Microsoft: Make 'em Laugh

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WASHINGTON: Talk about words that come back to haunt you. "This antitrust thing will blow over," Microsoft boss Bill Gates told Intel executives back in July 1995 - little knowing he would be quoted in court someday, or that one of those executives would be taking the stand on behalf of the Justice Department. Another irony in the Gates quotes, transcribed by Intel VP Steven McGeady: "We are reviewing our e-mail retention policies." That caused a few giggles in the federal courthouse, which has seen e-mail after e-mail from Microsoft's files that contradicts Gates's sworn testimony.

Redmond lawyers tried to soften the blow by casting aspersions on McGeady. He's not a key player, they suggested. His memory is faulty (given Gates's own peculiar lack of recollection in front of DOJ lawyers, this is probably not the best tactic). But Microsoft shouldn't worry too much about McGeady, who is attempting to prove that the software giant is capable of threatening friends just as easily as foes. His major impact, so far, has been to provide comic relief to a trial that began to drag many weeks ago.

Similarly, Microsoft lightened the mood Monday by playing a tape of Steve Jobs announcing Apple's deal with Microsoft at the 1997 Mac World convention. It was supposed to show that settling the patent dispute was more important to Apple than bundling Internet Explorer. But the intent got a little lost when the mere mention of Microsoft's then-inferior software brought peals of laughter from the conventioneers. The judge was amused, too.