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Gates To Congress: Hands Off

In his first appearance before Congress, Microsoft President Bill Gates today insisted in the face of stern warnings from lawmakers that his company does not have a monopoly in the software business and urged the government to keep hands off the industry.

"In the end, the software industry, which contributed over $100 billion to the national economy last year is an open economic opportunity for any entrepreneur in America," Gates told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Government control would only restrict innovation, he said.

With the appearance of Gates packing the hearing room, Senate Judicary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Microsoft's "breathtaking growth ... has for many raised serious questions about the future of competition and innovation in the software industry."

For more on Gates' testimony, see a CBS MarketWatch transcript.

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., was more pointed. "Mr. Gates, no one no matter how powerful is above the law," he said. He and the other senators said they had not prejudged Microsoft's business practices.

One of Gates' main rivals, Netscape Communications Corp. chief executive James Barksdale, enlisted the audience's help to challenge the Microsoft founder's version of the industry.

He asked auidience members to raise their hands if they had a personal computer at home or work and several dozen did. He then asked them to keep their arms up if they were among those without a Microsoft Windows operating system. Only a handful did.

"Gentlemen, that's a monopoly," Barkdale said.

Gates said the computer software industry "is working well on its own," without government interference. But he conceded that the government must police the market against "collusion or other plainly illegal activities."

"I think the government should be extremely wary of interceding in an industry like computer software that is working well on its own," he said.

Hatch opened the hearing by saying, "I want to make clear at the outset that neither this hearing, nor any aspect of this committee's inquiry into these matters, are intended to serve as an arena for criticizing or attacking any single company."

Gates was joined at the witness table by two of his company's chief critics: Barksdale and Scott McNealy, chief executive of Sun Microsystems Inc.

By ROB WELLS, Associated Press Writer. ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed