Gates soft-pedals Microsoft threat to publishers

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As competition in the realm of local content heats up, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates tried to reassure publishers attending the Newspaper Association of America's annual conference in Chicago.

In a luncheon speech on Tuesday, Mr. Gates likened Microsoft's entrant in the local market, Sidewalk, to weekly entertainment listings magazines, not newspapers, an argument that seemed to carry little weight with the publishers, many of whom publish such magazines as well.

"Don't think of Microsoft as a primary competitor; think of us as someone who can provide software tools. We're not doing local news. We're not doing classifieds. We're seeing what this whole technology can do," Mr. Gates told the 1,200 attendees. "People are just smart about when they decide to partner with someone to take advantage of their technology," he said.

"He's trying to be a friend," said John Sturm, president-CEO of the NAA. "They are very interested in working with publishers to build new tools. Whether that turns into them learning a lot about our business and how to be competitive with us, that's the question that remains."

Mr. Gates also said Microsoft's investment site was close to breaking even, and that the company's travel site, Expedia, is already profitable.

"But the news site [MSNBC] is not nearly as close," he said.

Copyright April 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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