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In Deposition, Gates Denies Threatening Any Competitors

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, the world's richest man, made his first extended appearance in the antitrust trial of his company Monday, arguing in disembodied electronic form on a giant video screen that he and his company never tried to intimidate or hobble competitors in the technology industry.

In two hours of taped deposition, Gates frequently fidgeted and questioned questions, private mannerisms for which he is well known. He frequently answered, "I don't remember" or "I don't recall." When asked a question, he sometimes paused for several seconds before answering, in almost cracking voice; at other times, he launched into a pitched and animated defense of himself and his company.

In one sense, the medium was a familiar one for Gates. At industry trade shows and other public appearances, he regularly appears on a large projection screen through a video linkup. But those appearances generally feature a cheery, well-coiffed executive mouthing scripted lines, not the often scowling, slouching man being jabbed by question after question from expert lawyers eager to trip him up.

In what was easily the most dramatic day of the now two-week-old trial, government lawyers pressed him about e-mail that he sent or received over the last four years.

Those documents, they contend, belie Gates' steadfast denials of bullying rivals and back up allegations that Microsoft has broken American society's rules of fair competition. Microsoft officials maintained that portions of the deposition played in court did not contain any admissions of wrongdoing and did nothing to undermine the company's defense.

At one point, the lawyers zeroed in on an Aug. 8, 1997, memo that Gates wrote asking Microsoft executives about the status of talks with Apple Computer Inc. and how they might affect Microsoft's fight with Sun Microsystems Inc. over Java programming technology. "Do we have a clear plan on what we want Apple to do to undermine Sun?" Gates wrote.

David Boies, a lawyer working for the Justice Department, asked Gates on the tape whether he recalled sending the message.

"I don't remember sending it," Gates replied curtly.

"Any doubt you sent it?" Boies shot back.

Finally, Gates relented: "It appears to be e-mail I sent."

The Justice Department and 20 states are alleging a wide array of anti-competitive practices by Microsoft, whose Windows software runs on approximately 90 percent of the world's personal computers. Microsoft denies the allegations, saying it has caused prices to fall and helped create common technical standards that benefit consumers.

Earlier in the questioning, Boies asked Gates whether he "ever had discussions within Microsoft about the desirability of trying to undermine Sun because of what Sun was doing in Java?"

Sun's version of Java allows programmers to write software that, without modifications, can run on any type of computer. Government lawyers contend that Microsoft became afraid that Java could threaten the dominance of its Windows operating system and set about trying to "pollute" Java by urging programmers to write Java-based software that would only run on Windows machines.