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European Commission’s Star Expert Is Ex-Hacker

Today’s free Wall Street Journal feature is about Neil Barrett, a star hacker-turned-computer consultant, who is also to main expert witness in the European Commission’s antitrust trial.

Now, forget the fact that this man was once a criminal. Forget the fact that the average uber-geek hates Microsoft. Okay, actually, keep all that in mind when you note this: Microsoft recommended the guy! Jeez.

The EC asked for a list of people Microsoft would consider reasonable, unbiased experts who could decipher their Windows source code. MS handed over some names they considered acceptable, and the judges picked the hacker. Now they wind up with this:

Last year, Mr. Barrett studied the manual Microsoft produced for four days, tried to use it to write programs and, in December, pronounced it “totally unusable.” “There is apparently no structure and no logic in the whole documentation,” he wrote in his report. Four U.S. competitors who examined the Microsoft manual — Oracle Corp., International Business Machines Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Novell Inc. — reached similar conclusions.

In February, Microsoft responded that Mr. Barrett was operating with a “set of basic misunderstandings” about Microsoft programming terms. In another filing to the EU this month, Microsoft accused Mr. Barrett and the regulators of “actively and secretly working with Microsoft’s adversaries.”

Emails the commission gave Microsoft show Mr. Barrett in frequent contact with regulators and Microsoft competitors, which led the company to call Mr. Barrett the “commission’s co-prosecutor.” The growing brouhaha led the normally secretive commission to release the terms of Mr. Barrett’s mandate, which says he should “play a proactive role” in monitoring Microsoft — a clause the commission says gives him freedom to confer with Microsoft rivals. Even Sun Microsystems, which usually declines to comment on the case, made an exception, calling Microsoft’s criticism of him “misplaced.”

Mr. Barrett, 44 years old, is forbidden to speak to the news media by the commission, which has signed him to a five-year contract at an undisclosed salary that it requires Microsoft to pay. A close friend described the computer expert as angry and hurt by Microsoft’s allegations.

This guy is getting paid by Microsoft, on orders of the court, and gets to crap all over them and screw them over at trial. All he has to do is read a manual and call it nonsensical, and the EC rejects Microsoft’s attempts at compliance. Maybe Microsoft shouldn’t have put him on the list.

God, can anything go right for MS in this trial?
(via Slashdot)

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March 21st, 2006 Posted by | General, Law | no comments



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