As Microsoft approaches the final stage of its antitrust hearing, the incident exposes two of its more unsavory predilections: the Redmond Dragon's antagonism to competition and its willingness to abuse its monopoly power to the detriment of the marketplace. Any doubts about Microsoft's aggressive intentions are pretty well erased by the fact that the code that enables Microsofties to bust into other firms' sites includes a phrase branding Netscape as a group of "weenies." Since the antitrust trial stems from the allegation that Microsoft squeezed Netscape out of the web browser market, proof of Microsoft's contempt for its rival surely won't help convince Judge Jackson of the firm's good intentions. And even set to an acoustic guitar accompaniment, the story of Microsoft as a greedy beast that secretly eavesdrops on others is hard to sing along to.
Just as Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson is searching for an appropriate remedy to curb Microsoft's monopoly power, the software giant stands revealed as a very dirty trickster. On Thursday, Microsoft security czar Steve Lipner confessed that some of the firm's engineers encrypted a web server software package with a backdoor code that allows them to illicitly hack into sites that use the software. The program, FrontPage 99, is an industry leader in software used to construct medium-volume web sites. That means that a handful of Microsoft techies have the virtual key to unlocking the secrets of firms around the world, including access to credit card numbers and other private customer info. That's an awkward revelation at a time when Microsoft is trying to rehabilitate its image: A new TV ad has Bill Gates singing his company's praises over inspirational acoustic guitar music and telling the American public that Microsoft has been one of its most loyal servants.