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Antitrust: MS exec called developers 'pawns'

Compares relationship to one-night stand

A Microsoft 'technical evangelist' referred to independent software developers writing for Windows and the company's other software platforms as "pawns" and compared wooing them to convincing someone to have a one-night stand, according to testimony presented on Friday against Microsoft in an ongoing antitrust case in Iowa.

"If you've ever tried to play chess with only the pieces in the back row, you've experienced losing, okay, because you've got to have those pawns," James Plamondon said in a 16 January 1996 speech to members of Microsoft's developer relations group. His comments were part of a transcript presented as evidence in the Comes versus Microsoft class-action lawsuit in Iowa.

"They're essential," he said about software developer pawns, according to a transcript of his remarks. "So you can't win without them, and you have to take good care of them. You can't let them feel like they're pawns in the struggle."

In the speech, entitled 'Power evangelism and relationship evangelism'," Plamondon continued: "I mean, all through this presentation previously, I talked about how you're using the pawns and you're going to screw them if they don't do what you want, and dah-dah-dah. You can't let them feel like that. If they feel like that, you've lost from the beginning... So you can't let them feel like pawns, no matter how much they really are."

Plamondon, a technical evangelist for eight years at Microsoft, did not return an emailed request for comment.

The excerpt was presented during testimony by Ronald Alepin, an expert for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who allege that Microsoft charged higher prices to Iowa consumers as a result of illegal monopolistic behavior. The suit seeks $330m in damages.

In other comments about developers, Plamondon equated working with them to taking someone out on a first date. "It's like you're going out with a girl; forgive me, it goes the other way also. You're going out with a girl, what you really want to do is have a deep, close and intimate relationship, at least for one night. And, you know, you just can't let her feel like that, because if you do, it ain't going to happen, right. So you have to talk long term and white picket fence and all these other wonderful things, or else you're never going to get what you're really looking for."

The plaintiffs have created a website that includes transcripts of testimony presented in the case.

Other evidence presented last week included an internal Microsoft memo from 18 October 1991, entitled 'Excel brainstorm group'. Brad Silverberg, then-head of Windows development, wrote: "I'd be glad to help tilt Lotus into the death spiral. I could do it Friday afternoon, but not Saturday. I could do it pretty much any time the following week."

Lotus's 1-2-3 was the dominant spreadsheet program on Microsoft's DOS operating system in the 1980s, but it lost ground to Excel on the Windows operating system.

Alepin, a former chief technology officer at Fujitsu and currently a San Francisco-based adviser for high-tech law firm Morrison Foerster LLP, testified that 1-2-3's eventual demise was caused in part by Microsoft encouraging Lotus' programmers to use Windows APIs (application programming interfaces). Microsoft Excel's own developers had already decided those same APIs "were not worthwhile using because they were complicated", he said. "They used large amounts of memory. They were slower than other ways of doing it."

Alternative APIs, Alepin testified, "were not provided to Lotus and to other companies such as Samna [maker of Ami, a GUI-based word processor later bought by Lotus, that was released a year before Word for Windows 1.0]".

The Comes versus Microsoft trial, which began in early December, is expected to last up to six months. It, along with a lawsuit filed in Mississippi, is among the last remaining antitrust suits filed by states against Microsoft in the late 1990s.

The trial, set in Des Moines, has already seen its share of explosive evidence. In a 2004 email to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and chairman Bill Gates, then-Windows development chief James Allchin wrote that Microsoft had "lost sight" of customers' needs and that he would buy a Mac if he wasn't working for Microsoft.

Allchin, who retired at the end of 2006 with the launch of Windows Vista, later said that he was "ranting" and being "purposefully dramatic" in his email in order to make a point.

Alepin, who has previously testified against Microsoft in the European Union's antitrust case against the company, is expected to continue testifying this week.


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