A senior Microsoft executive was so frustrated by his experience with digital music players made by global partners that he proposed turning to Apple's iPod for salvation, documents made public as part of an Iowa antitrust case reveal.
The outgoing head of the Microsoft division in charge of Windows, Jim Allchin, was so distraught by his user experience with partner digital music devices on the market in 2003 that he considered calling Steve Jobs, the documents show.
"I think I should talk with Jobs. Right now, I think I should open up a dialogue for support of the iPod. Unless something changes, the iPod will drive people away from [Windows Media Player]," he said in a November 13, 2003 internal e-mail that was marked 'highly confidential' and carried the subject line "sucking on media players."
The e-mail correspondence begin with a message from Allchin to Amir Majidimehr, currently head of Microsoft's consumer media technology group, documenting Allchin's thoughts and experiences using Creative Technology's Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra.
"I have to tell you my experience with our software and this device is really terrible," he wrote in the e-mail. "I expect you already knew this but I had not personally experienced it. Now I spent last night really playing with it. My goodness it is terrible. What I don't understand is that I was told that the new Creative Labs device would be comparable to Apple. That is so not the case."
Turning to Zune
The e-mail continued to list eight complaints and observations by Allchin.
The first was concerned with industrial design--"The physical device is not even in the same league as the iPod. I mean it is ugly."--while the rest regarded the software and usage. Among his complaints were that Creative shipped its own software and encouraged its use over Windows Media Player.
Wynne Leong, a Creative representative in Singapore, declined to immediately comment on the Microsoft e-mail.
In response to Allchin's e-mail Majidimehr wrote of Microsoft's lack of success in convincing its partners to use Windows Media Player over their own applications with their media players.
"Tomorrow we have an entire crew descending on Creative and after that Samsung and Rio to get them motivated to build the 'right' device," Majidimehr wrote. "We are putting incentives on the table in the form of cash, technical support, direct interface to developers, early access code for [Windows Media Player] 9.1 etc. In other words, we are going all out and hoping that at least a few of them will listen. If none do then it is time for us to roll-up our sleeves and do our own hardware."
Exactly three years after that e-mail was written, Microsoft was holding launch parties for its own hardware, the Zune player. It hopes to sell 1 million players by June this year.
Exhibits on Display
Allchin's e-mail is among more than 3000 pieces of evidence in the antitrust lawsuit between Iowa consumers and Microsoft posted last week. Thousands more could be posted, pending a ruling from the presiding judge on objections raised by Microsoft.
The exhibits include original letters, memos and e-mails, many of them going back 10 or 20 years and quoting then-Microsoft employees, using intimidating language in letters to PC vendors and talking frankly about announcing products far before they are ready--what the industry calls "vaporware"--as a tactic to hurt competitors.
Previous exhibits in the Comes v. Microsoft case have included a transcript of a 1996 speech in which a Microsoft employee calls independent software developers "pawns" and compares wooing them to a "one-night stand." In a 2004 e-mail to Gates and Steve Ballmer, Allchin complained that Microsoft had "lost sight" of customers' needs, and that he would buy a Mac if he wasn't working for Microsoft.
Few of the documents have yet to be presented to the jury in the Comes v. Microsoft case that began in December, according to Elizabeth Kniffen, a lawyer at Zelle Hofmann, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs allege Microsoft's anticompetitive practices resulted in the company overcharging Iowan consumers. They are seeking as much as $350 million in damages.
Microsoft has said that few of the documents--or the information contained within--are new. At the same time, it has so far been successful in temporarily blocking several thousand other exhibits from being posted publicly. And it was able to persuade the judge not to allow 55 exhibits from being posted on the Web for confidentiality reasons.
Kniffen said the posted documents are in no particular order nor grouped by topic. She said several thousand of them were originally intended for previous state antitrust cases against Microsoft in which Zelle Hofmann has been involved, but were never made public because the cases settled before the documents were admitted into evidence.
Not among those documents is evidence showing that Microsoft may have violated its 2002 antitrust settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The judge in the Iowa case ruled earlier this week that the plaintiffs' lawyers could send that information to the DOJ if requested, but cannot otherwise make that information public.
Eric Lai of Computerworld contributed to this report.