Mr. Gates Makes His Case

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Time was running out. Microsoft had announced plans to release Windows 98 to manufacturers this week. The Department of Justice wanted to file an antitrust suit before that happened. As the hours evaporated, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates asked for a final session in which to plead his case for allowing Windows 98 to be marketed without any Federal Government objections. And so on Tuesday evening, at the headquarters of Microsoft’s Washington lobbyists, Gates met Joel Klein, the department’s top antitrust enforcer.

Gates did most of the talking; Klein had instructed his aides to “let him have his say.”Gates argued that Microsoft’s contributions to computer technology justified Windows 98’s release, despite the DOJ’s claims that it violated not just a 1995 court agreement but also the basic principles of antitrust policy. Klein held his ground, amazed at Gates’ lack of sophistication in realizing to what extent the DOJ’s action might go beyond Windows 98. The two-hour session produced a stalemate. Gates, said insiders, was “intelligent, forceful and, above all, passionate,” but regulators were deaf to his entreaties. As an insider put it, “Windows 98 is part—but only part—of the DOJ’s concern. It is only a chapter in a much bigger book.”

All this was a prelude to what may be a monumental showdown this week, as Justice moves not only to block Windows 98 but also to end what critics have long thought to be Microsoft’s predatory and monopolistic practices; as many as a dozen state attorneys general may follow suit. After months of sparring, the real fight is about to begin.