Microsoft Trial -- Low-Profile Exec In Hot Seat

Among the hundreds of quotes the federal government has used to paint Microsoft as anti-competitive, none sums up the government's case as well as two sentences attributed to the chief of the company's operating-systems business, Paul Maritz.

"We are going to cut off their air supply," Maritz said in 1995 about Microsoft's plans to drive Internet browser rival Netscape Communications from business. "Everything they're selling, we're going to give away for free."

Microsoft's lawyers have suggested that the Intel vice president who claims to have heard Maritz make the comment fabricated the story. But the government has portrayed the alleged quote - by the executive responsible for the software that runs 90 percent of the country's personal computers - as a chilling example of Microsoft's intent to suffocate a competitor.

Maritz, a low-key executive who runs Microsoft's most important businesses, will take the witness stand in Washington, D.C., this week to explain the quote and the aggressive corporate strategy he guided.

The appearance will elevate his profile, something he has avoided during his 13-year tenure at Microsoft. And while he launched the software that has defined Microsoft for the last decade - its entire Windows family of operating systems - his task in court may prove even more important for Microsoft.

Maritz needs to convince U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that previous witnesses from chip-maker Intel, Apple Computer and browser-maker Netscape were either exaggerating, in error or simply lying. And he must do that credibly in the face of e-mail he wrote that has been used to substantiate allegations of anti-competitive and illegal conduct.

While there is no clear third-in-charge at Microsoft - behind Chairman Bill Gates and President Steve Ballmer - Maritz could stake a claim to it.

Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold provides managerial guidance that keeps the business running smoothly. Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold is the technological visionary who sets a course for future Microsoft strategy. Group Vice President Jeff Raikes runs the company's global sales operation that produces double-digit annual growth.

But Maritz runs the division that produces Microsoft's core products. Platforms and Applications is responsible for making the Windows operating system and the Office suite of word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications. Of all the senior Microsoft executives who might be considered No. 3, Maritz is the only one who is responsible for shipping products, the thing that really matters at the end of the day.

"He's the bedrock of the senior management team there," said David Weld, a former Microsoft executive who worked on the company's industrial-strength Windows NT operating system under Maritz.

"He is very bright and very decent, but he is also very focused on getting products out the door," said Weld, who now runs Yesler Software in Seattle. "That's a great mix."

Maritz is also intensely private. Unlike some of Microsoft's senior executives, Maritz avoids the limelight. He declined an interview request for this article. His brother, David, an artist on Camano Island, also declined to talk about his younger brother, saying he is a "very private person."

Like many of the company's executives, Maritz's Microsoft stock holdings have pushed him into the stratosphere of wealth. In November, Maritz sold 657,000 Microsoft shares for $70 million. He still holds about 1.7 million stock options, worth roughly $250 million.

Two years ago, Maritz and his wife, Yaffa, bought a $2.85 million home in Bellevue. The couple have three children, the oldest in college.

Attacking Intel

As the first Microsoft witness on the stand, Maritz carries an enormous burden. Following the government's case, he must turn around any belief that Judge Jackson, who will decide the non-jury case, might have regarding the company's business practices as described in the most malevolent detail by the government.

Maritz's written testimony, more than 150 pages long, lays out Microsoft's core arguments: that it has engaged in vigorous but legal competition in an aggressive, volatile and unpredictable software industry. Because a competitor could pop up at any time, Microsoft needs to innovate constantly and keep prices down, Maritz will explain.

On the stand, though, he will face allegations that Microsoft threatened to drop support for a new multimedia chip if Intel didn't shutter a project with Microsoft competitors. And he'll have to explain an e-mail he sent to Microsoft executives after the deal was ended, saying, "We will watch Intel's feet and mouths and if the walk/talk is different, we will go on the attack again."

It's likely Maritz will face questions about one of the most explosive allegations in the case: that Microsoft attempted to divide the market for Internet browsers with Netscape in mid-1995. Maritz wrote several e-mails leading up to the meetings between the two companies, including one in late May 1995 in which he suggested that Microsoft's "first and foremost" imperative was to control the development of the browser so that it "exploits" the Windows franchise.

