The US Department of Justice complaint against Microsoft, filed with the District Court of Columbia on Monday, paints a detailed and often disturbing picture of how software behemoth Microsoft reacted when it realised that tiny start-up Netscape might pose a threat to its software dominance.
In its public reactions to the DoJ lawsuit, Microsoft has mainly hammered on one issue - its ?right to innovate?. The company claims this encompasses the right to integrate new features into its Windows operating system.
But the integration of Internet Explorer in Windows 95 and Windows 98 is not the only, and perhaps not even the major issue raised by the DoJ complaint.
Instead, quoting heavily from Microsoft internal documents as well as from press reports, the 38-page complaint argues that, since 1995, the company has purposefully and methodically worked to eliminate the threat posed to its market dominance by Netscape.
?Microsoft began, and continues today, a pattern of anti-competitive practices designed to thwart browser competition on the merits, to deprive customers of a choice between alternative browsers, and to exclude Microsoft?s Internet browser competitors," the document states.
It then goes on to try and establish such a ?pattern?. Though the complaint includes few new elements, it does manage to paint an alarming picture of Microsoft?s business dealings.
The document observes that there are high barriers to entry in the market for PC operating systems. The chief barrier being the number of applications that run only on Windows. Consequently, the most significant threat to the Windows dominance comes from ?new software products that may support, or themselves become, alternative ?platforms? to which applications can be written?.
The complaint offers numerous quotes from Microsoft officials that seek to show that the company did indeed, in 1995, come to see Netscape ? and the Java programming language which Netscape supported in its browser ? as such a threat. And that it decided to leverage its operating system dominance, as well as its influence over OEMs, ISPs and Internet content providers to counter this threat.
The complaint charges that, during a meeting in May 1995, Microsoft attempted to get Netscape to drop out of the Windows browser markets, and concentrate on non-Windows platforms. Microsoft has denied it ever suggested this.
?Having failed simply to stop competition by agreement, Microsoft set about to exclude Netscape and other browser rivals from access to the distribution, promotion and resources they needed to offer their browser products to OEMs and PC users pervasively enough to facilitate the widespread distribution of Java or to facilitate their browsers becoming an attractive programming platform in their own right," says the document.
The document quotes a 'New York Times' article that has Microsoft vice president Paul Maritz saying: ?We are going to cut off their air supply. Everything they?re selling, we?re going to give away for free."
A quote from an email message from Bill Gates suggests Microsoft went even further than giving away its browser. It even paid some key customers money to use Internet Explorer.
?I was quite frank with him [Scott Cook, CEO of Intuit] that if he had a favor we could do for him that would cost us something like $1 million to do that in return for switching browsers in the next few months I would be open to doing that," the email allegedly said.
Another measure to counter Netscape ? and the one that has attracted the most attention ? was to force PC makers to ship Internet Explorer with every Windows PC. A Microsoft employee called Christian Wildfeuer allegedly wrote in February 1997 that it would ?be very hard to increase browser share on the merits of IE 4 alone. It will be more important to leverage the OS asset to make people use IE instead of Navigator."
And according to the document, Microsoft vice president Paul Maritz wrote on 2 January 1997: ?I do not feel we are going to win on our current path. We are not leveraging Windows from a marketing perspective. We do not use our strength - which is that we have an installed base of Windows and we have a strong OEM shipment channel for Windows. Pitting browser against browser is hard since Netscape has 80 per cent market share and we have 20 per cent ... I am convinced we have to use Windows ? this is the one thing they don?t have.?
The DoJ complaint also refers to Microsoft?s contracts with Internet service provicers and Internet content providers. Many of these contracts have since been modified by Microsoft, giving partners more freedom to promote competing browsers. But, the DoJ argues, ?these modifications to not remedy the anti-competitive effects such agreements have had and do not prevent Microsoft from entering into the same or similar agreements in the future."
Concentrating almost entirely on the predicament of Netscape, the DoJ document refers only briefly to some of the other issues that were reportedly a part of the investigations.
Surprisingly, the it makes only scant reference to Java ? and only in so far as it pertains to the Netscape Navigator browser. Microsoft's dispute with Sun over the Java language is currently the subject of a separate case.
Another issue, namely Microsoft?s control over what users see when they first boot up Windows, receives no more than a few brief paragraphs.
Dust storm on Titan only the third Solar System body where such storms have been observed
New technique could enable quantum computers to scale-up to millions of qubits
Systrom and Krieger taking time off "to explore our curiosity and creativity"
Comcast's £29.7bn winning bid more than twice the £13.7bn Rupert Murdoch valued Sky at just eight years ago