Daily coverage of the Microsoft antitrust
trial was depressingly predictable. Reporters assigned to the
case can't be blamed for churning out pabulum, however, for
both sides were exasperatingly tight-lipped. Microsoft, in particular,
expertly stymied all journalistic efforts to divine its stratagems,
thanks to a phalanx of Waggener Edstrom flacks that surely cost
more than the gross national product of Bhutan. Thus the typical
newspaper story was heavy on bluster and light on scoop.
World War 3.0: Microsoft and Its Enemies, Ken Auletta's blow-by-blow
account of the software titan's Waterloo, is the ideal antidote
to those bland Podunk Times recaps. The book teems with the
kinds of juicy tidbits that make ink-stained wretches go weak
at the knees. Auletta, the high-brow scribe behind The New Yorker's
"Annals of Communications" section, parlays his quasi-celebrity
into unprecedented access. His insider credentials are established
as early as the fifth paragraph, when he casually recalls eating
lunch next to Bill Gates at the 1998 World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland. A $38,000-a-year beat reporter wouldn't
even be allowed to refill Gates' glass of Diet Coke.
World War 3.0 is one long affirmation of Sun Tzu's ancient
principle of combat: every battle is won or lost before it's
ever fought. According to Auletta, Microsoft's pugnacious defense
of its business practices was misguided from Day One. The main
culprit he fingers is Gates' hubris, his arrogant notion that
the government's case amounted to nothing more than vindictive
harassment. Auletta elegantly captures Gates' "Why me?" mindset
midway though the book, asking the bowl-cutted techno-tsar whether
he ever felt like Joseph K. from The Trial. Upon being informed
that Kafka's persecuted protagonist could not comprehend the
crimes of which he was accused, the literature-impaired Gates
exclaims: "He sounds like my kind of guy!"
But Microsoft's mistakes were tactical as well as philosophical.
The defense team, headed by chief counsel William Neukom, is
portrayed as full of white-shoe bunglers who lacked a taste
for the jugular. "Microsoft's lawyers often meandered off into
baffling digressions, like joke tellers who never get to the
punch line," writes Auletta.
Plaintiff's attorney David Boies, on the other hand, is depicted
as something of a mad genius. Slovenly and strange away from
the courtroom--he left cases of fine Bordeaux by his office
window until the wine turned to vinegar--he morphs into a latter-day
Clarence Darrow when the gavel sounds. While Neukom's coterie
seemed tentative in attacking witnesses, Boies eviscerated Microsoft's
supporters with a surgeon's skill.
Auletta argues, however, that Boies' best work took place outside
the courtroom. Boies convinced Jackson to permit the showing
of Gates' videotaped pre-trial deposition, during which the
New Economy mandarin was coaxed into behaving like a petulant
seven year old. Peppered with implausible statements and enough
claims of memory lapse to rival an Iran-Contra hearing, Gates'
testimony virtually sank Microsoft's case before it even began.
A settlement would have been the logical maneuver for the company,
and World War 3.0 recounts Microsoft's half-hearted attempt
to strike a deal. It is here that Auletta's prose--placid, logical,
and delightfully free of Baroque flourishes--shines brightest.
He gracefully traces the mediation efforts of Judge Richard
Posner, whom Jackson appointed in early 2000 to hammer out a
compromise. The back and forth between Washington, D.C. and
Redmond is mapped out in rich detail as the two sides futilely
cycled through nineteen drafts of a case-ending agreement. Hesitant
to blame either side for the negotiation's collapse, Auletta
does fault Posner for failing to bring Gates and Justice Department
point-man Joel Klein face-to-face. "Perhaps Posner's dry, intellectual
approach to legal issues
Copyright 2001, The Washington Monthly