Longtime Windows development chief James Allchin wrote in a January 2004 e-mail to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and company co-founder Bill Gates that the software vendor had "lost sight" of customers' needs and said he would buy a Mac if he wasn't working for Microsoft.
"In my view, we lost our way," Allchin, the co-president of Microsoft's platform and services division, wrote in an e-mail dated Jan. 7, 2004. The e-mail was presented as evidence late last week in the Iowa antitrust trial, Comes v. Microsoft Corp.
"I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems our customers face are. I see lots of random features and some great vision, but that does not translate into great products."
Allchin, who has headed various aspects of Windows development since the mid-1990s but plans to retire at the end of this year with the shipping of Windows Vista, later wrote in the same e-mail that he would buy a Mac if he was not a Microsoft employee, according to transcripts from proceedings Thursday and Friday in the class-action case obtained and posted by Groklaw.net, an open-source legal Web site.
Jim Hibbs, a spokesman for Wixted Pope Nora Thompson & Associates, a Des Moines public relations firm employed by the law firm prosecuting the case, confirmed that Allchin's quotes were read directly from his e-mails by the plaintiffs' lawyers.
The case, filed in February 2000, charges that Microsoft used its monopoly position to overcharge Iowans for its software. Held in the Polk County District Court in Des Moines, it is one of two remaining antitrust cases -- the state of Mississippi's case is the other -- brought by the U.S. government and multiple states against Microsoft starting in the late 1990s.
In 2004, Microsoft settled a class-action lawsuit accusing it of overcharging customers in California for $1.1 billion. That same year, it was also hit by a $613 million fine by the European Commission for monopolistic behavior for its free bundling of Windows Media Player with Windows. Microsoft, which has appealed the ruling, was hit by a further $356 million fine in October for failing to comply with the ruling.
Microsoft, through its public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide Inc., was unable to comment on the Allchin e-mail immediately. Allchin has said in the past that Vista's delayed arrival -- it shipped five years after Windows XP was released -- was the result of a desire to improve its security and make it perform bug-free from the get-go. (He later responded to the controversy about the 2004 e-mail.)
As in past antitrust trials against Microsoft, much of the evidence came in the form of e-mails from Allchin and other Microsoft executives. Ironically, Allchin himself is quoted in two internal memos directing employees to get rid of all e-mails after 30 days.
"This is not something you get to decide," he wrote on Jan. 23, 2000. "This is company policy. Do not think this is something that only applies to a few people. Do not think it will be okay if I do this, it hasn't caused any problems so far. Do not archive your mail. Do not be foolish. 30 days."
Iowa's counsel also presented evidence designed to show that an ostensibly charitable program from Microsoft for developing countries and schools was actually designed to ensure that Windows remained preinstalled on PCs to discourage competition from the open-source Linux operating system.
The so-called Education Government Incentive (or Edgi) program, appears "to be based on Microsoft generosity, but in fact the program is intended only for use where Linux is a threat," according to Roxanne Conlin, co-counsel for Iowa.
Conlin also presented evidence of a job description for Bill Gates' technical assistant, whose primary duty was to make sure no permanent record of Gates' e-mail existed, Conlin said, according to transcripts.