Microsoft's Gay Rights Woes Catch Company 'Off Message'


If news accounts in The Seattle Times picked up by The New York Times and elsewhere are to be believed, Bill Gates may reverse Microsoft's previous reversal on Washington's gay rights bill.

Because of its decision to de-support the bill, which subsequently failed, Microsoft sparked a firestorm among gay- and civil-rights activists. They blasted the company for pandering to right wing Christian conservatives. A lefty blogger, Americablogs, broke the story that Microsoft has had Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, on its payroll to the tune of $20,000 per month for several months. Many think that Reed's paid presence, and Microsoft's withdrawal of support for the bill are not a coincidence.

Microsoft is now caught between the evangelical right and liberal lefties, not a pretty spot. You gotta think that the company had hoped to be garnering gushing headlines this week over 64-bit Windows and Longhorn rather than this brouhaha. To parrot the company's own flackies, the hubbub has caused a lot of "off message" chatter.

But isn't it kind of refreshing that not even Microsoft can control the buzz even at WinHEC, its annual love fest/strategy session with hardware partners? You get the feeling that Gates, Ballmer, Allchin et al. have watched too many reruns of "The Ten Commandments" and absorbed a Pharaoh-like mindset when it comes to press, partners and users. They seem to think the Pharaoh's "so it is written, so it shall be done" mantra applies to them and their pronouncements. After all the false starts around Longhorn and its much-celebrated, now modularized, pillars, they still think we should be agog about that operating system. Sorry fellahs, you're gonna have to prove it.

Actually, the analogy to Cecil B. DeMille's "Commandments" —a cult fave--continues. Even though the Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish first-born sons be dispatched to prevent the emergence of a threat, the notable exception was Charlton Heston, er Moses. As Ralph Reed could probably tell you, Moses lived on, much to the Pharaoh's detriment.