DOJ suit bewilders Microsoft's ‘always paranoid' Herbold

Though more subdued than the often-defensive Bill Gates or the feisty Steve Ballmer, Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold takes the same tough stance.

In an interview with PC Week, Herbold - the personification of Microsoft's kinder, gentler publicity push - said his company wants to resolve the Department of Justice suit quickly, but has no plans to free up its technology like Netscape, or to let its guard down.

"We're always paranoid," Herbold said, striking a familiar theme among Microsoft's leaders. He also repeated the company line that businesses are lining up to try to topple the dominant position of Microsoft, which currently provides operating systems to more than 90 percent of the world's computers.

Issue such as free source code and the Year 2000 bug were pushed to one side. Herbold said Microsoft has no plans to follow Netscape's lead and free any of its source code. And as for NT, which vendors hope will be out in time to beat the Year 2000 crunch, Herbold said: "The last thing we want to do is rush that product, so we want to keep those two issues separate."

He wouldn't discuss the details of any settlement talks with the DOJ or state attorneys general, which have filed suit against the company charging it with anti-competitive practices. Last-minute negotiations with government trustbusters broke down last month, prompting prosecutors to file their long-threatened suits.

However, he did go on to suggest that the U.S. government is overstepping its boundaries. "It's curious now that the government is engaged with Microsoft," Herbold said, "it's engaged with Intel, it's engaged with 3M," and listed several other companies under antitrust scrutiny. But instead of accusing the government directly of meddling in technology - as some of his colleagues have done - Herbold remarked philosophically: "These are curious times... We're doing the preparation we need to do. From the standpoint of getting this behind us, there's nothing we'd like to do more."

In the meantime, the company is holding briefing sessions to keep employees updated on the legal tangle while the company tries to remain focused on products such as the much-anticipated Windows NT 5.0, planned for release early next year.