Why there's no need for the rest of us to feel at all sorry for billionaire Bill Gates

VIEW FROM MANHATTAN

Just for a while there it was possible to feel sorry for Bill Gates. The 39-year-old chief executive and co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation had apparently become too successful even for American tastes. In Washington DC, the competition lawyers in the Justice Department had concluded he was getting a little too big for everyone else's welfare and wanted to stand in his way.

In one dramatic instance recently, Justice actually prevailed. In May, Microsoft was forced to abandon its proposed $2.4 billion takeover of Intuit, maker of a highly popular personal finance programme. This came after a five-year running battle between the federal regulators and Gates over a range of monopoly issues, parts of which are still being argued in the courts.

Then last month, Justice reared up again. This time, it was targeting Microsoft's soon-to-be-launched new version of its world-beating Windows software operating system, called Windows 95. Specifically, the government wanted to investigate plans to include in Windows, as an integral feature, a connection to Microsoft Network.

A new departure for Gates, the Network will be an on-line service comparable to those already offered by CompuServe, Prodigy and, on a smaller scale, Rupert Murdoch's Delphi. Concerned that Microsoft would thus instantly create for itself an unfair advantage in the market, Justice subpoenaed pertinent documents from the company and from its competitors.

This was too much for Gates, who shot back with a petition seeking to block the subpoena. This latest broadside, it said, was only "the latest salvo in what increasingly appears to be a campaign of harassment" aimed at Microsoft. The Justice Department, pooh-poohed the complaint, calling it a "tempest in a teapot" and is expected to announce as early as this week whether it intends, regardless, to seek to ban Microsoft Network in the new Windows package.

What's more, all of this hard comes on the heels of IBM's successful takeover last month of software jewel, Lotus, world leader in the up-and- coming species of software known as "groupware", which allows groups of PC operators to work together on the same data at different locations.

Generally applauded by analysts, Big Blue's move was widely characterised as giving it its first good shot in ages at getting back at Microsoft for effectively stealing the software sector from under its nose back in the late 1980s. These were not good days for Gates.

But last week, Forbes Magazine reminded us why feeling badly for Gates really is not appropriate. In their latest ratings of the richest business moguls on the planet, he came out on top for the first time, displacing a Japanese property magnate. His wealth, we learned, had leapt from a measly $8.1 billion last year to a handy $12.9bn today. This was fueled, of course, by Microsoft's surging stock price. And surge it still does, in spite of the various controversies. Meanwhile Microsoft's sales for the year ending 30 June, even before the release of Windows 95, are expected to touch $6bn.

Gates, it is just worth mentioning, is in the processing of building a new home for himself by a lake near Seattle, Washington, where the company is based, that will be something more than a hovel. Included in the plans: a 19-metre pool, a boulder-rimmed hot-tub, games room, cinema, video walls displaying priceless art, a 14,000-book private library and a salmon stream.

So what about Windows 95? The Microsoft Network issue is a potential hitch and leaks from company headquarters early last week suggested that preparations were being made to decouple the on-line feature from the package in case the Justice threat of an injunction becomes reality.

Expressing frustration, a company spokesman said of the on-line feature: "We look at this as an anti-trust regulator's dream. Microsoft Newtork meets all the standards for increasing competition. We're increasing the number of choices that customers have".

Much more important to the company is its need to stick to the promised 24 August launch-date for Windows 95, which had originally been destined for the shops in the middle of last year.

Any further delay would provoke massive disappointment in the industry, where the impending arrival of Windows 95 is being heralded as something little short of the second coming. So much so, that company executives are trying to downplay some of the hype. "It's just software", remarked senior vice president, Brad Silverberg, recently. "It doesn't cure cancer. It doesn't grow hair. It's not floor wax. It's Windows".

The excitement is understandable, however. Windows in its various previous incarnations is used on an astonishing 80 per cent of all personal computers worldwide. The implications for new sales of an upgraded version are enormous, not just for Microsoft itself, which expects to ship 50 million packages in the first year, but also for everyone else in the industry. That includes the manufacturers of the PCs themselves, many of which will be offered with Windows 95 as a built-in feature.

With Gates thus bestriding the software world, it is surely no surprise that the Justice Department should at least be interested. Certainly, in their latest tangle with Gates, the regulators have the support of on-line rivals. Pierce Reed, a CompuServe spokesman, said: "When you bundle your application in with your monopoly or dominant operating system, you tilt the playing field tremendously in your favour".

The next few days will see how determined the regulators are. But if Washington does torpedo the Network it is not likely to knock Microsoft, or its master, very far from its extraordinary course.

DAVID USBORNE

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
News
Danczuk has claimed he is a 'man of the world'
news
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor