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January 9, 2007

Dirty laundry at the Iowa Microsoft antitrust trial

Posted by David Hunter at 12:16 PM ET.

What would a Microsoft antitrust case be without disclosures of embarrassing internal documents? The latest instance occurred on Friday in the ongoing Iowa antitrust trial where testimony of expert witness Ronald Alepin revealed, shall we say, a rather callous Microsoft view of developers – Microsoft exec called software developers ‘pawns’:

A Microsoft Corp. technical evangelist referred to independent software developers writing for Windows and the company’s other software platforms as “pawns” and compared wooing them to convincing someone to have a one-night stand, according to testimony presented Friday against Microsoft in an ongoing antitrust case in Iowa.

In the speech, entitled “Power evangelism and relationship evangelism,” Plamondon continued: “I mean, all through this presentation previously, I talked about how you’re using the pawns and you’re going to screw them if they don’t do what you want, and dah-dah-dah. You can’t let them feel like that. If they feel like that, you’ve lost from the beginning…. So you can’t let them feel like pawns, no matter how much they really are.”

In other comments about developers, Plamondon equated working with them to taking someone out on a first date. “It’s like you’re going out with a girl; forgive me, it goes the other way also. You’re going out with a girl, what you really want to do is have a deep, close and intimate relationship, at least for one night. And, you know, you just can’t let her feel like that, because if you do, it ain’t going to happen, right. So you have to talk long term and white picket fence and all these other wonderful things, or else you’re never going to get what you’re really looking for.”

Not particularly classy, but hardly a big surprise.

“These were isolated, inappropriate comments made more than a decade ago and not a statement of Microsoft’s policy at any time,” said Jack Evans, a Microsoft spokesman.

The exhibit in question was presented at a Microsoft Development Relations Group Summit in 1996.

The plaintiffs have been permitted by the court to set up a website (http://www.iowaconsumercase.com/) where they are posting each day’s trial transcript and there’s a variety of interesting reading there as well as some occasional comedy like the big icon argument that started off Friday’s proceedings. By the time the judge had settled the dispute about which icons were permissible in the expert witness’ slides, the PowerPoint meister who was showing them had already changed them accordingly, much to the amazement of the court. I also thought it was interesting that the plaintiffs were using PowerPoint.



Filed under Antitrust, General Business, Governmental Relations, Legal, Microsoft, Partner Program

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2 Responses to “Dirty laundry at the Iowa Microsoft antitrust trial”

  1. James Plamondon Says:

    In any industry which is dominated by network effects, only one platform can become the industry standard (by definition). As an evangelist, your job is to establish your firm’s platforms as de facto industry standards by managing and exploiting network effects.

    Generally speaking, the most efficient evangelism strategy is to focus your limited evangelism resources on those firms or individuals who (a) have the most to gain by being among the first to back the eventual winner of the platform battle, (b) can adopt your platform at the least cost, and (c) have the most influence over the platform choices made by others. You encourage these “key industry influencers” to take actions that publicly demonstrate their belief that your platform will eventually become the new standard. These public actions provide later adopters with the “social proof” and “expert opinion” they need to justify take similar action — that is, to “jump on your bandwagon.” Every person who jumps on your bandwagon increases its momentum, causing it to move even farther ahead of your competition. This attracts even more people to jump on your bandwagon, even if they have to jump off of a competitor’s bandwagon to do so. Once the majority recognize your platform as the industry’s de facto standard, everyone on your bandwagon wins.

    Clearly, the early decisions of these key industry influencers are critical to your success.

    Therefore, describing key industry influencers as “pawns” is both offensive and inaccurate. It mis-characterizes the mutually-supportive relationship that must exist between a platform vendor and its platforms’ early adopters, such as that which Microsoft and independent software developers created in the 1990′s. I regret having used the “pawns” metaphor; I apologise for any misplaced ill-will it may have caused towards Microsoft; and I won’t use it in future.

    No company has ever created such a supportive environment for independent developers that Microsoft has – because no other company ever recognized the overwhelming importance of independent developers to its own success. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is at work in Microsoft’s policy towards developers, just as it is throughout capitalism. As he wrote in The Wealth of Nations, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”

    Respectfully,

    James Plamondon

    P.S.: You may also be interested in this discussion.

  2. Microsoft settles Iowa antitrust suit -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] The antitrust suit against Microsoft in the state of Iowa which had produced a variety of bad press for Microsoft in recent weeks (e.g. [1], [2], [3]) has been settled: A class-action lawsuit that alleged Microsoft Corp. overcharged consumers was settled Wednesday for an undisclosed amount. [...]

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