A few days ago a Groklaw article drew my attention to the availability of video footage from Bill Gate’s 1998 anti-trust case deposition. I promptly used MPlayer to capture the MMS streams to disk and over the last few days I’ve been allowing the footage (over a dozen hours) to play in the background while I work.
It’s truly amazing. I’d read transcript excerpts before but I’d never heard or seen more than a few seconds of the actual video or audio footage.
It’s astonishing to see Gates, surely an individual of well above average intelligence, petulantly throw up obstacle after obstacle in the path of David Boies (the attorney asking the questions), stalling, dodging questions, offering implausible explanations, claiming not to remember anything, bickering over the meaning of common words, and the really puzzling bit: doing all this as though he actually thought it would help his case. Of course it didn’t; Microsoft was found guilty of repeatedly illegally abusing its monopoly position and the judge ordered that the company be split up. It’s a shame that with the change of government in 2000 Microsoft wriggled off the hook.
In any case, you really have to see it to believe it. It’s so astounding that it’s actually funny at times. I’m including below an illustrative section from the transcript, one of my favorite parts.
Boies: Okay. Now, let me go on to another paragraph and see whether you remember writing that or not. And that is the second paragraph, which reads, "Apparently a lot of OEMs are bundling non-Microsoft browsers and coming up with offerings together with Internet Service providers that get displayed on their machines in a FAR" and you’ve capitalized each of the letters in far "more prominent way than MSN or our Internet browser." Do you see that?
Boies: Did you write that sentence, Mr. Gates?
Gates: I don’t remember, but I have no reason to doubt that I did.
Boies: Do you remember what you were thinking when you wrote that sentence or what you meant when you wrote that sentence?
Boies: Do you remember that in January, 1996, a lot of OEMs were bundling non-Microsoft browsers?
Gates: I’m not sure.
Boies: What were the non-Microsoft browsers that you were concerned about in January of 1996?
Gates: What’s the question? You’re trying to get me to recall what other browsers I was thinking about when I wrote that sentence?
Boies: No, because you’ve told me that you don’t know what you were thinking about when you wrote that sentence.
Boies: What I’m trying to do is get you to tell me what non-Microsoft browsers you were concerned about in January of 1996. If it had been only one, I probably would have used the name of it. Instead I seem to be using the term non-Microsoft browsers. My question is what non-Microsoft browsers were you concerned about in January of 1996?
Gates: I’m sure – what’s the question? Is it – are you asking me about when I wrote this e-mail or what are you asking me about?
Boies: I’m asking you about January of 1996.
Gates: That month?
Boies: Yes, sir.
Gates: And what about it?
Boies: What non-Microsoft browsers were you concerned about in January of 1996?
Gates: I don’t know what you mean "concerned."
Boies: What is it about the word "concerned" that you don’t understand?
Gates: I’m not sure what you mean by it.
Gates: Is there a document where I use that term?
Boies: Is the term "concerned" a term that you’re familiar with in the English language?
Boies: Does it have a meaning that you’re familiar with?
Boies: Using the word "concerned" – consistent with the normal meaning that it has in the English language, what Microsoft – or what non-Microsoft browsers were you concerned about in January of 1996?
Gates: Well, I think I would have been concerned about Internet Explorer, what was going on with it.
Astonishing. Like watching a clever but severely affected autistic child.
Update: 15 February 2007
Disappointingly, the case has been settled out of court (via Slashdot). I don’t know how many millions Microsoft has agreed to cough up but it will no doubt be chicken feed for them, just as the measly coupons that will make it into consumer’s hands will seem like chicken feed to them too.
I’ve already had a couple of requests to redistribute the deposition videos — either uploading them to YouTube or posting DVDs — but I’m afraid the answer will have to be "no" to all such requests. It would just be too much work, take too much time, and I am unsure of the legality of it. Try checking the comments on the original Groklaw story; I know at least some of the participants there talked about making the videos or audio-only versions available in a number of forms (BitTorrent, Coral Cache etc).