Sophont
Monday, April 05, 2004
 
Newly Released Documents Shed Light on Microsoft Tactics
nytimes.comThis week, the lawyers representing the Minnesota consumers are focusing on Microsoft's efforts to undercut Go, a start-up company that was developing an operating system for hand-held computers.

The first witness appearing at the trial yesterday was Jerry Kaplan, the co-founder of Go. Mr. Kaplan, who was a software developer at the Lotus Development Corporation before he started Go, has been a longtime opponent of Microsoft.

Yet he said he was surprised by what was revealed about Microsoft's activities in the documents. "I was shocked," Mr. Kaplan said in a telephone interview. "This was a corporate mugging that went uncorrected and unknown."

The events surrounding the failure of Go have often been cited as a reason for the animosity between Silicon Valley executives and Microsoft. Go was one of the most prominent efforts by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to create software for tablet-sized devices. In addition to an all-star cast of technologists, the start-up had backing from major industry players like I.B.M., Intel and AT&T.

The plaintiffs contend the new documents show that Microsoft violated nondisclosure agreements with Go, and then used that information to build PenWindows, a competitor to Go's PenPoint operating system. The documents included Microsoft's internal e-mail messages showing that it had detailed knowledge of Go's product plans.

The documents also suggest that Microsoft sought to pressure Intel to cancel its plans to invest in Go. On June 28, 1990, Mr. Gates wrote a letter to Mr. Grove trying to convince the Intel executive that he should back a version of Windows for portable computers, then code-named Windows-H, rather than Go's PenPoint software.

"I guess I've made it very clear that we view an Intel investment in Go as an anti-Microsoft move, both because Go competes with our systems software and because we think it will weaken the 386 PC standard," Mr. Gates wrote.

Shortly after the letter was written, according to Mr. Kaplan, Intel reduced its planned investment in Go from $10 million to $2 million, and stipulated the investment be kept a secret.

An Intel spokesman declined to comment on the events.

Silicon Valley executives said that Microsoft's aggressive behavior in the early 1990's led to a widespread belief among technology companies that Microsoft was using its operating system monopoly and unfair tactics to compete in markets where its technology was inferior.

Microsoft was well aware of this perception, and in 1991 tried to alter the way the company was viewed.

In a document titled "Microsoft Criticism," the company's outside public relations consultants recommended training for its executives on "personal demeanor and style." The advice read in part that the focus should be shifted from "killing the competitor" to "providing a better solution to the customer's problems."

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