'Web services are new frontier'

Microsoft's Smith is clear, a paradigm shift is taking place in tech world.

india Updated: Sep 29, 2005 01:43 IST

There was a time till recently when Bill Gates and Microsoft found that Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Sun Micro’s Scott McNealy were ranged against him in the battle between operating systems. That has changed circa 2005 as Microsoft finds itself involved in legal wrangles with web services giant Google.

At the heart of the matter is the defection of former MS executive Kai-Fu Lee who was hired to head a new Google research lab in China. Bradford L. Smith, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Microsoft told the Hindustan Times, “I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion. Bill didn't use the F word. I asked him about this and he clarified that he didn't say this. In fact, we put out a disclaimer on this issue.”

Smith is clear that a paradigm shift is taking place in the technology world. “As long as technology continues to evolve rapidly, there will always be new frontiers tested in this world. We see Yahoo, Google, IBM, ourselves and others at the cutting edge, trying to innovate even as we compete and try and maintain our leadership position.” Smith is very clear that MS being embroiled in a wide variety of legal complications threw into stark relief several lessons for the corporation.

Primarily Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and his team came with these learnings — keep innovating, live upto industry responsibility, do a better job of collaboration with other tech companies.

Smith reckons that the recognition that collaboration and competition was the best way forward allowed MS to sort out differences with Time AOL, Sun Microsystems, federal and state governments in the US, even Real Networks, as also the anti-trust cases in Europe.

The path of collaboration which Smith is articulating is best visible in the collaboration underway with Time AOL. Leaving the scope of the collaboration open-ended, Smith said, “We have a good relationship with them and while I don’t have anything specific to add, let us see what the future brings. All this is a function of the lesson learnt from the anti-trust cases fought by MS.” According to Smith, the market has changed, the Internet has connected everyone, inter-operability is a priority and industry as such is ready for competition.

Smith candidly spelt out the reasons, “Post facto, we have analysed why the anti-trust cases unfolded in the manner they did. It is our belief that we didn't do enough to have a closer dialogue with our competitors, we hardly talked with each other. It was an environment of misconceptions and mis-perceptions and hence building bridges was our new intent.” Maybe that is why MS and Sun Micro have come together on the basis of a dialogue which started in June 2003 and a relationship was hammered out by April 2004.

At the same time, Smith said of bete noire Larry Ellison of Oracle that it wasn't an issue anymore.

So, what next given that a joust is underway with Google. Smith said, “We believe that web services is the path forward. The idea is to build better products and offer value propositions through the development of better software. The fascinating aspect of modern technology is that the industry will have to address novel legal issues on a monthly basis. New questions will emerge, an example is the controversy over the Google Earth Station findings.”

Staying with Google, Smith said that the Washington Federal court was addressing the Kai Fu Lee case effectively. “When Lee was interviewed by Google, he used confidential information regarding MS to get the job. Moreover, he took a sabbatical and worked for Google, this is just not on. We went to court to protect our intellectual property. We have asked the court to restrict what he can do for Google for one year. The trial in January is part of a judicial process. We have got a preliminary injunction that he cannot work on search issues and cannot work in Google on any product which is the same as MS. Google will have to adhere to this order,” he said.

First Published: Sep 29, 2005 01:15 IST