By Dan Jones in Washington The Justice Department crushed the credibility of Microsoft Corp witness Gordon Eubanks underfoot yesterday, with a welter of documents that contradicted Eubanks’ contention that he had dealt with Microsoft exactly as he would any other company. Eubanks, who had been considered a ‘safe’ witness, ended his time on the stand […]
By Dan Jones in Washington
The Justice Department crushed the credibility of Microsoft Corp witness Gordon Eubanks underfoot yesterday, with a welter of documents that contradicted Eubanks’ contention that he had dealt with Microsoft exactly as he would any other company. Eubanks, who had been considered a ‘safe’ witness, ended his time on the stand admitting that Microsoft Corp had a natural monopoly in the operating systems market, which benefited software vendors that partnered with the software company.
The day had started well for Eubanks, who led Microsoft attorney Steven Holley for a breezy canter through the history and future of the industry. Eubanks, currently CEO of Oblix Inc, has been in the industry since the mid-1970s and was around for the birth of the personal computer. He worked at Digital Research and headed up Symantec Corp until April this year. Eubanks charted how DOS had risen to eclipse other PC operating systems but had in turn been replaced by the ascent of the graphical user interface; first the Mac OS and then Windows. The history of the industry was littered with examples of technology making one system totally redundant, because of the fast pace of change, Eubanks said.
The core of the Microsoft argument was that technology could easily shift again soon, displacing the desktop model of computing. Eubanks said that Linux, high-speed networks and handheld computers were good examples of how the technology picture was changing. However, even during Holley’s cross- examination, Eubanks managed to undermine the Microsoft case. At Oblix, he said, the web browser has become our platform of choice…all of our applications run out of a browser. We don’t care about the operating system. Lead government attorney David Boies said that this directly contradicted earlier Microsoft witnesses, who had said that a browser was part of the operating system and not a platform in its own right.
When, he took up the cross-examination that afternoon, Boies focused on how Eubanks had dealt with Microsoft while at Symantec and his attitude to monopolies. Eubanks had told Holley that Symantec had gone out of its way to be even-handed with its OS partners – Microsoft, Apple Computer Corp, Sun Microsystems Inc and IBM Corp – We tried very hard not to get embroiled in battles with other software companies, he explained. However, Boies produced a 1997 ‘first wave’ agreement between Symantec and Microsoft, in which the Symantec agreed that that programs that used a HTML user interface would default to Internet Explorer and Java tools would use the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine. In return, Symantec would get early access to beta releases and software development kits for Windows and NT. Eubanks said that he had never seen the agreement but had to admit that Microsoft was a crucially important company for Symantec.
Boies also brought out documents that appeared to show how worried Symantec was about offending Microsoft in public. In March 1998, Paul White, a product manager for Symantec in the UK, wrote a piece for a newswire, which talked of Microsoft’s ambivalence towards Java, and was sharply critical of the company. However, the article was never published. After internal debate about not wanting to put Microsoft noses out of joint, the author decided not to submit the article rather than risk the blast from Microsoft. Eubanks insisted that this was consistent with the company policy of not getting involved with petty squabbles between companies, saying that were just as many issues with Sun and Apple.
However, Eubanks’ interview in the book, In The Company of Giants – Candid Conversations With The Visionaries of The Digital World, which the government produced as evidence, suggested that Symantec had good reason to stay in Microsoft’s good books. In the interview, Eubanks had said of the Norton Utilities suite, We have a tremendous infrastructure that works closely with Microsoft. This is a tremendous barrier to competition. Boies had already brought out a San Jose Mercury News article in which Eubanks admitted that Microsoft was a natural monopoly, although Eubanks insisted that monopolies would always be eclipsed by the pace of technology. However, the damage was done, and at the end of his time on the stand, Eubanks looked more like a man who had been mugged by the digital age rather than a visionary.