Target: Gates

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WASHINGTON: It's not the first time this year that a guy called Bill stands accused of telling lies in a videotaped deposition, but it may be the most shocking. When the Justice Department launched the antitrust trial of the decade against Microsoft Monday, observers were left in no doubt that the software giant's CEO was directly in its line of fire. Blown up on larger-than-life monitors, Bill Gates was shown giving testimony about his 1995 dealings with Netscape that directly contradicted memos he wrote at the time. "I had no sense of what Netscape was doing," the onscreen Gates said innocently; meanwhile, his on-paper counterpart was feverishly plotting to "buy some piece of them or something."

Vehemently attacking the richest man in the world -- and one of the most eagerly aped businessmen in America -- might seem a risky legal strategy to some. Nevertheless, the DOJ and 20 states are pursuing it with full vigor. Their previous court filings have already accused Gates of personally directing the effort to leverage Windows' monopoly to Microsoft's advantage in the browser market; now the states' lead attorney, Steve Houck, is blasting the billionaire for not being on his own firm's witness list. "Given Mr. Gates's key role in these events," said Houck, "the only explanation for his failure to appear is his lack of intestinal fortitude." Calling Bill Gates gutless -- now there's something guaranteed to get Microsoft's goat.