Bill Gates, alternately charming and combative, Monday insisted that the software industry is flush with healthy competition and would only be hurt by government intervention.
The Microsoft chairman and chief executive officer visited senators, chatted with reporters, and even explored a lawmaker’s World Wide Web home page as he spent the day warming up for today’s hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At the hearing, senators will have a chance to publicly grill Gates about whether his company is using illegal practices to snuff out its competitors.
“Innovation has grown every year in this business - it is in every way a competitive business and America should be proud that we’ve created this open market,” Gates said at a brief news conference previewing his testimony. “People have the freedom to do new products, and there’s no need for regulation.”
But members of the Senate are not so sure current government regulations are adequate - or are being adequately enforced - to ensure competition when as much as 90 percent of the world’s personal computers are run using Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
“We want to explore the dynamics of the industry and to look into whether or not Microsoft, the company which developed and basically owns the underlying operating system, is exploiting that monopoly for the purpose of stifling competition in any way,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in an interview after he met with Gates. “Mr. Gates assures me that they are not.”
Gates offered his most combative assessment of his expectations for the hearing in a diary entry published late Monday in “Slate,” Microsoft’s on-line magazine.
He said he expected two of his most vociferous critics, Jim Barksdale, president and chief executive of Netscape Communications Corp., and Scott McNealy, president and chief executive of Sun Microsystems Inc., “to use it to attack us and the PC industry, which they invariably do.” Both will join Gates on the panel today.
“Netscape only started complaining after they lost the reviews and people started using our product,” Gates wrote. ” … We can’t force anyone to use our browser over Netscape’s. The reason our Internet browser is gaining in popularity is because people like it.”
Gates pooh-poohed some of the concerns expressed about Microsoft, writing “the idea of Microsoft controlling the Internet is crazy. Microsoft can no more control the Internet than we can control what people think, or where they drive, or what they eat for lunch.”