The Barkto Letter

Members of the Board of Directors
Microsoft Corporation
Redmond, Washington

Sirs:

On January 25, 1994 someone using the name "Steve Barkto" used CompuServe account 73754,1122 to post a number of messages on the Canopus Research Forum, purporting to be an IBM customer ("we spent 7 figures last year with IBM, we can complain") and implying that he was from Oklahoma City (OKC). He made critical and derogatory statements about IBM and about specific individuals who are IBM employees. Copies of the messages posted by "Barkto" are attached.

I have subsequently learned, however, from what I believe to be extremely reliable sources, that the account used by "Barkto" is in fact a Microsoft account 'owned' individually by Rick Segal. Segal is an employee of Microsoft working in the Developer Relations Group (DRG) which group reports to Microsoft Vice President of Systems Strategy Jonathan Lazarus. Segal has also been an active participant on the Canopus Research Forum on CompuServe.

That the account used by "Barkto" was in fact a Microsoft account 'owned' personally by Rick Segal can readily be verified by simple reference to Microsoft's own records as well as by reference to the CompuServe member records concerning the 73754,1122 account. Both are readily available to the Microsoft Corporation and therefore to you as members of the Board of Directors of the Microsoft Corporation.

At best, whoever perpetrated the "Barkto" postings using that Microsoft account 'owned' by Microsoft employee Rick Segal has engaged in a stupid, immature, childish, irresponsible and inexcusable prank. On that account, alone, there is no question that it is your obligation to Microsoft, Microsoft shareholders, Microsoft employees, Microsoft customers, to the public, to CompuServe, to the participants of the Canopus Research Forum, to members of the on-line community generally and to me as the sponsor of the Canopus Research Forum as well, thoroughly and completely to investigate who has used a Microsoft account 'owned' by a Microsoft employee to do such a thing, to see to it that any and all Microsoft employees who may have been in any way involved in the perpetration of such an act are dismissed, whoever they may be and whatever their position is at the Microsoft Corporation, to issue a public apology to all concerned, and to see to it that policies are promptly put in place to ensure that no such thing ever happens again.

At worst, however, the "Barkto" affair may be merely the tip of a much larger and far more serious iceberg. There have been persistent rumors and claims throughout the industry of a deliberate and intentional "dirty tricks" campaign by Microsoft to spread disinformation about Microsoft competitors and to discredit critics of the Microsoft Corporation. The office of Microsoft Vice President of Systems Strategy, Jonathan Lazarus and the operations reporting to him have repeatedly been the focus of such rumors.

These rumors include claims that Microsoft has engaged in a systematic practice of having employees of Microsoft as well as independent agents of Microsoft log onto on-line services such as CompuServe, Prodigy, American On-line, the Internet and others, sometimes under assumed names, to spread disinformation about Microsoft's competitors and to discredit critics of the Microsoft Corporation. They have also included claims of deliberate efforts by Microsoft improperly to influence the editorial content of various publications and to silence critics of Microsoft in the press.

The "Barkto" incident, perpetrated by someone using a Microsoft account 'owned' by a Microsoft employee in a group reporting to Microsoft Vice President of Systems Strategy Jonathan Lazarus lends credibility to these rumors. While it certainly does not provide the basis for any reliable conclusion on the matter, it certainly does raise the possibility that "Barkto" was part of a much broader and, I should say, potentially much more sinister pattern of activity. Further grounds for concern on this point are to be found in admissions made publicly by Rick Segal.

An IBM employee, Dave Whittle, had been in private correspondence with Segal by electronic mail and private messages as well as through phone conversations. In a public message (#113984) posted on the Canopus Research Forum on CompuServe on February 11, 1994 at 6:15:14 EST Whittle, using his account 76711,1061 said (among other things): "Rick told me over a year ago when we were being open with each other that he had heard of instances where Steve Ballmer and other MS execs would use phony PPNs and names to have some fun on the forums."

Segal, using his regular account (76276,2706) at 8:09:40 P.M. EST (5:09:40 PST) did not deny that in a message (#114109) on the Canopus Research Forum and responded as follows: "Senior Execs have PPNs so they can go onto compuserve , go onto forums, enjoy a debate, have some fun, etc. They are smart enough not to use real names so they don't have to put up with crap like this. I told you this. If you have a problem with it, I don't care."

I therefore publicly call upon you, as members of the Board of Directors of the Microsoft Corporation, in exercise of your solemn fiduciary and other responsibilities, promptly to engage a reputable, independent, outside investigative agency; to give that agency full access to all relevant Microsoft records (including CompuServe records concerning accounts belonging to the Microsoft Corporation or to Microsoft employees); to require all Microsoft employees, regardless of position or status fully and truthfully to cooperate with that agency; and to charge that agency not only with the task of identifying the perpetrators of the "Barkto" affair, but also to investigate thoroughly the possibility that behind it there may have been a deliberate "dirty tricks" campaign waged by Microsoft under the direction of employees of the Microsoft Corporation.

I also call upon you to pledge to make known publicly the results of that investigation and further to pledge that any and all employees of the Microsoft Corporation who may have been involved in any way in the perpetration of or in covering up the "Barkto" incident and any possible, broader "dirty tricks" campaign will be required to resign and to proffer a public apology to all offended parties.

One very simple procedure that the investigative agency you hire can follow will be to compare the list of CompuServe and other on-line services' accounts paid for or sponsored by the Microsoft Corporation (which lists will be readily available both internally to Microsoft and through the various on-line services own records of Microsoft accounts which will surely be available to you) against the names and postings of individuals who, by their behavior, look like they might have been involved in a possible Microsoft "dirty tricks" disinformation campaign against competitors and critics.

I will be happy to provide you with a list of names of such individuals and the CompuServe account numbers ("PPNs") used by them based upon my own observations there. I am quite sure many others in the on-line community will be willing to do the same, not only for CompuServe, but for Prodigy, American On-line, the Internet and other on-line services and facilities as well.

A number of individuals have long been suspected of being deliberate agents of a possible Microsoft "dirty tricks" campaign. By a thorough and complete examination of Microsoft's own records and those of the various on-line services and networks involved, it will be readily determined whether any such individuals have used accounts belonging to or paid for or sponsored by the Microsoft Corporation.

Beyond that, the investigative agency you hire should also check Microsoft records and interview Microsoft employees to determine what, if any, business arrangements Microsoft may have had and what, if any, payments Microsoft has made to or for the benefit of any of the individuals who, by their behavior on one or another of the public on- line information services, appears to be a possible agent of a possible Microsoft "dirty tricks" campaign.

Of course, all this could also be done under subpoena by any government agency with an interest in possible illegal practices on the part of the Microsoft Corporation or by any third party that might undertake (or have ongoing) legal action against the Microsoft Corporation to which such a possible "dirty tricks" campaign might be relevant. I urge you, however, to consider seriously both your legal obligations and responsibilities as members of the Microsoft Board of Directors and also your ethical and moral responsibilities and to act promptly to launch an investigation on your own initiative on behalf of your shareholders and others potentially affected by these matters.

Yours truly,


William F. Zachmann
Canopus Research

(One wonders, back then, which gave Steve Ballmer the bigger laugh - this letter or Jim Lennane's decision to ship crippled product at full price.)

There's also Joe Barr's article from the Dweebspeak Primer