Next to the current Washington follies, the best entertainment in town is watching Microsoft throw a hissy fit.
On Wednesday morning, the giant software maker served a subpoena on Dan Goodin, a reporter for News.com, who obtained secret materials related to the company's lawsuit against Sun Microsystems.
Microsoft has understandable reason for agitation. In testimony presented in the Java trial, the company came off looking less like the injured innocent and more like a master manipulator.
Goodin's story, published in September, contained embarrassing evidence -- including company e-mail -- implicating Microsoft in a concerted effort to block the market progress of Java. This is a charge roundly denied by Microsoft -- though by now, there's a hollow ring to its protests of being pure as driven snow.
When the Justice Department filed its antitrust lawsuit against the company last May, the software maker's Spin Machine similarly rejected evidence gathered by investigators who were quoting Microsoft's own executives!
And now, chief lawyer Bill Neukom has ordered his department to use muscle in a barely disguised effort to muzzle aggressive investigation into the company's business practices.
In public, Microsoft portrays this ham-handed stunt as being in the public interest (The leak violated the protective order governing the trial, and Microsoft is only taking steps to ensure fairness. Get it?)
"We understand every journalist's desire to protect their sources, and we have tried to resolve this situation in way that addresses the interests on all sides," a company flak told me. "I want to stress that we haven't asked any reporter to disclose any confidential sources. We've simply asked for confidential Microsoft information that was inappropriately given to a reporter in violation of the court's protective order in the Sun case."
But even taking Microsoft at face value, there's an Alice in Wonderland aspect to its decision to issue a subpoena just to retrieve "lost" documents. The story is a month old. Goodin might just as easily have sent around 50 copies to all his high school chums or better yet, committed the darn thing to memory just for kicks. (In that instance, what would Microsoft then do -- deploy the Vulcan mind probe?)
Increasingly, Microsoft is wielding its legal muscle to get its way. The company recently went to court to get its hands on confidential tapes of interviews that Netscape execs gave to a couple of professors for a soon-to-be published book.
Happily, a Boston U.S. judge put an end to that by ruling on Thursday that Microsoft had ample resources to question the witnesses who are involved in its upcoming antitrust trial without requiring the release of the taped interviews.
Strip away all the palaver and the issue is crystal clear: First Microsoft tried to intimidate software vendors. Then it tried to intimidate OEMs. Now it's trying to intimidate the 4th Estate.
Arrogance compounded by stupidity is a potent mix -- and Microsoft has revealed itself to be guilty on both counts.