He added, in the email, "I think we should try to co-opt Netscape to help us with this and I am open to all sorts of options."

Netscape rebuffed Microsoft's advances, leading Microsoft to declare war on the browser market. It was Maritz's decision to integrate the Web browser into Windows, even though that decision two years ago meant Microsoft would have to delay shipping Windows98.

In an e-mail dated Jan. 7, 1997, Maritz wrote: "To combat (Netscape), we have to . . . position the browser as `going away' and do deeper integration on Windows."

Out of Africa

Paul Alistair Maritz was born March 16, 1955, in Rhodesia, the white-settler nation that changed its name in 1980 to Zimbabwe. Maritz is the third of four children of an Afrikaner father and a Kenyan-born mother with British parents. He was raised on a farm, but never encouraged to stay.

"My father brought me up to believe that the days of the white man in Africa were over," Maritz told author G. Pascal Zachary for his 1994 book, "Showstopper!", which documents the launch of Microsoft's NT operating system. "So from an early age, there was no expectation that we'd stay there. We were taught to get an education that would stand us in good stead wherever we went."

His family moved to South Africa in 1967 to escape political turmoil in Rhodesia. Maritz remained in South Africa to study computer science and math, graduating from the University of Cape Town and the University of Natal.

At Cape Town, Maritz wrote a program in the computer language Basic for a statistics class. He enjoyed the challenge and later submitted a computer version of the board game Life to a programming competition sponsored by the local IBM sales office. He won.

"I found my destiny," Maritz told Zachary.

Taking his father's advice, Maritz left Africa after college. In 1977, he landed a job with mainframe computer maker Burroughs, now called Unisys, and moved to London. He left Burroughs after two years to teach at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In 1981, Maritz moved to the United States to work for Intel. He held a number of management positions in the Intel division that makes development tools for the company's microprocessors.

After five years at Intel, Maritz joined Microsoft. He started in the operating-systems business and never left, unlike his peers in senior management who have bounced from one division to another.

His first job was developing strategy for Xenix, Microsoft's popular version of Unix, the mainframe operating system. Early in his Microsoft tenure, he managed the development of OS/2, the operating system Microsoft built for IBM, laying the foundation for much of Microsoft's success.

It was Maritz who suggested to Gates and Ballmer that the company drop OS/2 in favor of Windows. While that decision launched Microsoft toward computer-industry dominance, it also created the vast rift between IBM and Microsoft.

Maritz oversaw the team that developed Windows NT and he took responsibility for all of Microsoft's Windows efforts in 1992. Three years later, Windows CE, Microsoft's scaled-down operating system for consumer appliances, fell under his umbrella. And, in 1996, he took over Microsoft's desktop applications, including the company's cash cow, the Office software suite.

`Let's move on'

Some at Microsoft consider Maritz among the company's elite technologists in the executive ranks - along with Gates, Myhrvold and Senior Vice President Jim Allchin. And while he doesn't have a forceful personality, he is intense.

"He doesn't stand up and rant and rave and bang the table," said Tod Nielsen, general manager of Microsoft's developer relations group. "He's a different personality than a lot of people at Microsoft."

But that doesn't mean he can't advance his agenda or that his options never get heard. While Steve Ballmer, for example, is known to dominate conversations with emotion and passion, Maritz succeeds with a calm intellectualism.

"Instead of trying to out-scream Steve, he has been thoughtful and quiet," Nielsen said. "He does a good job of controlling the pace of the game."

Weld recalls Maritz's efficiency at meetings. Talk of strategy might devolve into idle banter and joking. Maritz didn't stand for it.

"You can't get very far off on a tangent before he says, `Let's move on'," Weld said, lowering his voice to imitate Maritz's baritone, which still carries a hint of an Afrikaner accent.

Or, as Microsoft's vice president of desktop appications, Jon DeVaan, said: "He's a no-BS kind of guy. There is just not a lot of ego in his management style."

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