Ask Paul: November 16 (Premium)

After a week's hiatus, we're back. And there are some great questions this week.
Bad Microsoft, good Microsoft
ErichK asks:
Paul, I was wondering, as I understand it you were courageously vocal during the late '90s and into the 2000's as far as a lot of Microsoft's controversial business practices were concerned, even though you were heavily involved in their ecosystem and wrote books about their products and stuff. I was wondering, did you ever get any feedback from Microsoft themselves regarding that? I mean, in ways where they tried to defend themselves from all the bad publicity they were getting because of the anti-trust issues? How did THEY perceive their position in the industry?
Once officially and once not. I did have two major interactions with people at Microsoft and/or its PR firm at the time about this topic.

One involved the Bill Gates deposition, which was recorded and is one of the more miserable things you can ever try to watch. And I tried: When the recordings became available (during or just before the U.S.) trial, Microsoft's PR firm asked me if I wanted copies of the VHS tapes. (Of which there were about a dozen or so, if I remember correctly.) So I said yes, and had to speak to someone to put the deposition in context.

Gates was slouched in his chair basically the entire time, was surly and unresponsive, and pretended not to remember anything he was asked about. It's an embarrassing display. But I was told that Gates did this under advice from Microsoft's attorneys and that I shouldn't come away with the wrong impression about a man who, at that time, was widely admired in Microsoft circles but was feared by almost everyone else. But it's impossible to watch any of this and not come away with a negative reaction.

Off the record, I spoke at length about the trial and Microsoft's business practices with a source I cannot divulge for obvious reasons. He was very forthright about what Microsoft did, why it did it, and that the company was never going to change. He was wrong about that last bit, of course: The antitrust trials hobbled Microsoft more effectively than anyone could have imagined, especially since they seemed to get off more lightly in both the U.S. and the EU that many had anticipated.

These conversations were key to my thinking at the time that this company needed to be split up, to be "scattered to the winds," as I put it at the time. I envisioned multiple mini-Microsofts, like the mini-Bells before them, split from each to assure that there would be no more anti-competitive collusion, corruption, and market destruction. It was clear to me that Microsoft had a culture problem. And that it could not be fixed from within.

On this topic, I'll also note that that culture was finally exorcized, mostly, from Microsoft over time as executives departed and, especially, when Satya Nadella took over. There are still small traces of it left. For example, the Surface team came up in the Sinofsky orga...

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