The Microsoft Mafia

As the antitrust trial continues, Netscape paints its rival as a bunch of mobsters. There's nothing wrong with tough talk, replies Redmond.

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WASHINGTON: Is Bill Gates the '90s answer to Don Corleone? The answer is yes, if you believe Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen. After Netscape's infamous June 1995 meeting with the tough-talking software titan and his cohorts, "I expected to find a bloody computer monitor in my bed," the browser whiz kid told Justice Department lawyers. But as the Microsoft antitrust trial enters its third day, Redmond attorneys continue to argue that brutal mafia-speak is no vice in the cuttthroat software industry. "Antitrust laws," said Microsoft counsel John Warden, "are not a code of civility."

In an effort to drive that point home, Warden peppered chief government witness and Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale Tuesday with questions about his years as a salesman at IBM. Didn't Big Blue throw its weight around, too? "We were trained to behave as if we were a monopoly," said Barksdale, "because we were operating under a consent decree" -- which IBM had the good sense not to test, unlike Microsoft's wrangling last year. Touch. But didn't IBM do its own fair share of bundling products? Yes, but they were forced to unbundle in 1968, said the Netscape boss, which "gave rise to a whole new industry of hardware companies." Barksdale is back for more history lessons Wednesday. The Don will not be pleased.