Open the Gates!

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WASHINGTON: Get ready for the Bill Gates Show. In one of the most bizarre twists of the antitrust action against Microsoft, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson agreed Tuesday to turn Chairman Bill's forthcoming deposition into a spectator sport. Lawyers for several media companies had resurrected an obscure turn-of-the-century law that says such occasions "shall be open to the public as freely as are trials in open court." And try as he might to ignore it, Jackson had to admit that the statute still stands.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft was furious. "This is no way to run a railroad," said Charles "Rick" Rule, a former Justice Department enforcer turned Microsoft legal adviser. The software billionaire was due to be deposed by the DOJ Wednesday at his Redmond campus, but that's likely to be delayed until all the logistics can be ironed out. And boy, are there ever logistics -- how many people to admit and the thorny issue of ordering everyone out when Gates starts talking about company secrets. As Rule complains, "any level-headed person in the DOJ should see the need to protect confidentiality." Given that Jackson ruled that Microsoft should let the public in "to the extent space is reasonably available," perhaps Gates should think about holding his deposition in a closet.