terrible feeling being sued by his own government, Gates said, as he answered questions at a public forum organized by the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation, and held at the San Jose State University campus.
The software billionaire said he is looking forward to the time when the case is resolved and he can return his attention to the business of software development.
However, much legal work still remains to be done, Gates said. Now that the DOJ and Microsoft have put the contempt-of-court issues behind them following last week's settlement, the case will move on to a more important phase, that of reaching a decision on whether the consent decree signed with the U.S. government in 1995 will prevent Microsoft from integrating its Web browser into the Windows operating system, Gates said.
Over the next six months, Microsoft needs to explain to the U.S. government and to the judges hearing the case that the precedents in the case "are very much in favor of Microsoft," Gates said.
He added that Microsoft has a "real big problem" with the U.S. government's notion that once an application has been sold separately from the Windows operating system it can't then become an integrated part of the operating system. That, Gates explained, would prevent his company from being innovative.
"That approach would block us from putting speech recognition software into our operating system," Gates said.
He reiterated Microsoft's stance that the DOJ case has been fueled by the software giant's competitors.
"We wouldn't have the DOJ case if some of our competitors wouldn't have decided they can't fight us in the marketplace, but instead need to use the DOJ to cripple us," Gates said.
Overall, the antitrust DOJ case is casting a dark shadow over the company and maybe the entire industry, reinforcing the perception that Microsoft is a monolithic giant that deserves close scrutiny, he said.
"It's disappointing to see people in Washington, D.C., acting like the software industry is a bad thing," Gates said.
Instead, he said, lawmakers should cheer the software industry on and see it as a reason to feel good, since the industry creates thousands of jobs and generates millions of US dollars in exports.
"If it didn't, then there wouldn't be so many competitors around to complain about us," Gates said.
Asked if he sees any limits to what Microsoft will integrate into Windows and if, for example, Microsoft's popular Word text editor will become a part of the operating system, Gates said Microsoft integrates technology into Windows which eliminates the need for application developers to recreate basic underlying services and technologies.
"But if there is one thing that should be integrated into the OS, it's Internet standards," Gates said.
A generally comfortable and relaxed Gates answered a number of questions received prior to tonight's event via e-mail on a variety of topics raging from his personal life to his company's business practices and recent developments in the IT industry.
Addressing this week's acquisition of Digital Equipment Corp. by Compaq Computer Corp., Gates made it clear that he had a soft spot for Digital which he said helped "to bring computing to the masses."
But he said Digital and Compaq will work well together as one company and that it will be interesting to see what will happen to Digital's Alpha processor, which now will be made by Intel Corp. following a recent patent infringement lawsuit between Digital and Intel that was settled out of court.
"Intel will manufacture Alpha processors and supply them at a low price to Compaq," Gates said, adding that Compaq also intends to become a leading provider of systems built around Intel's forthcoming Merced 64-bit processor due out sometime next year.
"Alpha is a wild card at this point, but I wouldn't write it off," Gates said.
Regarding Microsoft's archrival Netscape Communications Corp., Gates said Netscape is a great company with great products. But in his view, Netscape made the big mistake of first saying that its Navigator Web browser is becoming an operating system and will wipe Windows out.
"And then they come around saying 'You hurt our feelings' when we put Internet Explorer into Windows," Gates said. "I mean come on."
Asked which CEO he admires, Gates named Intel's Andy Grove -- who he said is an excellent manager and engineer -- and Apple Computer Inc.'s co-founder and interim CEO Steve Jobs, who Gates said contributed greatly to the industry with the invention of the Macintosh. Jobs is also a great inspirational leader, Gates said.
"He makes people work harder than they probably should," Gates said.