The inventor of one of the precursors to hand-held devices -- an operating system that enabled computer users to write with a pen instead of a keyboard -- long suspected Microsoft Corp. of crushing his business.
Now, Jerrold Kaplan says he has the evidence: documents that surfaced during a class-action suit filed in Minnesota indicating that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates set out in the early 1990s to discourage companies from doing business with Kaplan's start-up company, Go Computer Inc.
An antitrust suit Kaplan filed in federal court in San Francisco last week quotes from letters purportedly written by Gates, including one note allegedly sent to then-Intel Corp. Chief Executive Andy Grove, as evidence of Microsoft's "collusive and exclusionary" business practices.
Microsoft first tried to launch a competing operating system, and when that plan failed, it made threats or offered incentives to companies to prevent them from endorsing or investing in Go, the suit claims.
"I guess I've made it clear that we view an Intel investment in Go as an anti-Microsoft move," Gates wrote Grove, according to the lawsuit. "I am asking you not to make any investment in Go."
Intel, which had planned to endorse Go's technology, backed off after Microsoft's lobbying, according to Kaplan's lawsuit. Such "incentives and threats" also discouraged others from adopting Go's operating system, ultimately killing the technology, the lawsuit says.
"This was a corporate mugging," Kaplan said Tuesday.
Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake scoffed at the idea that Go was victimized by a Microsoft plot. "These claims date back nearly 20 years. They were baseless then and they are baseless now."
Formed in 1987, Go Computer became one of Silicon Valley's hottest start-ups with its tablet computer and software that enabled computers to understand handwriting. Decades later, the ability to write with a stylus is a key function of many personal digital assistants and tablet computers, for which Microsoft developed a variation of its Windows XP operating system.
Go was sold to AT&T Corp. in 1994, and the rights to its assets were transferred to Lucent Technologies Inc. two years later.