Microsoft's shareholders cheer execs

If Microsoft senior executives are worried that the judge in the government's antitrust case has declared their company a monopoly, it didn't show during the annual shareholders meeting here this week.

Microsoft will be happy to settle the landmark case outside of court, said Bill Gates, chairman and CEO, repeating the party line. But he insists Microsoft will only agree to a settlement that does not restrict what the company can and cannot include in the operating system.

"We're willing to go a long way (towards settling the case) but if we can't add internet (capabilities -- such as the browser) then we can't add anything," Gates said.

"No company should accept these kinds of limits on innovation," he added. "We must retain our ability to listen to our customers and add new features."

Answering a shareholder's question about possible settlements, Microsoft chief operating officer Bob Herbold hinted that the software vendor will appeal the case all the way to the US Supreme Court.

"We're in the third inning of a nine inning game and we're certain we'll come to the same result as in the first suit," Herbold added, referring to the government's suit regarding the browser included with Windows 95.

The US Department of Justice let the Windows 95 case go limp after the US Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson was wrong to order Microsoft to remove the browser from Windows. In that appeals ruling, the judges also rebuked Jackson, saying that judges "should not be in the business of designing software."

Not surprisingly, shareholders greeted executives' pointed but low-key comments about the antitrust suit with strong applause each time the subject arose.

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