Besides that surprising confession, a relaxed Ellison -- appearing at the University of California at Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium for a public "conversation" with U.C. Graduate School of Journalism Dean Orville Schell -- also talked up a storm about arch enemy Microsoft Corp., accusing the software maker of everything from knowingly breaking antitrust laws to destroying Netscape Communications Corp.
On the political front, Ellison, who made financial contributions to President Clinton's 1992 campaign, said he had been asked to run for political office, and discussed the matter with friends. "I would be interested in running for the governor of California," he said.
Ellison said he felt "passionate" about the "crisis in education" in the United States, and felt working in state government would be the best way to improve educational standards. "If I felt I could change and improve the quality of education in California I would," he said.
Ellison didn't go into detail about when -- or by whom -- he was asked to run for office, but it seemed that he had shied away from notions of leading a political life. "The entire process is discouraging a lot of people from running for political office. That's not a good thing," he said. "I am not sure I would like the electoral process."
Ellison was at his most outspoken, though, when discussing Microsoft's ongoing antitrust trial. The ardent Microsoft critic said he found the antitrust trial "fascinating" because it wasn't just a question of whether or not Microsoft broke the Sherman Antitrust Act. "What's breathtaking is that that they knew they were breaking the law," he said.
Ellison accused Microsoft of using its monopoly of the PC operating system market to "control" competitors, "destroy" innovation and run Netscape -- "one of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley" -- out of business. "They calculated that, whatever punishment the government meted out, it will not offset the billions of dollars that they have accumulated," he said. Ellison dismissed Microsoft's pleas to be left alone to innovate better software products as "an astonishing lie. Microsoft is trying to destroy innovation. It's in their interest to destroy innovation," he said.
"Innovation is taking us away from the personal computer ... It's in Microsoft's interests to slow the innovation for as long as possible."
Schell, alluding to President Ronald Reagan's Cold War rhetoric, asked Ellison whether Microsoft "really is a surrogate 'evil empire' then?"
"Yeah," Ellison replied.