- Dec 31, 2000
Eyewitness account of the Linux monopoly trial
Tuesday February 03, 2004 - [ 10:09 AM GMT ]
By: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller
Washington DC, January 31, 2014 -- Riot police have finally managed to beat back the milling throng of displaced Visual Basic programmers who attacked the courthouse after Judge Cotter Kathelly announced that Linux was not an illegal monopoly and that neither Linus Torvalds nor his company, Linux Development, Inc, owed damages to former employees and shareholders of now-bankrupt Microsoft or to any of its business partners.
Protestors have been a daily feature of this trial since it started early last year. A bald, bearded man wearing a poncho who identifies himself only as "Balls," but who some say is really former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been fingered by police as the ringleader, but so far their efforts to capture him have been fruitless. His appearances have been brief, and he has melted back into the crowd and disappeared after each one, while thousands of demonstrators carrying signs with "Flying Windows" logos on them have blocked police whenever they tried to pursue the fleeing figure.
Inside the courthouse, a greying Torvalds has been like the calm point in the center of a roiling whirlpool, allowing his poker face to show emotion only when making one of his famous quips, several of which have brought the trial to a halt while Judge Kathelly recovered his composure and laughter from others in the courtroom -- including from the plaintiffs' table -- died down.
At first David Boise, attorney for Microsoft's former employees and shareholders, seemed to enjoy his turn in the limelight after his years in seclusion following his unsuccessful attempt to stop Linux development on behalf of a small, long-forgotten Utah company called "SCOrn" (or perhaps SCOre; no one seems to recall the company's exact name now, and its former CEO, Daryl McBrood, has not been heard from since he started serving his 20 year federal prison term for securities fraud back in 2006) and the disbarment that followed this ill-fated legal battle.
But after it became apparent that neither the judge nor the jury were sympathetic toward Boise or his clients, he seemed to slump deeper into his seat every day, and toward the end of the trial his suit looked like it hadn't been cleaned in weeks, and his face twisted downward in an expression some interpreted as hate, and others interpreted as calm acceptance of probable defeat.
Once proud, now downtrodden Microsoft executives and friends
They had been the world's richest men at the beginning of the 21st century, but during the trial, as one courtroom observer put it, "When I say there was a stench surrounding them, I'm being literal, not figurative."
Apparently the homeless shelter where Bill Gates and his cohorts were staying had its water cut off after City officials learned the ex-Microsoft people were staying there, and they had not taken showers or washed their clothes in many weeks.
Gates, especially, has had a rough life the past few years. After his wife, Melissa, got the remnants of his fortune in their divorce settlement, he became a progressively grungier fixture of the Seattle "grunge" scene. At one point in 2010, according to local news reports, he worked as a temp in Amazon.com's distribution warehouse but was fired for coming to work drunk. (Amazon.com refused to confirm or deny this allegation.)
Other former Microsoft executives seem to have weathered the company's fall better than Gates. Former "anti-Linux" marketer Martin Taylor, for example, showed up at the trial with several coworkers from SUSE, where he is now vice president of enterprise integration strategy. While he was listed as one of the plaintiffs, he seemed ambivalent on the witness stand. "I was just doing my job," he said over and over when asked about his role in Microsoft's attempts to discredit Linux, and often added, "I always was a Linux sympathizer at heart."
Other Microsoft people ranged in appearance and attitude between the downtrodden Mr. Gates and the dapper Mr. Taylor, but some of the more interesting figures were those who were not directly involved with Microsoft but were dragged down by the company's demise.
Perhaps the saddest of these was Michael Dell, who was ousted from his chairmanship at Dell Computer, which he had founded, when it became apparent that his resistance to selling desktop and laptop computers with Linux instead of Windows was going to eventually run the company into the ground.
While Dell found a new career as a televangelist after declaring personal bankruptcy in 2009 in the face of mounting debts as he gave his entire fortune -- and then some -- to politicians who wanted to outlaw Linux and other free software, it is obvious that he misses his former role as head of the world's largest PC vendor. Even worse, the politicians he so generously endorsed can't help him now; all of them have been thrown out of office.
We tried to interview some of the other interested parties attending the trial, both in and out of the courthouse, but most of them were weeping so hard that it was impossible to understand their words. One former Microsoft developer said (in between tears), "We thought proprietary software would go on forever. We believed all those studies that showed Windows was better and more secure than Linux. Now that we know Microsoft paid for all of them, we feel betrayed. I lost my house, my wife and kids, my Maserati, even my 80' yacht. I worked for stock options alone after the company ran out of money to pay employees. Now I don't know what I'm going to do. I only know how to program with .Net, and .Net is dead. Maybe I can get a job at Burger King -- probably in Bangalore, now that India's population is so rich from writing Linux software that none of them will do grunt work and they're recruiting labor here in America."
A vedict that was never in doubt
Washington tech journalist Clunch Gallamed said, "The second you saw that the judge and most of the jurors were running Linux on their laptops, it was obvious what was going to happen."
There was a huge IBM "LINUX IS EVERYWHERE" billboard across the street from the court building.
Legal analysts on all major TV and cable networks, including LXNBC (formerly MSNBC), agreed that the attempt to characterize (free) Linux as unfair competition for (expensive) Windows was doomed from the start. Attorneys from 208 major law firms filed amicus briefs stating that Windows, not Linux, had obtained and exploited an illegal monopoly on desktop operating systems, and that Linux was simply a natural reaction to Microsoft's unlawful behavior.
In any case, 11 months of legal wrangling, motions and counter-motions, and attempts by a few leftover Republicans in Congress to influence the course of the trial, are finished. The verdict is in. Linux has had the last legal threat to its growth removed, and will be allowed to continue its "world domination" of the personal computer desktop, holding an estimated 91% market share, compared to second-ranked Apple's 4%, with the remainder split between Windows holdouts, OS/2 diehards, "never got over Amiga" zealots, and (by best estimates) 2,112 BSD users who, one said, "don't really care which operating system is most popular, because ours is the best."