When Microsoft backed a key move filed two weeks ago in Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple, it raised some eyebrows.
Two decades ago, the U.S. Department of Justice, 1
The software maker vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that the act represented a government breach brought by order of companies that could not compete for the benefits. Microsoft warned that the action would set a dangerous precedent that could stifle innovation in the years to come.
The company’s legal response was one of the most powerful I have covered in my 25 years as a journalist. The PR campaign also reached shock and awe, with the management at one point arranging a poorly executed astrogress campaign that would galvanize public opinion against legal action.
Now, in 2020, a Microsoft leader has given a sworn written testimony in support of plaintiff Epic Games, claiming that Apple has a “complete monopoly on the distribution of apps to billionaires of iOS … to force app developers to use Apple’s payment platform . “
The legal statement from Microsoft Gaming Developer Experiences General Manager Kevin Gammill came in response to Apple’s threat to deny Epic access to the software development tools needed to develop its Unreal Engine gaming platform for use on iOS. Apple threatened after Epic tried to use its own payment system in the iOS version of Fortnite to get around Apple’s 30 percent platform fee. This move quickly got the game from the Apple App Store and led Epic to file a lawsuit in response.
Gammill said that any move that harms the development of Epics Unreal Engine on iOS would harm Microsoft’s business, because “in Microsoft’s view, there are very few other options available to creators to license with as many features and as much functionality as Unreal Engine across multiple platforms, including iOS. “
While Microsoft’s archives did not express any opinion on the underlying antitrust requirements, the statement nevertheless illustrated a dramatic face for a corporate culture that once had its contempt for antitrust law and theory up its sleeve. Goliath was no longer what it once was – largely due to the emergence of companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple made possible by a settlement signed by Microsoft – Microsoft was now comfortable supporting David in the technology industry.
The archiving in August also represented a major reversal of another kind. In the mid to late 1990s, when the events leading up to the antitrust suit unfolded, Apple was on life support. Microsoft knew this, and according to the government’s case, the company used the maker of Macs as a peasant in an attempt to reject the threat Navigator and Java posed to the Windows monopoly. Now Apple Goliath represents Microsoft helped kill.
All of this made me think of one of the most memorable parts of my coverage of Microsoft’s antitrust lawsuit – the videotaped deposition of Bill Gates, the company’s co-founder and at the time CEO and chairman. At its most basic level, the deposit emphasized the total contempt he had for an action he believed hindered the company’s ability – and others to follow, he warned – to design products and conduct business as they saw fit.
The strategy during the three-day deposit was classic Microsoft. Block. Paint the government as pristine politicians who had no idea how technological and real markets worked. And above all, deny even the most basic premises in the case of the government. The plan from Gates’ army of lawyers and PR executives seemed to be to exercise his image as a software underdog who dropped out of Harvard to start the company and went on to become the world’s richest man. Team Gates planned to use the same dominant will to repel government attorneys.
A spectacular failure
On day 2, it became clear that the strategy failed spectacularly. As a New Yorker writer Ken Auletta once remarked, Gates had never in his life longed for a job or suffered many of the dishonesty most of us experience on a regular basis. He regularly deceived journalists into asking what he wanted to say were stupid questions. Gates was publicly hailed as the wise sage, complete businessman and visionary in the industry, and was accustomed to be treated with harsh reverence by all but a small number of peers. As such, he had little or no experience of tolerating – let alone meeting – dissent, criticism or challenges to his authority.
The lack of experience played right into the hands of the government. Instead of portraying a leader who controls his domain and is confident in his case and the company’s legal and ethical justice, the courtroom videos showed a side of Gates that had never been in public before. He was petulant, petty, confused and lethargic. He was ineffective. He was beaten with a word.
During three days of intense interrogation, Gates often falsified ignorance of his own company’s policies and actions. He analyzed everyday words or expressions such as “concern”, “support” and “piss on.” Gates seemed to use the strategy to avoid tough questions about whether his company abused its entrenched Windows franchise to kill new competitors, such as Navigator and Java. To the surprise of him and his many lawyers and image processors, Gates came out as argumentative, petty, and someone who lost ground to a more formidable rival.
An example came in this exchange with David Boies, the private lawyer employed by the Ministry of Justice:
Boies: Which non-Microsoft browsers were you worried about in January 1996?
Porter: I do not know what you mean by “worried”.
Boies: What is it about the word “worried” that you do not understand?
Porter: I’m not sure what you mean by that.
Porter: Is there a document where I use that word?
Boies: Is the term “concerned” a term you are familiar with in English?
Boies: Does it have a meaning you are familiar with?