E-mails From 2003 Reveal Microsoft Caught 'Flat Footed' by iTunes Music Store Launch

Over the weekend, Groklaw discovered a couple of interesting e-mails sent by Microsoft executives Bill Gates and Jim Allchin to other members of the Microsoft executive team revealing that the company had been taken by surprise by Apple's launch of the iTunes Music Store in April 2003. The e-mails were made public as part of an antitrust suit brought against Microsoft in late 2006 for which Groklaw has been documenting the exhibits provided as evidence.

Gates' comments offered a candid assessment of the situation, expressing surprise at Apple CEO Steve Jobs' ability to strike distribution deals with music companies.

Steve Jobs ability to focus in on a few things that count, get people who get user interface right and market things as revolutionary are amazing things.

This time somehow he has applied his talents in getting a better Licensing deal than anyone else has gotten for music.

This is very strange to me. The music companies own operations offer a service that is truly unfriendly to the user and has been reviewed that way consistently.

Somehow they decide to give Apple the ability to do something pretty good.

In trying to understand how best to respond to Apple's move, Gates noted that Microsoft was caught "flat footed" by Apple's music download service and questioned appropriate strategies to respond.

I am not saying this strangeness means we messed up - at least if we did so did Real and Pressplay and Musicnet and basically everyone else.

Now that Jobs has done it we need to move fast to get something where the UI and Rights are as good.

I am not sure whether we should do this through one of these JVs [joint ventures] or not. I am not sure what the problems are.

However I think we need some plan to prove that even though Jobs has us a bit flat footed again we move quick and both match and do stuff better.

Microsoft vice president Jim Allchin offered a briefer assessment of the situation, offering only a pair of observations:

1. How did they get the music companies to go along?

2. We were smoked.

The same court case earlier revealed another e-mail from Allchin from 2004 in which he famously said that he "would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft." Steve Jobs used the quote to take a jab at Microsoft, displaying Allchin's statement at the beginning of Jobs' keynote at Macworld San Francisco 2007.