December 26, 2000, 1:10 PM — REDMOND, WASH. -- Microsoft executives refused to comment Wednesday on a federal judge's interest in breaking the software giant into two or perhaps three separate companies as punishment for its antitrust crimes.
Three company bigwigs -- Chairman Bill Gates, President and CEO Steve Ballmer, and Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold refused to discuss the court hearing held Wednesday in the Washington, D.C., courtroom of U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. Microsoft officials may make a statement later Wednesday, however.
Microsoft officials also refused to allow executives from other companies attending the Microsoft CEO Summit Wednesday to discuss the matter, as well. Three CEOs participating in a brief question-and-answer session -- Compaq CEO Michael Capellas, Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson, and Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz -- sat silently as Herbold told reporters that the event was not an "appropriate" venue for discussion of the antitrust trial.
Capellas came closest to broaching the subject when he talked in general terms about government antitrust regulation of the high-tech industry. Capellas said it was hard enough for the industry to keep up with customers' demands without having to worry about excessive regulation.
"Anything that gets in the way of building complete solutions for our customers is a problem," Capellas said.
Jackson denied Microsoft's request for additional time to argue against a company breakup, and expressed interest in a proposal to create three separate entities out of the company. He also cleared the way for a final ruling as early as next week.
The CEOs spent the rest of the half-hour press event thanking Gates for hosting the event. Branson called himself a "technophobe" and acknowledged that he would call someone directly to conduct business rather than use the Internet. However, he said the Internet could "help consumers in thousands of ways."
Branson's lack of technical expertise was par for the course among the 142 CEOs at the summit, Ballmer said. Rather, Microsoft wants to discuss issues with the CEOs, and then figure out what technologies can meet their needs.
"It gets framed as 'These are the problems we want to solve, and that leads to some great thinking,' " said Ballmer.