The New York Times
January 25, 1999
MAN IN THE NEWS
Microsoft's Star Witness: Paul Maritz
By STEVE LOHR
t is certain to be the hot seat. But Paul Maritz, who takes the witness stand this week as the highest-ranking Microsoft official scheduled to testify in the company's antitrust trial, is an executive known for a cool, sometimes prescient, analytic style.
In 1988, for example, he was placed in charge of the Microsoft Corporation's prickly partnership with I.B.M. in developing a new personal computer operating system, OS/2.
Soon after, Maritz had made up his mind about where things were headed. "My judgment," he recalled, "was that the sooner we blew it up, the better." Indeed, the companies did part ways in 1990.
Then there was the time in 1997, when two business school professors approached Microsoft about cooperating on a book about competition on the frontier of the information economy -- the Internet software business. The initial response was favorable, but Maritz, the senior executive in charge of most software development and marketing at Microsoft, was adamantly opposed.
Microsoft was engaged in a fierce competitive fight with the Netscape Communications Corporation, the early leader in the Internet browser market. And according to one e-mail message from Microsoft, Maritz was concerned about the "public relations implications" of a book that focused closely on the browser battle.
"Maritz foresaw the blowup over Netscape," said Michael Cusumano, a professor the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management and co-author of "Competing on Internet Time: Lessons from Netscape and Its Battle with Microsoft."
Maritz may have foreseen trouble, but certainly not of the magnitude that Microsoft is now facing as the defendant in a sweeping Federal antitrust case. And when he takes the stand early this week, probably today, the stakes will be high -- particularly since Maritz was the executive who oversaw development of some of the main Microsoft products at issue in the trial.
"The key products in this case were directly under his control, and Paul Maritz knew exactly what was happening," said David Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School and the other author of "Competing on Internet Time," which has been cited in evidence by both the defense and the prosecution in the trial.
"Maritz is the person who executed the Internet strategy," Yoffie added. "He is the man."
Since the trial began in October, the Justice Department and 19 states suing the company have portrayed Microsoft as a bullying monopolist. Industry witnesses from Netscape, Intel, I.B.M., Intuit, Apple Computer and America Online have taken the stand to echo the Government's theme that Microsoft illegally used its market muscle to thwart the challenge posed by the Internet.
An executive executes strategy and reflects the corporate culture.
Now, it is Microsoft's turn to present its side of a series of meetings and deals with corporate rivals and partners beginning in 1995.
The 43-year-old Maritz is the first and most senior of nine Microsoft executives scheduled to take the stand with a single corporate objective: shred the Government's case.
His adversary in United States District Court in Washington will be David Boies, lead lawyer for the Justice Department and one of the nation's leading trial litigators. "I expect the temperature in the courtroom to go up this week," a Government lawyer said.
Maritz is regarded as the No. 3 executive at Microsoft, the person with the most responsibility after William H. Gates, the chairman, and Steven Ballmer, the president. As group vice president for platforms and applications, Maritz manages the making and marketing of Microsoft's Windows operating systems, its Office productivity programs (Word, Excel and Powerpoint) and its browsing software -- the corporate crown jewels and the products at the center of the Government's suit.
His e-mail messages are already in evidence in the case on matters like tightly integrating Microsoft's browser with its operating system, blunting the Netscape challenge, and dealing with other companies.
How to interpret Microsoft's Internet strategy, of course, is at the heart of the matter in the antitrust case. To Microsoft and its admirers, the company's plans and actions show a big corporation responding swiftly and successfully as few do to the rise of a new technology, embracing it and bringing it to users. To the Government and Microsoft's opponents, they are the anatomy of a crime.
The case against Microsoft is also an indictment of its corporate character -- "a culture of predation," according to Thomas Miller, the Iowa state attorney general.
So Maritz, in a sense, is Microsoft's lead character witness. People who have worked with Maritz describe him as brilliant both technically and in his business instincts. Though an intellectual peer of Gates and Ballmer, Maritz, they say, has a very different temperament -- quiet, reserved and deliberate.
"With Bill or Steve, you'll get an opinion within 60 seconds," a former Microsoft executive remarked. "With Paul, it can take a week."
Companies in the industry generally welcome dealing with Maritz as Microsoft's representative. "Not full of bluff and bluster," was how one executive described him. Another noted that "Maritz is not on the hothead list, and that's not a short list at Microsoft."
"Paul Maritz has never begun a conversation, as some others at Microsoft do, by saying we're Microsoft and we're doing to do whatever we want, said Gordon E. Eubanks Jr., president of the Symantec Corporation, a software company. "He is pragmatic, someone with tremendous gray matter, and I've always found him to be a man of genuine integrity."
"He should be a great character witness for Microsoft," added Eubanks, who opposes the Government's suit.
Maritz has come quite a distance in his rise to become a senior executive at the world's largest software company, with a personal wealth of more than $300 million. Born in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), he spent his early years on the family cattle ranch, where, he recalled, they did not have electricity 24 hours a day.
His family moved to South Africa when he was a teen-ager, and his first exposure to computing was by happenstance -- an experimental course in computer science at the University of Natal.
"I got bitten by the bug," Maritz recalled last week in an interview, which he agreed to under the condition that he would not discuss the court case. "I found that programming was an activity that could occupy your whole mind for long periods of time, and give you great satisfaction at the end of it because you have produced something."
After finishing college, Maritz went to London to find a job in the computer industry -- knocking on doors, his possessions in a backpack and staying at a £5 pound-a-night bed-and-breakfast. He landed a programming job with Burroughs and later became a researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In 1981, he moved to Silicon Valley after being hired by Intel, where he worked for five years before joining Microsoft.
Microsoft has been called an "irony-free zone," but Maritz, given his British-influenced education, is known for a cutting, often self-deprecating sense of humor. Today, he says he admires the way I.B.M. has remade itself, after its travails of the early 1990's, but adding, "Of course, as Dr. Johnson said, there's nothing like the sight of the gallows to focus the mind."
His wife, Yaffa, a social services counselor, is not yet a conscript in the PC revolution. "It is a bit ironic to me that after all these years, and with six PC's in our house, she refuses to touch them," he remarked.
Maritz has cooperated on at least one book on Microsoft -- "Showstopper," a flattering 1994 chronicle of Microsoft's development of Windows NT, the company's operating system mainly for corporate users. In that book, by G. Pascal Zachary, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Maritz was depicted as "calm and sardonic," a "classic field general" who amazed people with his grasp of technical details.
But Maritz said in a recent e-mail exchange with a reporter that he had refused to cooperate with the book written by Cusumano and Yoffie because of the inevitable tendency of books to "sensationalize" events and that he thought it would prove to be "just another management headache, of which we have a sufficient supply."