Microsoft is the five-hundred-pound gorilla of the PC world that sits where it wants, goes where it wants, and does what it wants. Bill Gates is its keeper, and he is a mix of genius and proletarian everyman. He has the instincts of a banker and the soul of a buccaneer. The Microsoft File is mostly about Gates, who can be charming one moment and an eruptive volcano the next. He is short-fused at the most inappropriate times, but, as long as things go his way, he is a complete charmer.

Things have generally gone his way, thanks early on to an administration in Washington that was pro-big business and had a laissez faire attitude about such things as fair trade or the whiff of monopoly. It wasn't that everybody at the Federal Trade Commission was asleep at the wheel, but when the people at the top are less than interested in horrors anti-trust matters, not a great deal gets accomplished on those fronts. So it was in such an atmosphere that Bill Gates thrived and watched Microsoft do the same. It made billions and so did he.

According to Wendy Goldman Rohm, as Microsoft grew in size and power it was able to practice some extraordinary things, such as demanding linkage in its operating systems; putting the squeeze on some competitors, buying out others, and, where that failed, simply lifting other programs and converting them to its own uses.

Rohm tells how Microsoft inserted a hidden code in the beta version of Windows 3.1 and created the fear in the marketplace unfounded or not that competing products would likely crash. At one point, Apple, which had an operating system of its own, considered discarding its system for Windows although the Apple system has always been known for its simplicity and ease of use. Still, Gates decided to invest in Apple. Rohm explains why.

The author has used informants, internal company documents, external e-mail messages, and other sources to paint a picture of the goings on in the computer industry. The book includes the sometimes desperate attempts by competitors to evade and survive the colossus known as Microsoft. Gates may try to retaliate against everyone involved in this book's publication. But who knows? He is unpredictable. He may shrug it off as inconsequential. One thing is crystal clear: Bill Gates will not like this book.

Lloyd Armour is a retired newspaper editor.

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