Microsoft released transcripts of the depositions of Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer yesterday, as well as video clips of Ballmer's February 8 deposition, fulfilling a legal requirement and setting the stage for what promises to be a dramatic courtroom battle. In the video clips, a gaunt and ashen-looking Ballmer defends his company's actions and argues against the slew of different Windows versions that the nine nonsettling states and the District of Columbia want.
Ballmer's most damaging statements, however, appear only in the written transcripts. In one particularly glaring sequence, the company's CEO is forced to admit that he has utterly no knowledge of Windows XP Embedded or Windows CE .NET, two highly customizable Microsoft products that already meet many of the states' requests. Instead, Ballmer says that modifying Windows in that fashion is "impossible" and would do irreparable harm to the company.
"Well, what is your understanding about the level to which Windows XP Embedded is configurable, to use your word?" the states' lawyer asks Ballmer during the deposition.
"I'm not expert in ... in that issue," Ballmer answers.
"Are you familiar with a product called Windows CE .NET?"
"No. I don't actually remember which ... the ... no. I'm sure I am, under some code name, and then we changed it to its real name, but I'd have to go check the mapping of that against our code names. I'm not sure if that's the product we just shipped or the product we're getting ready to ship. I don't know."
After the states' lawyer shows Ballmer a 25-page CE .NET product guide that explains the hundreds of possible CE .NET configurations, Ballmer says that he doesn't know what the product is or whether it's even on the market. Ballmer's lawyer asks where the document came from. "This is something that was pulled off the company's Web site," the states' lawyer responds.
The battle over a configurable Windows continues. When asked whether he's contacted any Microsoft engineers about the feasibility of a component-based Windows version that would let consumers decide which applications to install, Ballmer says he's spoken only with Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and Group Vice President James Allchin, who oversees Windows development.
"It would be fair to say both Mr. Gates and Mr. Allchin see more complexity than I do in engineering a version of Windows that complies, and as my comments were quite ... quite ... what shall I say ... quite strong, that may say a lot, but I'd say both Mr. Allchin and Mr. Gates, as more technical expert than myself, would find that an even more daunting challenge," Ballmer responds.
Speaking of Allchin, the transcript of his February 14 deposition included a surprise appearance by attorney Steven Houck, who faced off against Microsoft in court during the original antitrust trial but hasn't been seen since because the Bush administration set up a new legal team. Houck is now representing the nonsettling states and the District of Columbia. Microsoft's lawyer found Houck's appearance "bizarre" and grilled Houck about his right to represent the states before allowing Allchin to proceed.
As during Ballmer's deposition, the states' attorney pressed Allchin on Windows' (in this case, Windows XP's) modularity. Consider the following exchange, in which Houck attempts to discover whether XP is "componentized."
"Can you estimate the number of components that comprise Windows XP?" Houck asks.
"No," Allchin answers.
"Can you ballpark it?"
"We would have to define what component is ... No. I don't know how to do that."
"Is Windows XP a product that you would consider componentized?"
"Is the word componentized a synonym for modular when used to describe software?"
"Yes. It's not a perfect match, and of course none of these terms are without a ... as precise definition, you know, people could get confused, and people generally talk about modular software being able to have reusable components and the like. But the devil is in the details of the definitions."
"It's fair to describe Windows XP as modular, isn't it?"
"To a certain degree, yes."
"In fact you've described it that way, haven't you?"
"Well, I probably have."
"Can you describe what you mean when you refer to Windows XP as modular?
"Well, it depends on the context of when I used the term. You can, in fact, talk about it at an architectural level that we have a ... it was originally a micro-kernel implementation but has since, I think, migrated away from that, but you can talk about having subsystems so that we can run POSIX- or UNIX-type applications, Windows-type applications, oh, Win16-type applications, and I believe there have been some other subsystems. So from that perspective it's modular.
"Does the architecture for Windows XP consist of various components, code?"
When asked who decides which components go into Windows, Allchin says that he's one of the company's chief decision makers, but that Gates and Ballmer approve his decisions. Allchin then dodges questions about which crimes the court found Microsoft guilty of and appears to have no knowledge of Microsoft's illegal leveraging of its Windows monopoly.
"Would you say it's important for someone in your position to know what Microsoft did wrong so you could avoid doing that again?" Houck asks, somewhat incredulously. "Do you think it's important for you personally as a group vice president responsible for Microsoft's operating system products to know what it is that Microsoft did wrong so you could avoid doing that again?"
Allchin eventually and grudgingly agrees that Microsoft was found guilty; Houck then asserts that Allchin's specific directions resulted in the actions that landed Microsoft in court. Allchin's lawyer objects continuously during this phase, but the rationale for the badgering is clear: The states want to show that Microsoft's executives knowingly and illegally maintained the company's Windows monopoly and now continue to defend that practice. Allchin states that he still believes that integration is good for Microsoft's customers.
The depositions make for fascinating reading, and I'm looking forward to reviewing the full video record to better ascertain the mood during various sequences. For the full transcripts and the Ballmer video excerpts, visit the Microsoft Web site.