Network: Witness for the prosecution

Netscape's Jim Barksdale will be first to testify in the Microsoft trial. He pleads his case to Mark Vernon

THE FIRST person to take the witness stand in the mammoth Microsoft anti-trust trial next week will be Jim Barksdale, president and CEO of Netscape Communications. With all the zeal of a capitalist believer, he is passionate that Microsoft must be stopped. And he fiercely resists all attempts to justify the Microsoft monopoly, denouncing the behaviour of the men from Redmond.

Barksdale has won many firsts in his time with Netscape. Brought in when Marc Andreessen's cool, browser start-up hit the Wall Street big time, Netscape can claim to be in the corporate elite, now worth $2.5bn after only three years of having a commercial product.

He also must be one of the biggest risk-takers of all time, overnight turning the source of over half the company's revenue into a freebie - the Navigator browser, code and all.

Since then, in spite of the irresistible decline in its browser market share, the Netscape Web portal, Netcenter, is up to 9 million hits a day, and has subscribers growing by one million per month, which is a 5 per cent lead on Yahoo!'s equivalent service. And a further little-known fact outside of the Internet service provider community is that over half the "paid-for" servers on the Web run on the Netscape platform.

But there is a deep irony amid this success. The browser with which it all began has become, in a way, a burden. In the next few months, it will be fighting this legacy that occupies Barksdale's mind, both as he tries to make the famous "N" straddling the globe known for something else, and as he meets its great rival, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, in the courtroom.

Barksdale admits that he longs to do an interview in which web browsers are not even mentioned. When that happens, he will have at last reinvented the company and be free of his nemesis - Bill Gates.

The charge against Microsoft is one of anti-competitive, monopolistic practice. In capitalist America, that is tantamount to being done for blasphemy and it is the US government itself which is taking Microsoft on.

"I am a believer in free enterprise and capitalism," says Barksdale, "and I could never condone a monopoly. Bill Gates would be worth, what, a trillion? What do you want him to be worth? What is a company worth?"

The evidence, Barksdale believes, is plain for all to see: Microsoft levies a 33 per cent net margin on its products. "Why do you think they make such a margin? Because they don't have any competition."

Barksdale doesn't buy the argument that the dominance of Microsoft Windows makes the IT world an easier place in which to live because Windows provides a standard operating system to which developers can work and within which users can interact, or that prices are cheaper as a result. It is the same argument, Barksdale explains, that John D Rockefeller made in defence of Standard Oil. "The customers got oil for a lot less money when it was broken up."

But wait, Jim. Microsoft says the browser is now part of the operating system. The most important thing about a PC will be its ability to access the Internet. Isn't Microsoft simply meeting its customers' requirements and building in a browser for free?

"Shit no!" Barksdale snaps. "Why would I think that? Then your logic would say that Microsoft would be responsible for every feature and function and advancement that you need. They have not been able to prove they can do that with their core products. Why would they be able to do that with this product?"

But is not just free-market orthodoxy that Barksdale believes is offended by the Microsoft monopoly. When, for example, Compaq decided to put Netscape's browser on its PC's desktops, Microsoft issued a threat. It would cancel Compaq's Windows contract.

"There's no way that Compaq, the largest PC manufacturer in the world, could be in business without a Windows contract. Correct? That is a power that no one should possess, no matter how honourable and good they are.

"I am not accusing these guys of being evil," he continues. "It is just that that sort of power will lend itself to being abused."

For all the high-minded accusations Barksdale slings at Bill Gates, he has nothing against him personally. Indeed, it is another irony of the whole affair that one week they meet in Washington to lobby together for an easing of US encryption regulations, the next they are back on opposite sides of the fence.

But what's it like in the departure lounge, as they await to board their respective jets?

"We chat to each other. At the hearings ... when it was time for a break, we were both trying to find the men's room. Bill told me that he knew where this one was but that he had a exclusive contract on it," Barksdale cracks.

Did they form an alliance and use the same loo? "No, I went somewhere else."

Since its decision to give away its browser, Netscape has turned to two main sources of revenue: selling enterprise software and providing a commercial Web portal. Barksdale's aim is to become one of the major portal players, controlling the channels of information which come over the Internet, or the network into which it will have mutated in 20 years' time.

With regard to the former, he is also scoring well. Indeed, last week, amid a series of announcements which brought an impressive array of economic drivers to its electronic commerce offering, to say nothing of an alliance with enterprise giant, Hewlett Packard, Netscape sneaked in a win at BT, and over Microsoft.

Netscape will provide the backbone upon which BT will give free e-mail to subscribers of its Click Internet service. This will sting Microsoft, not least because it was over the sore subject of scalability that Netscape beat them to the contract. It is also precisely the kind of high-profile deal that Netscape needs in order to reposition itself.

However, Barksdale resists being triumphant. And not only for fear of upsetting BT. In a previous incarnation, as president of McCaw, a US telecommunications company, he was "ticked off" with the behaviour of one customer, Motorola, because of the way it simultaneously competed against him.

He has had the same experience, more recently too, in the portals business.

"Some of these companies like Yahoo! we regarded as sort of our compatriots. We were helping them, they were helping us," he says, lamenting the loss of more innocent times in the Internet industry. But under the influence of heady market capitalisations, Yahoo! became more combative, and now they run against each other with tempered aggression.

"Although the portal people might not like competing with me, I think they understand the necessity of my doing it. And I am doing it in it in a straight-up way," he says, reflecting, too, that he moved late into the portals game not least because he did not like the idea of competing in this way. "I learnt a lesson there and should have understood it sooner."

So will Jim beat Bill? Surprisingly, perhaps, his guess is he will not.

"We assume the worst but hope for the best." But the believes the case has far bigger implications than simply settling the browsers wars.

"It will be the definitive anti-trust action for the 21st century," Barksdale says, as the Standard Oil case was for the 20th century. And if Gates loses, he says: "I think it would make Microsoft a bigger, healthier company."

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
Arts and Entertainment
The episode saw the surprise return of shifty caravan owner Susan Wright, played by a Pauline Quirke (ITV)

Review: Broadchurch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are teaming up for a Hurricane Katrina drama

film
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore