Goldfinger’s heirs

I can see the movie trailer now: Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007 uncovers a secret slush fund that’s being used to bribe world leaders and business execs so they’ll eschew Linux in favour of Windows — software they don’t want. Behind the scenes, Bill Gates (played by Mike Myers) secretly hands out piles of cash to greedy governments and corporate bigwigs, while his hairless cat Orlando plots to destroy Linux user groups by listening in on their meetings and trade shows.

This might read like a Hollywood script gone sour, if not for a series of Microsoft deeds, beginning with a memo written last year by a former Microsoft official named Orlando Ayala, then the head of worldwide sales. His missive put forth a corporate strategy to persuade governments not to forsake Windows for Linux. If deals were in jeopardy, Microsoft reps were to draw from a special slush fund to either discount or make Windows software available for free. “Under NO circumstances lose against Linux,” Ayala wrote.

A rogue e-mail by some excited, hyped-up exec? No way. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s big cheese, got a copy. This may be legal and standard operating procedure for a monopolist at home in the US, but in Europe regulators are still investigating whether Microsoft broke antitrust laws.

According to a follow-up message from Michael Sinneck, Microsoft’s executive for services, the fund had $US180 million earmarked for discounting in 2003. Above board in the US, perhaps, but in Microsoft’s case it’s just plain wrong.

But there is some hope. The combination of Linux and people’s general disgust with the way Microsoft does business could thwart the company’s ambitions in the server market.

And that threat is causing Microsoft to do some pretty bizarre things.

Microsoft employees have been hiding their identities as they impersonate independent computer consultants and OEM reps at trade shows in the US to get information about competitors. Microsoft doesn’t see anything amiss in these deeds.

And the company continues to argue that the slush fund will be used wherever it’s needed.

It’s great that Bill Gates wants to spend his millions improving health standards and supporting education around the world, but if his company continues to operate without any ethical standards, what kind of world is he helping to create? As the saying goes: if you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people He gave it to.

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