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Nader Letter to Bill Gates

  The following in Ralph Nader's letter to Bill Gates, inviting him to
  Ralph's November 13, 14 conference on Apprasising Microsoft's Global
                         Ralph Nader 
                      P.O. Box 19312 
                   Washington, D.C. 20036 
  October 2, 1997 
  Mr. William H. Gates 
  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer 
  Microsoft Corporation 
  1 Microsoft Way 
  Redmond, WA 98052 
  Dear Mr. Gates: 
  The customary executive mind receiving a letter such as this would be
  inclined toward prejudgment and denial, instead of anticipation and
  affirmation. But as a dominant corporate architect and philosopher of
  the information highway--note your expressed desire in your book, The
  Road Ahead, to open the dialogue about how society should shape its
  future in an age of tremendous technological change--you should be
  willing to include in that dialogue--Appraising Microsoft and Its Global
  That, as it happens, is the title of a conference in Washington, D.C. on
  November 13 and 14, which Essential Information and I are sponsoring and
  to which you are invited to make a presentation. Let me describe briefly
  what has led to this unique event. 
  As you may know, our various groups work in the consumer safety and
  environmental protection areas with a dual focus on both corporate and
  government accountability. We also have been pioneers in advancing
  freedom of information standards in government and widening the access
  to justice by all citizens. Concentration of economic power, along with
  its abuses, has long been a concern of ours and we have worked with many
  people of conscience inside companies, some of whom became effective
  whistle-blowers. Recently, people in many different kinds of businesses
  have been expressing fear and criticism about your company's business
  practices and strategies. At first, we were prone to dismissing such
  complaints as reflecting envy toward the dominant company. But as the
  private criticism became more diverse--flowing from downstream commerce
  well beyond software and hardware companies and from more disinterested
  scholars, commentators, writers, public officials and customers, it
  became an incentive toward further public exploration. 
  Even this accumulated criticism did not suffice to warrant a gathering
  to explicitly explore the many forays and practices of your company's
  business strategies, which you must agree, have a range of ambitions and
  ongoing initiatives in more industrial and commercial directions locally
  to globally than possibly any business entity in modern history. What
  tipped the scale was the fear of speaking out by thoughtful people in
  the business world who otherwise have the position, energy and the
  resources to do so. Self-censorship brought on by the detailed fear of
  Microsoft retaliation--itself seen as a many pronged cluster--is not
  healthy in any economy. Especially when this fear is not imagined but
  rooted in past and current actions which are described and attributed to
  your company's high velocity momentum. 
  On the other hand, you and your associates are described as so fearful
  of becoming another Digital Equipment or IBM missing a "big bend in the
  road", as you put it, that you are moving to position yourself as the
  "new middleman" on every lane of the information highway possible. To
  some observers, Microsoft playing the insecure and challenged role, as
  depicted in an article you may have relished on the cover of Barron's
  (September 15, 1997), assumes an irony of King Kong proportions.
  Seasoned executives are quaking before the relentless Microsoft wave in
  such lines of commerce as banking, real estate, insurance, car dealers,
  travel services, cable television, newspaper media and entertainment.
  The June 5, 1997 issue of the Wall Street Journal reported a detailed
  Microsoft strategy memorandum, deepened by interviews with your
  executives, that foreshadowed the "first a partner then a competitor"
  approach. Your critics assert that using a bundling strategy, together
  with tactical free offerings, made possible by monopolistically garnered
  profits, and a punitive "stick" response to your challengers makes
  Microsoft a leading candidate for antitrust action if only the
  enforcement agencies had the up-to-date knowledge, willpower and
  resources to apply these necessary laws for a free, fair and competitive
  The conference participants are among the few who are still willing to
  speak openly of their concerns, findings and recommendations. Many plead
  for an open, not closed, architecture, for a digital future that is a
  patrimony, a commonwealth within which the best and the most
  consumer-sensitive will have an opportunity to prevail. They seek an
  information highway that is ungated where they see such a highway
  increasingly become gated. 
  You, Steve Ballmer and Nathan Myhrvold have what you believe to be
  formidable responses to these declarations. Responses that are both
  specific and that rise to the level of national public policy regarding
  the information infrastructure in the economy. Focusing on the "Big Kid
  on the Block"--Microsoft--addresses the core concern directly and avoids
  the nuanced generalities and abstractions that have no operational
  realities attached to them. 
  The agenda for the conference is being completed and includes the
  enclosed topics with the speakers who have confirmed their presence.
  Other presenters will be added in the coming days. In the interest of
  joining the issues, your presentation should come near the completion of
  the conference on November 14. We intend to have a serious, coherent and
  consequential conference that will lead to greater public understanding
  of the trends and the issues that will affect business and the general
  public as you wrote about in The Road Ahead. Your industry is thrusting
  toward increasing arcane language, acronyms and specializations that are
  narrowing the public or lay audience which, ever enlarging, is critical
  in making this technology serve the broadest of human interest and
  We are inviting Vice President Albert Gore, your friend and information
  highway colleague, to participate in the conference. Being an open
  gathering and near his office, his presence would neither entail the
  cost, time and closed-door nature of his earlier visit to your 100
  executives meeting near Seattle. This should increase the likelihood of
  his acceptance, one might hope. 
  Should you wish to discuss this invitation further, please call me or
  John Richard of Essential Information at (202)387-8034. Of course, you
  may wish to have other Microsoft executives attend the conference and
  they are welcome to come and absorb the many currents of information and
  activity, both in the formal sessions and in the informal corridor and
  coffee break discussions that are often so valuable. While there is a
  conference fee, there is no outside funding or sponsorship to inhibit or
  compromise the integrity of the proceedings. 
  Ralph Nader 
  This some other documents about the conference are on the Web at:
  James Love | Center for Study of Responsive Law
  P.O. Box 19367 | Washington, DC 20036 | http://www.cptech.org
  voice 202.387.8030 | fax 202.234.5176 | love@cptech.org