TAIPEI (06/13/2000) - Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates today called the government's antitrust case "an unfortunate distraction" that wouldn't keep the company from moving ahead rapidly on projects such as speech recognition. Gates predicted a court resolution of the government's antitrust lawsuit in about 12 months.
"Between now and then, it doesn't change anything that we are doing as a company," said Gates.
Gates was in Taipei for the World Congress on Information Technology, less than a week after U.S federal district court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered the breakup of the software giant. Jackson had previously ruled that the company violated antitrust law.
At the congress, Gates outlined his company's plan to create very personalized, Internet-connected systems that use natural interfaces such as handwriting and speech to interact with end users.
"In this next-generation Windows we will be investing more than three times what it cost to put a man on the moon," said Gates.
But Gates was in the unfortunate position of being in the warm-up spot for the next speaker, Robert Young, chairman at Durham, North Carolina-based Linux vendor Red Hat Inc., who poked fun at Windows.
Innovation on the Internet "isn't going to work if we have to keep rebooting our systems," said Young, to the laughter of the attendees.
Listening to both talks was an audience of about 1,700 people from more than 60 countries. Among them was Chi-Hsing Yeh, a Taiwan government prosecutor who heads the Ministry of Justice's department of computer information. He said Gates's speech was "not very exciting," compared to Young's talk.
But Yeh was less certain about whether Microsoft should be broken up. As a big company, "Microsoft can beat other foreign software companies. I think (a) split into two companies is not good for U.S., but good for other countries," he said.
Sien Chu Chow, the principal consultant of Business Reengineering IT Sdn Bhd., a software development firm in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, said that Gates offered a "clear direction" that "gives a kind of comfort to people like us who use their product." With Linux, "there is no clear direction," he added.
Overall, Taipei may have been a friendlier place for Gates than the U.S.
Gates spent part of Tuesday meeting with Taiwan IT executives and said he was never asked about the antitrust lawsuit - something that never would have occurred at a similar meeting with U.S. executives, he added.
At a late afternoon meeting with mostly Taiwan-based reporters, Gates said the lawsuit wouldn't prevent Microsoft from "moving full speed ahead" on its development projects. He also minimized the lawsuit's impact on the company's 38,000-employee workforce. "If anything," he said, "having that kind of misguided lawsuit has drawn our team together."
The company had warned of employees "leaving in droves" if the breakup happens.
Asked what company he would pick to join if Microsoft were divided between its operating system and applications, as Jackson ordered, Gates said: "That's a hypothetical question that, fortunately, I won't ever need to answer."
One local reporter asked: "If you were not Bill Gates, if your life could start all over again, who would you like to be and what would you like to do?"
"I have no regrets in terms of the opportunities that I've had," said Gates. "I feel that I've been lucky to be involved in the software revolution."
One person at the conference who wasn't getting involved in the Microsoft dispute was Carleton Fiorina, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co.
"I think that what should guide policy makers as they continue to look at the issue of Microsoft, is whether it serves consumers," said Fiorina. "Beyond that I have assiduously avoided commenting on the plusses and minuses of the Microsoft case other than to say that Microsoft has been an important partner of HP's for a long time."
But HP has had problems with that partnership. In the antitrust case, the government cited memorandums from HP to Microsoft criticizing the restrictions Microsoft imposed on the PC maker. "If we had a choice of another supplier . .
. you would not be our supplier of choice," wrote an HP employee in a letter cited in the government's opening arguments in the case.
A number of short-term restrictions ordered by Jackson were drafted in part as a result of issues raised by HP and other PC makers, such as having the ability to modify a PC's boot-up sequence. Microsoft is seeking a stay on those restrictions.
The World Information Technology and Services Alliance, a Vienna, Virginia-based organization, sponsors the congress, which meets every two years. The alliance serves as an umbrella group for IT trade associations worldwide.
But Sello Mashao Rasethaba, chairperson of the South African State Information Technology Agency, a government policy-setting agency, criticized the congress, said it wasn't truly representative of the world. "Africa is absent and it's not healthy," he said.
Rasethaba said a digital divide between nations "will cause more revolutions because those who are in the know will use that knowledge for their own benefit."
Harris Miller, who heads the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Virginia, and who was also at the congress, said representation is broadening. Four years ago, only 22 countries had IT associations, which are needed to join the congress. That has increased to 41 nations, but Miller said the group will need to reach out to African nations.