[Plura-list] Bill Gates's monopolistic mask-off moment

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sat Sep 12 12:06:12 EDT 2020


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Today's links

* Bill Gates's monopolistic mask-off moment: "What's a murder?"

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🎯 Bill Gates's monopolistic mask-off moment

Don't let the sweater-vests and the (dilettantish) "education reform"
work fool you: Bill Gates made his fortune through sheer robber-baronry,
presiding over a vicious monopolist that shattered the law in its greedy
quest for billions and permanent, global dominance.

Microsoft's illegal conduct was so blatant, persistent and obviously
wicked that it prompted serious enforcement action from the DoJ's
antitrust division, which Reagan neutered and which every president
since has whittled down even further.

The most notorious moment in that last-of-its-kind enforcement action
was the multi-day, video-recorded deposition of Bill Gates himself, in
which he conducted himself so badly that the video went analog-viral,
airing on newscasts and being passed hand-to-hand on VHS.

Today on Ars Technica, Dan Goodin revisits that momentous week in 1998
when Gates covered himself in everlasting shame and gave us a peek
behind the curtain at the private persona of a swaggering monopolist.


Goodin's piece was occasioned by Microsoft's intervention in the
Epic-v-Apple affair, in which a Microsoft exec decried Apple's abuse of
its "complete monopoly over the distribution of apps  … to coerce app
developers into using Apple’s payment platform."

Gates's deposition is a reminder of how far Microsoft's position changed
between 1998 and now. As Goodin writes, Gates's plan for the deposition
was to obstruct, paint the DoJ as technically incompetent, and to "deny
even the most basic of premises in the government’s case."

This was a brutally stupid plan. It failed *so badly*. Government lawyer
would ask Gates questions like "What non-Microsoft browsers were you
concerned about in January of 1996" and Gates would claim not to know
what "concerned" means.

It was the Fat Tony defense: "What's a truck? What's a murder?"

It was so stupid and blatant that people in the gallery started laughing
aloud at Gates's obstruction (after all, part of his defense was that he
was a genius whose mind could not be understood by mere govvies).

The deposition really revealed Gates's expectation that he would be
deferred to and even worshipped in the manner that his absolute
authoritarian rule over Microsoft had accustomed him to.

As Ken Auletta noted, Gates had never had to sit for a job interview or
suffer other routine indignities.

Goodin: "he had little or no experience tolerating—let alone
encountering—dissent, criticism, or challenges to his authority."

But even with a better strategy, Gates would have still been in trouble,
because he put a bewildering array of radioactively illegal conduct in
writing, and the DoJ had it all in black and white:

* A conspiracy to force Intuit to bundle Internet Explorer and break
compatibility with Netscape

* A conspiracy to modify Windows so Netscape-rendered content would
appear "degraded"

* A conspiracy to make an incompatible version of Java that only ran on
Windows, with the goal of "wresting control of Java away from Sun"

* A conspiracy to get Apple to break compatibility with Netscape, tying
Microsoft Office improvement to Apple's sabotage of Netscape

With all this evidence, the fact that Microsoft escaped serious sanction
tells you just how degraded antitrust law has become (it's gotten weaker
and worse since). But just as telling is the impact that antitrust
enforcement had on Microsoft's conduct.

It's undeniable that the reason web companies like Google survived the
2010s is that Microsoft had lost its nerve, after years of traumatic DoJ
investigation and litigation.

Gates admitted this last year, saying the reason Microsoft didn't bid
for Android was they were "distracted" by the antitrust action:


But that action had ended *years* before Android. When Gates says he was
"distracted," he means he was terrified.

And as Tim Wu pointed out, it probably made them a better company.
Monoplism makes companies act like mafias, stupid and lazy, with an
emphasis on abusive commercial practice rather than technical or
organizational excellence.

When AT&T; was broken up in 82, corporatists cried that America was
sacrificing its "national champion" just as Japan was eroding America's
technical dominance, and without AT&T;'s monopoly power, America's tech
industry was done.

Instead, breaking up AT&T; opened the space for *the entire internet*,
and a generation-long American dominance of a system that has become a
planetary nervous system, a source of prolonged American dominance and
trillions in GDP.

In other words: Fat Tony is a shitty businessman.

People express dismay at that 2016 photo of Trump with tech's leaders
around a Trump Tower boardroom table, aghast that these people who run
our tech world were willing to meet with a racist bully.


Fair enough.

But even more alarming is something rarely commented upon:

*The entire tech industry fits around a single table.*

That should make you furious and terrified - and glad that we are
finally seeing a stirring of America's old trustbusting traditions.

Reagan may have maimed antitrust.

Bush I, Clinton, GWB, Obama and Trump may have brutalized it.

But it is not dead. And it's slowly, relentlessly, getting back on its feet.


🎯 This day in history

#15yrsago Makers novel-in-progress serialized for next ten weeks on

#10yrsago Russian cops use excuse of pirated Microsoft products to raid
dissidents, newspapers, and environmentalist groups

#5yrsago NYPD cop who beat up tennis star James Blake has a long,
violent rapsheet

#1yrago Demetrification: improving social media by removing public
like/follower/repost counts

#1yrago Uber general counsel threatens California: pass a law that makes
drivers into employees and we'll spend $60m on a ballot initiative to
overturn it https://twitter.com/matthewstoller/status/1171974310237474816

#1yrago Thomas Piketty's new book uses data to trace how inequality
changes ideology


🎯 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 534 words (60528 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Chapter 1 of Attack Surface, the third Little Brother

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote for Law Via the Internet conference, Sept 22,

* Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1,

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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